Deflating Six Common Marriage Myths
The only thing perfect about marriage is the airbrushed wedding photo.
Rather than allowing myths about marriage to undermine your relationship, you should find those truths that help keep relationships strong. That doesn't mean settling for less. The purpose is to guide you through the journey so that you can make your marriage all that it can be.
A good marriage is a long-term process — not an overnight miracle. Still, you may be pleasantly surprised at how examining these myths can help you see your marriage more clearly.
Finding Mr. or Ms. Right
Spouses who are having problems in their marriage sometimes complain that their partner turned out not to be Mr. or Ms. Right. Surely, there are couples that really don't belong together. However, the majority of these not-the-right-person complaints are rooted in unrealistic expectations.
Two people in a good marriage automatically grow closer with time
A good marriage is the product of constant care and nurturing. If you think about it, this myth goes against what we know about achieving anything good in life. For example, how do people stay physically fit? Certainly not by fantasizing. A healthy body takes constant attention and work. The same is true for healthy relationships.
Marriage is very much like a living organism: It is constantly changing. As the years pass, partners are not always going to feel close or affectionate toward one another. There are times when you will be very angry at your spouse, times when you may even question why the two of you married in the first place.
Getting past those rough spots is an important part of growing closer. But there is nothing automatic about the process.
When couples argue, it destroys the relationship
Couples often enter a marriage believing that arguing is bad. They expect things to go smoothly, with maybe a few minor bumps along the way. Then they run into the familiar struggles over money, sex, children, or sharing responsibilities.
If you don't recognize that all couples confront these problems, you may feel that something is wrong with your marriage. Quite possibly, the main problem has to do with harboring unrealistic expectations and therefore feeling vaguely disappointed.
Some couples choose to distance themselves from each other rather than fight. In the end, many of these couple let their marriages fall apart because the rift became too big to find their ways back to each other. In the end, arguing can be a positive force in a marriage.
Pursuing your own individual needs is incompatible with making a marriage work
This myth comes from the expectation that happily married couples must do everything together. Not so. A good marriage is bigger than what the two partners bring to it. That means both partners have to maintain a certain amount of separateness.
Each spouse has a separate life apart from that as a marriage partner. What you do with that separate life is something you must work out, even as you dedicate yourself to building a stronger relationship with your husband or wife.
When two people marry, they become integral parts of each other's world. That means, among other things, taking an interest in your partner's personal goals, and doing your best to have amicable dealings with his or her family of origin. Still, that's a lot different than feeling compelled to do everything together. Spouses who buy into that myth soon find that one or both partners feel trapped.
Some marriages require more togetherness; others, more independence. Each couple needs to have a sense of how these domains overlap. The trick is finding a balance of togetherness and self reliance that works for you.
Marriage partners can fill the gaps in one another's makeup
One of the great joys of marriage is the ability to pool your strengths and special gifts. So if one of you is physical and the other intellectual, you can help expand one another's horizons. However, if one spouse is painfully shy and relies on the other to do all the talking, you're bound to feel an imbalance.
A similar kind of imbalance can occur when partners assume rigid roles based on gender: the husband who refuses to help with chores like cooking or cleaning because those tasks are "a woman's work" or the wife who refuses to pick up a hammer or screwdriver because "that's the husband's job." For a marriage to succeed in the 21st century, spouses need to be flexible in their roles, and willing to work together at all sorts of tasks.
Strong marriages are collaborative efforts in which both partners are dedicated to improving — as individuals and as a couple. Each marriage partner brings a unique package of strengths and weaknesses to the table, and each has a separate timetable for growth. But, if one partner's development or contribution is way out of proportion to the other's, the imbalance can undermine the marriage.
The goal of marriage is for both partners to get exactly what they want
The notion that marriage is a way to achieve fulfillment is relatively new. For a long time, people married out of economic necessity and to have children. Now, many people think of it as a road to personal satisfaction.
Many complaints about marriage go something like this: "I am not happy with him anymore. I don't feel fulfilled." Such complaints are a result of overblown and misguided expectations.
You may see signs that this myth is interfering with a marriage. One is when a partner says, "If you loved me you would . . . (check the choice or choices that apply):
- Spend more time with my family
- Make love to me more often
- Take the vacation that I want
- Not criticize me so much
- Do more household chores
The message here is, "You don't love me unless you do exactly what I want."
There is also a flip side to this myth that shows up when one partner demands that the other accept his love on faith — even when his words and actions convey the opposite message.
If, for example, your spouse complains because you forgot her birthday, it's not enough to say, "Don't you know I love you?" There is no justification for expecting our partners to forgive our thoughtlessness by simply declaring our love. What that amounts to is just another way of manipulating the situation so you can have things exactly as you please.
All of us have a right to want our needs fulfilled, but it's important to be realistic. Even in the best of marriages, a spouse can provide just so much fulfillment. The rest may have to come from children, from work, from the pursuit of various interests, or from within.