Stepping on Toes in the Pursuit of Happiness


“But I just wanted to be happy,” my couldn’t-be-ex-quickly-enough whined to the police officer in the interview room where he was being questioned for bigamy.

“That doesn’t give you an excuse to commit a felony,” the officer responded. I could hear him shaking his head in disbelief as he related this encounter to me on the phone later that day.

It brings up an interesting question though – when is it okay to cause distress to others on your own path to self fulfillment?

Your first impulse may be, “never.” Yet, we are not responsible for another’s happiness and we are in charge of our own. And there are times when you may have to step on some toes in order to make the changes that you need to make for you.

And it’s actually more harmful to engage in the people-pleasing (or cowardly) dance around the toes than to be honest and upfront from the beginning. When we try to protect people from our truth, we are acting as gatekeepers, something no relationship on common footing should ever have. Additionally, in trying to avoid hurting anyone, you create an environment seeded for deception (if you do want you want and lie about it to protect the other or yourself) or contempt and resentment (if you don’t follow your dreams and you blame your partner for your circumstances).

There are times when you have to step on some toes. Bruise some egos. Utter words that you know will lead to tears. And maybe even make a decision that causes a heart to break.

It’s not your job to ensure that your partner never feels pain. It’s not your role to act as security guard for your partner’s ego. And it’s not your responsibility to protect your partner’s cheeks from tears.

There are times that you may have to step on some toes in order to find your happiness.

But you are responsible for ensuring that you step as gently as possible. (Unlike my ex, who pretty much tap danced in combat boots over everyone in his life.)

If you are feeling unfulfilled in your life and you suspect that the pursuit of your own happiness will end up hurting others, here is what you need to consider if you want to tread as lightly as possible:

Don’t Be Impulsive

We all get irritated at times. We all reach a breaking point where eruptions are inevitable. This is not the time to throw out some news that will hurt your partner. Wait until you are calm and deliberate. Words can never be erased.

Speak Your Truth Clearly

Say it as it is. Provide the basics and only elaborate if asked.

Do Not Spread Blame

Even if you see your partner as responsible, this is not the time to point fingers. Own your part. And make sure you’re not on a snipe hunt for happiness. Not only is that not fair to your partner, you will never find what you’re looking for.

Be Patient

This may be old news to you, but it’s a breaking headline to your partner. Give them the time and space needed to adjust.

Accept That Some Pain is Inevitable

You can’t keep your partner from hurting. Offer comfort if it is welcome and don’t censor or try to minimize the pain.

Strive to Not Respond to Anger

When we are surprised and in pain, we often lash out. Try to not respond to anger; it won’t lessen the impact of your announcement.

Enlist Professional Help If Needed

Whether the news is delivered in a counseling office or a therapist is secured after-the-fact, recognize that help may be needed.

Listen and Keep an Open Mind

You may have reached a conclusion on your own. Be willing to listen to your partner. First, so that they can feel understood and also because you may find an alternative you did not consider.

And I discourage bigamy; you’ll find the police aren’t very sympathetic:)

Thank you for sharing!

9 thoughts on “Stepping on Toes in the Pursuit of Happiness

  1. Yes, and we are essentially stepping on our kids’ toes in the process – whether we like it or not. We just try to step lightly.

  2. Good advice. You are responsible for your own happiness. One should not bring you down though. But I am so tired of hearing men go through some dumb midlife crisis claiming they want to be happy. No, they want to be selfish. The quest for happiness comes from within. Once that’s settled, i think the rest falls into place.
    In the case of your ex, sounds like he was a selfish fool that tried to get away with wreaking havoc on everyone’s lives. In my case, I have a selfish weak fool that doesn’t realize his search for happiness will never be successful without serious therapy.

      1. You’re right… Just frustrating. But it always works itself out. Time proves that. 🙂 have a great day!

  3. livebysurprise – Liv is the pseudonym reformed divorcee and single mom - now married, coparenting and working mother of three. She's been featured on ScaryMommy, HuffPost Divorce, The Mid and More at
    Liv says:

    Strive not to respond in anger. So important. We say nasty things when we’re angry.

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