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By "Today" contributor
updated 1/27/2005 11:21:08 AM ET 2005-01-27T16:21:08

Q: I am consumed by the thought that "if only I could meet the right guy and get married, I would be happy." How can I overcome this negative way of thinking?

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A: The “if only” statement — it pains me whenever I hear it. It is based not in reality but on fictions made up to explain why we feel miserable or inadequate.

Sure, it feels familiar and comfortable to believe in such a story. Over time, such stories become foundations of our personalities. You conveniently have something to blame for your lack of happiness: the lack of a husband.

Even if it makes you feel better to have this excuse, it also makes you feel worse. Your fantasy is dashed each time you discover a new date is not Mr. Right. Or you spend your time escaping into daydreams of the wonderful married life you don’t have. Or you mope and whine, guaranteeing that you are unpleasant company.

It’s sad that these “if only” stories — which include such fellow statements as, “If only I were younger/thinner/prettier, I would be happy” — make our whole lives conditional.

They leave us in a strange “if-then” universe where we are okay only in certain situations — in this case, married.

The challenge is to rewrite your story. You already understand that this way of thinking makes you miserable. The reality is that the lack of a husband does not sentence you to unhappiness any more than having a husband guarantees perpetual bliss.

So you must figure out what IS making you unhappy. This will lead to more happiness on your own as well as a greater likelihood of finding a mate.

There are plenty of possibilities: Are you afraid of commitment? Do you keep choosing men who are? Do you pick married or otherwise unavailable men, or those who are somehow wrong for you?

Do you drive away the good guys, or stay stuck in dead-end relationships while the more promising ones go by? Do you put yourself in situations where you keep meeting the same wrong type?

Even if marriage is not your goal, understanding and changing your old stories will help you like yourself better, which can also lead to relationships of greater intimacy.

Once you understand your old pattern, you must make choices that set you on a different path. In other words, if you want a true partnership, do things differently and change the thoughts and actions that were keeping you unattached.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: It’s a myth that a man can make you happy. You’re the only one who can do that. But you can make changes in your life that lead to a greater likelihood of finding the intimacy you crave.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” This column was adapted from her new book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back.”  For more information, you can visit her Web site, www.drgailsaltz.com.

PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist or psychotherapist. Copyright ©2004 Dr. Gail Saltz. All rights reserved.

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