Am I Responsible for Others’ Happiness?

I know it’s popular for Christian and secular counselors to say that others aren’t responsible for our happiness. But the fact is, they are. Not completely, but partly. That’s why Jesus and His apostles taught us to live in community. We are all partly responsible for each other’s happiness. If I constantly verbally abuse my wife it affects her happiness and I am responsible for that. James 3:5 (ESV) states : ” So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!”

The teaching that others are not responsible for my wife’s happiness puts all the burden on her to create her own happiness. For example, one popular Christian counselor who is otherwise very good recommends this teaching for a spouse : “I take sole responsibility for my beliefs with the understanding that they, not you, determine my emotions, words, thoughts and actions. Thus I lift from you the burden of being responsible for any of my ultimate life quality.” Of course the counselor is trying to get the spouse to have reasonable expectations of their mate, but the principle used goes too far. Should this spouse also say this about themself, that their mate is solely responsible for their ultimate life quality?

The biggest problem with the principle is that it can serve as an excuse for my behavior. I can tell myself that I am not responsible for others’ happiness. They must create it on their own. This directly contradicts all that Jesus taught about loving one another.

The teaching comes from American hyper-individualism and from the secular idea that each individual is their own “god”. It is true that we do need to be responsible for the portion of our happiness within our control but we also need to realize that we all affect each other’s happiness and we are responsible for that. Healthy relationships depend on mutuality, and our life quality is much influenced by others. We should be careful about our expectations but not fool ourselves that others don’t affect us much, or that we are somehow not responsible for the improving the life quality of those close to us.

Author: Phil Rehberg

The host of the Tozer Seminary Deeper Life blog is Phil Rehberg. He created and develops the Meat for Maturity spiritual formation website ( which includes a weekly blog and extensive resources for learning and teaching spiritual formation (i.e. Christian maturity). He also teaches and coaches students at A. W. Tozer Theological Seminary in Redding, California where he is an adjunct professor in spiritual formation. He published two books: The Road to New Life and Flourish: A Guide to Your Growth in God’s Community. Phil focuses his studies on the biblical theology of spiritual growth, the history of Christian spirituality, and learning from the classic Christian teachers of spiritual growth. He is currently working on a new book on Christian growth titled The Christlike Creed. Phil has a J.D. from the University of Washington, an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Fuller Seminary in Pasadena and an M.A. in Leadership with emphasis on spirituality from Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, California, which included classes in spirituality from the Institute for Spiritual Formation at Talbot Seminary.

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