With Valentine’s Day coming up, here’s a good excuse to discuss five illusions about love that hamper our ability to create a healthy, thriving (and yes, loving) marriage.
1) If you’re in love, it will all be easy.
This is a destructive trap that many an unwitting spouse falls into. He or she looks around and it appears that all his friends have better marriages that require so much less work. They are relaxed around each other and it seems effortless. Obviously there is something wrong with their marriage since they have to work so hard to communicate effectively and to understand each other.
They need to understand that what they are seeing is not the full picture. They have no idea what goes on behind the scenes. They don’t know if it’s really a bad marriage and they are putting on a show for company. Or perhaps they didn’t see this couple at the beginning of their marriage when they had so many struggles. They don’t know if they are still working hard to creating that easy banter. When we watch a talented athlete, a dancer or figure skater, they also make it seem effortless. We shouldn’t be fooled by the surface.
No one has a good marriage without putting in a lot of hard work, constantly. If anyone tells you otherwise, don’t believe them. It’s just not possible. In the sheva brachos read under the chuppah, we say that the Almighty created joy and happiness, the bride and the groom. The possibility for a man and a woman who are so different to live together in joy is a creation of the Almighty. He created the possibility; we need to actualize it. Not only are we different genders, we are different personality types; we have different strengths and different weaknesses. We need to learn to work together.
2) If you’re in love, you will never fight.
As any successfully married person knows, this is also a myth. Due to the many differences cited above, a couple will inevitably have disagreements. They will fight. That is not necessarily bad. The key is how you fight. Do you do it with respect? Do you listen to the other side? Is about winning/ego or about working together? Is it about being right or compromise? Are you prepared to try to understand and validate your spouse’s opinion and perspective? Can you have the discussion in a soft and gentle tone?
The answers to these questions make all the difference in the world. They are determinative of whether the quarrel is productive or un, whether it brings you closer or pushes you apart.
The famous researcher, John Gottman, supports the view that it is not fighting per se that is the problem. According to his studies, the key is that there are 5 positive interactions for every 1 negative one. Yes, you will have fights but they should be far outweighed by the pleasure in each other’s company, by the compliments, by the enjoyment of your marriage.
3) If you’re in love, you know what each other is thinking.
Even though some partners in long-term marriages may actually finish each other’s sentences, no one really knows what the other one is thinking. And for the most part this is a good thing! We don’t want our spouse to read our thoughts, especially during one of the abovementioned fights. The problem arises when we have expectations that our spouse has some extra-sensory abilities.
We are shocked that he didn’t know exactly what he was supposed to bring home for dinner, the perfect birthday present and that I wanted those pictures sitting on the dining room table hung on the wall today (that last part was for my husband; I hope he’s reading this!).
The expectation that our spouse can and should read our minds leads to frustration and argument. Once we accept the impossibility of it, we can make our requests clearly and eloquently and not set our spouse or ourselves up for disappointment.
4) If you’re in love, you will always want to be intimate.
This is definitely a Hollywood and Harlequin-driven myth. Most married couples today lead very busy lives with lots of demands. Their careers are exhausting and life with the children is equally so. Most people are challenged to find time to be together (and this is a whole other topic). But dissatisfaction in this intimate area of marriage may be heightened by the belief that it’s different in other people’s homes or that it’s not normal that we aren’t always together.
This is an unrealistic expectation fostered by bad sit-coms and romantic comedies. Real life is so much more complex. Yes, you need to be together. Yes, you want to work on wanting to be together (if necessary). But don’t add unrealistic expectations based on the lives of fictional couples to the mix. Work it out with your spouse based on your situation and don’t be fooled by locker room chat and magazine titles. Everyone is struggling with this issue and trying to find their way. Don’t add unnecessarily to the pressure.
5) If you’re in love, you’ll live happily ever after.
I had to put this one in. Even though we may intellectually know the fallacy of this statement, we can’t underestimate the effect of fairy tales and Disney movies on our emotional lives and our expectations. There is a part inside everyone that thinks that love is magical, that love solves all problems, that “all you need is love”….
We know this isn’t true but we have to make sure that our emotional lives are in sync with our intellectual ones. And we so badly want to live happily ever after.
I think two issues need to be briefly addressed here. One is what it means to live “happily” and two is how to achieve this “ever after” goal.
If we think that “happily” means a life of no problems and no pain, then we will never be happy (this is true married or single) but if we define “happily” as maintaining a positive attitude and taking pleasure in each other despite your challenges, then it is certainly achievable.
Can you have a consistently happy marriage, an “ever after”? You can – the irony is that the only way to achieve it is through hard work. That’s the piece that the fairy tales always neglect to mention. But if you put your all into your marriage and your partner does as well (as with all situations, this presupposes two emotionally healthy human beings), then you can get your happily ever after. You need to begin by getting rid of Illusion #1.