In June it seems love is all around, and weddings are big business. So much attention is paid to the party, but what about the marriage itself? What comes after the wedding, and how can a couple increase their chances of success in marriage?
There are so many myths in our society about what love should look like, it’s no wonder many couples find themselves fighting or drifting apart. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Let’s start with a quiz. True or False:
- If you love me, you should know what’s wrong without me telling you.
- People in love shouldn’t fight.
- I shouldn’t have to tell you I love you; you should know it because I’m here.
- Sex has nothing to do with a happy marriage.
- Sex has everything to do with a happy marriage.
- Children make a marriage happier.
- You should be totally honest with each other at all times.
The answers are all FALSE. Is that surprising? Let’s take a closer look.
If you love me, you should know what’s wrong without me telling you.
You are two different people with different ways of thinking and looking at the world. This is part of what brought the two of you together and makes the relationship so much fun. It also makes things challenging at times. It does not make either one of you mind readers. Yes, it would be easier at times if you could read each other’s minds, but think about it a minute. Is that something you’d want all the time? Really? Stop expecting the mindreading and just say what you mean.
People in love shouldn’t fight.
Again, different people, different opinions. So of course there are going to be disagreements, and sometimes those disagreements are going to escalate into arguments. Different doesn’t mean bad, just different, and learning to manage those differences is part of the work of learning to live together respectfully. There are times those arguments are going to get heated as you each fight for your inpiduality; the heat can add spice to the relationship, as long as respect is maintained.
John Gottman, Ph.D., has done extensive research demonstrating different styles of fighting in happy couples and has noted that the increasing presence of criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling (or “shutting down”)¸ and contempt have a corrosive effect on a marriage. Gottman’s work shows that it’s how (not whether) couples fight that matters.
I shouldn’t have to tell you I love you; you should know it because I’m here.
Actions speak louder than words, right? For some people, that’s true. For others, the lack of verbalized love means wondering if it something’s changed or feeling taken for granted. Many people say, “I may know it, but I still need to hear it.”
We’re all different; don’t assume that your partner needs what you do in order to feel loved. Find out what hits your partner’s sweet spot and fill that need. It may be spending time together, words of appreciation, holding hands or back rubs, a treat from the store because “I was thinking of you,” or doing a chore your partner dreads doing. Look for lots of little ways to express your love, and don’t keep score. This is not a contest.
Sex has nothing to do with a happy marriage vs. sex has everything to do with a happy marriage.
There’s an old saying that sex is 10% of a relationship when it’s going well, and 90% when it’s not. Sex is the glue that keeps a marriage together; it’s the one thing that separates marriage from friendship. It’s not true that “marriage is where sex goes to die.” Overall, the majority of couples are satisfied with their sex lives; however, it’s normal to have great times and slow times. If there’s a problem, get some help, because sex is an important part of marriage. It’s just not the only thing to keep a couple together.
Children make a marriage happier.
The common wisdom on this one is that, of course, children make a marriage happier. Matthew Johnson, Ph.D., director of the Marriage and Family Studies Laboratory at Binghamton University, State University of New York, surveyed about thirty years’ of research on marriage and discovered marital satisfaction declines when couples become parents, despite inpidually stating that being a parent is their greatest joy. Couples without children tend to be happier overall than couples with children. Not an argument for not having children, but one for recognizing the toll children can take on a relationship and preparing for it.
You should be totally honest with each other at all times.
Think about this one. Think about all the random thoughts going through your head in an average day and how many of them are total nonsense. Many of those thoughts change when you get more information, when the weather changes, you have something to eat, or when circumstances change. The point of this is not every thought needs to be expressed. And just because your partner is the one who promised to love and cherish you doesn’t mean you get to dump on them. Because, after all, you promised to love and cherish them, too. Right? And would you want your partner saying to you every random thought in their head, no matter how hurtful or ultimately untrue? Didn’t think so. Most of the time it’s important to be honest, but there’s also a time to hold your tongue.
As any therapist who’s seen couples can testify, there are many more myths. Don’t believe every love song or movie. Love is grand and it is all around. But R-E-S-P-E-C-T (thank you, Aretha) is a vital component of a good marriage, as are kindness and patience. And attention. Start with combating the myths, and we’ll continue from there another time.
Are you and your spouse in need of counseling? Contact Mercy Concern for an appointment.