“… there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” – Shakespeare, Hamlet
Shakespeare knew what he was talking about. Concerning marriage, if what we think about it is mistaken, we can do serious harm to our relationship. Three widely believed myths about marriage will be described below:
- You should not have to “work” on a marriage.
- My spouse should know how I feel and what I want: I shouldn’t have to say it.
- I shouldn’t have to settle; I deserve better.
Myth #1: You should not have to “work” on a marriage.
Fairytales promote the effortless happily-ever-after marriage myth when we are at an impressionable age. Later we view romantic movies and read novels with happily-ever-after endings.
Consequently, many people hold unrealistic expectations about marriage. They spend more time maintaining a car — checking tire pressure, changing the oil, and getting the recommended inspections — than they spend on keeping their most important relationship in good working order.
Obviously, we humans are more complicated than cars. We have infinitely complex bodies to maintain. We also have feelings, different ways of thinking, hopes and dreams. And then, when you put two of us together …
Romance doesn’t last automatically after marriage. But by investing in periodic maintenance of your relationship, the two of you can continue to enjoy love, intimacy, and passion now and in the future. Together, you can create and maintain a fulfilling marriage that lasts for the rest of your life.
Myth #2: My spouse should know how I feel and what I want; I shouldn’t have to say it.
“I shouldn’t have to tell him. He should know what I want,” Cindy thinks about her husband. She believes he should know when she’s in the mood to go out for pizza, not sushi and vice versa. He should know what she wants for her birthday. He should know what turns her on sexually. She wonders how he can be so clueless, but she doesn’t say a word.
Actually, there are people who are able to get their needs met without saying a word. They’re called infants. A mother learns to read her baby’s cues. She soon knows which kind of crying means “I’m hungry,” “I’m tired,” or “I’m uncomfortable; I need my diaper changed.” She understands which body movements and facial expression say “I’m scared,” “I’m happy,” and “I want that.”
Adults who find partners who can read their mind exist in fairy tales and romantic movies. There, charmed couples don’t need to be told how to give the perfect kiss, gift, or massage.
What do these examples of mind-reading have to do with real life adult relationships? Very little, even in the best of marriages.
Usually the best way to feel understood by your partner is to say clearly what’s on your mind kindly and respectfully. Even the most sensitive, intuitive spouse cannot live up to an expectation of being able to read your mind any more than you can expect to be able to read his or hers. Yes, in a good relationship there will be some tuning into each other, but don’t expect miracles.
If your self-expression was stifled when you were young, you will have some catching up to do as you learn to feel more comfortable speaking your truth. This is okay, and therapy can be helpful. Saying what’s on your mind will become easier and easier as you continue to practice using positive communication skills.
Myth #3: I shouldn’t have to settle; I deserve better.
In real life people have imperfections. (Yes, you too!) So when your partner disappoints you, if your mind is filled with romantic novels’ heroes, you may think you deserve a more perfect spouse. But novels are fiction, not fact. Get out of fantasy land, focus on your mate’s positive qualities, and ask yourself how important it is in the grand scheme of things that he or she does what you were hoping for.
For example, you may have a husband who’s kind, responsible, and loyal. He has a great sense of humor or other traits you value. It happens, though, that you love receiving flowers from him but he rarely gives them because he thinks they’re a waste of money. Do you want to kvetch and whine that you shouldn’t have to “settle” for this “inconsiderate cheapskate”?
What if you are annoyed by your wife’s habitual lateness? Yet you value her joie de vivre, creativity, helpfulness, and other fine traits. Will you grumble that you deserve better and think if she really loved you she would be on time?
Instead, let go of unrealistic expectations. Buy your own flowers or live without them. Work around her lateness when it’s not crucial to be somewhere on time, and tell her in advance when it really matters. Negotiate creatively. Appreciate your partner’s strengths, work around the limitations, and your partner just might do the same for you.
I certainly don’t mean to imply that anyone should stay in an emotionally or physically abusive relationship because they think that’s as good as they can get. Not every marriage should endure, especially when a basic incompatibility exists that harms one’s physical or mental health.
But if your relationship is basically healthy and respectful, you are not settling in the sense of accepting less than you deserve. You are settling down into living in harmony with your spouse. You have a reality-based marriage. It’s not 100 percent perfect. It’s real life, and can fulfill both of you in the most vital ways.
Note: Parts of this article appear in the author’s book, Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted (New World Library).