- Written by Amy Van Veen
Remember when you and your spouse were planning your wedding? You walked around in the promise of happily ever after, ignoring the advice of people around you – people who had been married far longer than you – telling you to plan not just for the wedding, but for your marriage. And then a few days, months or years later, you realize you should’ve listened because the dream wore off and reality set in.
But just because you and your spouse aren’t riding off into the sunset for the rest of your life doesn’t mean you have to be dissatisfied with married life. Every individual has certain expectations of what their life should look like when they get married. And whether you’re still planning your wedding or you’ve been married for decades, understanding how unrealistic some of those expectations are can be the first step in overcoming disappointment and investing in a healthier marriage.
Myth #1: All you need is love.
Unfortunately, The Beatles lied to us. It’s a lovely sentiment, but, according to Gary Chapman in Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married, the reality is “being in love is not an adequate foundation for building a successful marriage.” This early stage of being in love – or what Chapman calls “the tingles” – is not to be discounted. It’s an important part of bringing two people together, but it’s not the be-all and end-all.
“Being in love is an emotional and obsessive experience,” Chapman explains. “However, emotions change and obsessions fade. Research indicates that the average life span of the ‘in love’ obsession is two years.”
Author and biology professor Dawn Maslar explains it like this, “The truth is that falling in love is something I call temporary insanity. At least from a neurological stand point.”
And when a couple gets to the point where this happily ever after feeling starts to fade, author and psychologist Karen Sherman explains that “it can be scary because no one tells you this phenomena occurs.”
Thankfully, Chapman offers encouragement that this doesn’t mean the end of romantic love, it’s merely the end of the first stage. “What I have discovered,” he writes, “is that the second stage of romantic love is much more intentional than the first stage. And, yes, it requires work in order to keep emotional love alive. However, for those who make the effort to transition from Stage One to Stage Two, the rewards are astounding.”
This second stage is where Chapman’s five love languages come into play. Everyone has different ways of expressing and receiving love and when spouses don’t understand that about each other, they may feel as though the love is gone, when in reality it’s just being shown in a way they don’t necessarily see or appreciate.
“Without hesitation,” he notes, “I can say that the emotional depth of our love for each other is far deeper than in those early days when we were swept along by euphoric feelings.”
For more information on the different love languages, check out Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages.
Myth #2: My spouse will just know what I need.
Wendy Kittlitz, registered counsellor and vice president of counselling and care ministries at Focus on the Family Canada, says a common misconception for new couples is: “If he really loves me, he will know what I need without me having to tell them.”
There’s a reason one of the biggest marriage buzzwords is “communication.”
“Good communication,” Kittlitz writes, “including the ability to hear your spouse’s perspective in the midst of our own defensiveness or frustration, does not come naturally.”
In The Best Advice I Ever Got on Marriage, contributor H.B. London explains the importance of making your spouse feel valued and appreciated by “attempting to keep the channel of communication open so that each of you know what the other spouse is thinking as much of the time as possible.”
“It’s when we start guessing how our spouse is feeling that we often make mistakes,” he continues. “We start assuming what his or her needs are. Often our assumptions are based on what we want to hear rather than on reality.”
The skill of healthy communication is not something that can be learned overnight. It’s not something that can be achieved through a few simple exercises – it’s a continual process as you learn more about your spouse. But when you commit to learning that skill, Kittlitz encourages, you’ll be able to weather storms that would have otherwise knocked you down.
“Good communication,” London adds, “is being free to experience and express your true feelings as they arise . . . It took me a long time to figure out how to communicate with my wife, and I continue to try to tell her how much she means to me.”
For expert tips on improving your communication, click here.
Myth #3: Marriage will solve all our problems.
“The habits you noticed in your mate when you were going out aren’t going to change – they will continue, only worsen,” Sherman says. “In the beginning, everyone puts their best foot forward. As you relax into the relationship these same traits come out more so.”
