About half of all marriages end in divorce. With so many marriages breaking up, it is clear that some of our basic assumptions about the modern institution are misguided—and even outright wrong. Understanding the realities of marriage today can help make your relationship more satisfying…
Myth: All you need is love.
Reality: Love is not enough to keep you together. Marital love is conditional and based on how you behave toward one another day after day.
What to do: First, be clear to your spouse about what you need from the relationship—what you can live with and what you cannot live with.
Ask your partner to think about that, too. Then share your views and negotiate how you each can fulfill each other’s wishes.
Example: You may feel the need to go out with friends regularly without your partner, but your partner may feel hurt by this. You might negotiate to go out one night with friends in exchange for one night out with your partner.
Myth: Talking things out always resolves problems.
Reality: Communication has been oversold as the key to a good marriage. Many couples actually make things worse by talking things out. Brutal honesty often backfires, causing a spouse to dig in his/her heels instead of making changes in behavior.
What to do: Learn how to communicate skillfully by focusing on problems rather than fault. Use “I” language, not “you” language. With “I” language, you take responsibility for your emotional experience rather than blaming it on your partner.
Example: “I feel anxious when we don’t have things planned in advance, and it would be a big help to me if we could make dates with friends as far in advance as possible.” That’s better than making accusatory statements such as, “You always wait until the last minute to make plans, and then our friends are too busy to see us.”
Myth: People don’t change.
Reality: Change is always possible, and small changes often can produce big results. But most people go about trying to change their relationships in unproductive ways—by trying to get their spouses to change. Marital problems are rarely the fault of just one partner, and the biggest impediment to change is the belief that you aren’t the one who needs to change.
What to do: Change your own behavior—this often is the best way to prompt shifts in your partner’s behavior.
Example: If your spouse always seems to criticize you, try praising his actions on a regular basis. Eventually, he may reciprocate by praising you.
Myth: Our culture’s shift in gender roles has made marriage easier.
Reality: The modern marital arrangement—in which both husband and wife work outside the home, and family responsibilities and decisions are handled by both partners—may be “fairer,” but it has created its own problems. Confusion about roles, as well as mutual feelings of being taken for granted, can lead to resentment and conflict.
What to do: When discussing your expectations of your relationship, be on the alert for gender stereotypes, such as the idea that women cook and men take out the garbage. Apportion your duties and responsibilities fairly.
Example: You cook two days a week, and your spouse cooks two days a week. Order takeout on the other days.
Myth: Children solidify a marriage.
Reality: The stress of having children is a serious threat to a couple’s harmony. Even when you feel that you are prepared for their impact on your relationship, your natural devotion to them will leave little time and energy for your marriage.
What to do: If you want to preserve your marriage, your children cannot always come first. Commit to regular alone time as a couple with weekly or biweekly date nights and occasional trips away from the kids.
Myth: Most couples have good sex lives.
Reality: Movies, television shows and advertisements have raised our expectations about sex, making it seem like everyone is having great sex on a regular basis and you’re abnormal if you’re not. But many married couples have sexual problems—they just don’t talk openly about them.
What to do: Expect ebbs and flows in your sex life, and don’t buy into the Hollywood image of what your sex life should be. Consider seeking help from a couples counselor or sex therapist if you can’t resolve sexual problems on your own.
To locate a qualified practitioner, contact…
- American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, 703-838-9808, AAMFT.org.
- American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists, 202-449-1099, AASECT.org.