As I stated in my previous post, 2014 seemed to be a year of struggle for many of us, with those struggles often spilling over into our love relationships. As we seem to regress towards the darker days of this nation’s past; as we recognize that every 24 hours an unarmed Black man, woman or child is killed extra-judiciously by those sworn to protect them; as a new (majority Republican) Congress convenes with plans to make life very hard for those most vulnerable, it’s becoming more and more difficult to find our happy place—which automatically creates tension in our personal lives and loves.

Yes, whether we want to believe it or not, we alone are responsible for our joy, and creating a life filled with joy isn’t something we can conjure up in our juju pots. There’s no magic spell or person that can make us endlessly happy. And if you believe there is, in the words of the greatest (and most hilarious) Black Twitter troll ever @desusnice, “…u gotta grow up beloved” (which is my new favorite saying, by the way).

Seriously, we are raised to believe that we deserve happiness, not because we work towards it for ourselves, but because we’ve earned it by being “good,” or because we’ve chosen our “Prince Charming” or the “girl of our dreams.” From experience—read: two failed marriages—I know firsthand that trap we set for ourselves and how it can not only sabotage our relationships, but sabotage our entire lives.

In my marriages, I expected my partners to make me happy because I had no real idea how to create happiness for myself. For that reason, when I faced serious life challenges (i.e., losing my father to cancer, or returning back to school full-time) and the fairytale life I thought I deserved faded, I blamed my exes and opened the door for bad thoughts and bad habits to enter. Of course there were several other reasons those relationships didn’t work. But I’m convinced that if I would have done the work to cultivate more joy in them, they may not only have lasted, but flourished.

Licensed counselor and life coach Dan Durkee often counsels clients who have trouble finding their happy place. He comments:

Each year I see people in my practice who are disappointed and resentful, sometimes even bitter. They have done everything they were supposed to do—work hard, follow the rules, help others—and they are still waiting to live happily ever after. Only somehow life has failed to cooperate. 

Durkee mentions how women fall victim, because of social conditioning, to Disney princess expectations for their partners (which are impossible to satisfy long-term), but also has this to say about what he often notices with his male clients:

I have also seen men of varying ages who have left one relationship after another, in each case complaining, “Relationships shouldn’t be this hard” or “It shouldn’t take this much work.” Yet these same men are perfectly comfortable sitting in front of a TV watching a football game and asserting after a violent play, “No pain, no gain!”

The larger issue is that, many times, neither gender is prepared to do the heavy lifting that a lifelong relationship requires, and more importantly, neither understands that we all have to work—both individually and collectively—to make happiness a part of our lives. We believe that, as licensed psychologist and relationships expert Jeffrey Bernstein points out, “…if he just changed this one thing, or if she could just get a grip about [fill in the blank], then we would finally be happy.”

We have to clean up our own thoughts and approach to our relationships, and rid ourselves of the toxic thinking that often doesn’t begin or end with our love lives. If we practice toxic thinking in our relationships, we likely practice self-talk when it comes to other aspects of our lives. The greatest step we can take towards our happiness (which we, again, are responsible for) is to release toxic thinking and replace those thoughts with positive ones—concerning ourselves and our partners.

Creating happiness in our lives is similar to creating anything else worthwhile, whether it’s a better body or financial portfolio. It takes dedication, practice, knowledge and honest desire. We must first commit to happiness and next figure out what blockages are preventing it. Is it time for a career change, or a boost in self-care? Most importantly, we must take responsibility and stop blaming others for our pain and sorrow. We are not the victims we often pretend to be, and we can’t demand that others do the work to make us happy if we aren’t willing to take on that work, first, for ourselves.

Josie Pickens is an educator, cultural critic and solider of love. Follow her musings on Twitter @jonubian.