From small problems to big ones, marriage is not a solution.
“Shortly after the wedding, most of us begin to see faults in our spouses and ‘chinks in the armor’ that we overlooked before the ceremony,” Smalley writes in Ready to Wed. “You know what happens then, don’t you?” he continues. “We buy into the myth that if our spouses could change one or two key things, our marriages would be great.”
As Kittlitz notes, “Many enter marriage thinking that sources of tension will automatically dissolve once they are married; in reality, these tension points often escalate.”
This gets particularly difficult, she adds, when the problems are more than your spouse watching too much TV or not taking the garbage out. Whether it’s alcoholism or a struggle with pornography, getting married will not wipe out all temptation and fix everything.
In the same way, marriage will not take away feelings of loneliness because your spouse – contrary to popular, media-perpetuated belief – cannot complete you. “No person can complete you,” Todd Foley writes in his article about oneness, “and expecting someone to do so can set a toxic precedent for your relationship.”
All of this goes back to a basic misunderstanding of what marriage is.
Reflecting on his own marriage, Smalley writes, “It helps enormously just to know that God designed marriage – with its joys and its trials, its ups and its downs, its good times and its bad times – to help us to grow to be more like Christ.” With that bigger picture in mind, the fights, the struggles, the conflict and the problems that continue to arise “won’t feel quite so threatening.”
To learn more about how to do conflict right, click here.
If you or your spouse are struggling and would like to speak with a Focus on the Family Canada counsellor for a free, one-time phone consultation, call us at 1.800.661.9800.
Myth #4: All the little things will work themselves out.
“Growing up, my mom always did the chores around the house,” Brad* remembers. “The first time I did a load of laundry was when I married Jane*. That was a rude awakening.”
Everyone brings with them certain preconceived notions about how their marriage should work – most often based on how their parents successfully, or unsuccessfully, split their marital roles.
“We enter marriages as products of a previous family system where we learned many things, some beneficial and some not,” Kittlitz explains.
Chapman notes, though, that this isn’t a guarantee that you will become like your parents. But it does mean, he adds, “that you are both greatly influenced by your parents.” In order to stop the cycle of repetitive behaviour, he explains how important it is to learn how and why your parents act the way they do – and sometimes this requires some insight from your spouse.
“Because when we grow up with our parents, we don’t recognize their patterns of communication as being unhealthy,” he writes. “For us, it is simply the way it has always been. It often takes someone outside the family drawing the communication pattern to our attention to help us understand why the pattern needs to be changed.”
This goes beyond communication and spills over into what some consider “little” things. Who folds the laundry? Who does the dishes? Who cooks dinner? Who cleans the bathroom? Who pays the bills? Who buys the groceries?
As Chapman writes, “I wish I had known that toilets are not self-cleaning . . . and that we needed a plan for handling our money.” What can seem to be minimal daily annoyances are actually symptoms of a greater problem: not realizing the expectations you’re unwittingly putting on your spouse.
But once you see how these expectations are affecting your marriage, you can move forward with a deeper understanding of your spouse.
“It can be very helpful to identify some of these things (communications styles, roles, habits, values, etc.),” Kittlitz writes, “and understand how they may impact your relationship as you build your new family system.”
“French author André Maurois wrote, ‘A successful marriage is an edifice that must be rebuilt every day.’ He was right on the mark,” Smalley explains. “Marriage is a lifelong process that we must commit ourselves to again and again. Every day we have to decide to love our spouses and invest in our marriages.”
And when you invest beyond your wedding day, Kittlitz adds, “The payback is not just a memorable day, but a memorable lifetime!”
What are some expectations you encountered in your own marriage? Join the conversation on our Facebook page!
*Names changed to protect privacy
Amy Van Veen is an associate editor at Focus on the Family Canada.
Reference to the individuals and organizations quoted does not constitute a blanket endorsement of either the individuals’ external work or their respective organizations.