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Five Modern Myths of Marriage

Five Modern Myths of Marriage

Romance, happiness and other marital misconceptions.


Myth #1: Marriage benefits men much more than women.

This destructive falsehood has led women to view their role in the relationship in a negative light, to assume they are martyrs to their husbands' needs, despite any experience to the contrary. The power of popular myths to alter expectations and perceptions of reality is astounding.

Apparently, despite earlier reports to the contrary, both men and women live longer, happier, healthier and wealthier lives when they are married. (This and the other four myths are based on studies done by Rutger's National Marriage Project. Their most recent survey is entitled "The Marrying Kind: Which Men Marry and Why?")

Hopefully many women will be freer to acknowledge that they enjoy being married, to more fully appreciate the experience and to recognize that the giving that accompanies a healthy and strong relationship is a pleasure not a burden. It will also help redress potential imbalance if women no longer perceive themselves as generous donors with their husbands the sole beneficiaries.

Myth #2: The keys to long-term marital success are good luck and romantic love.

Striking a blow at Hollywood, the couples studied cited commitment and companionship as the secret of their longevity. Elaborating, they explained that creating their marriages required hard work, dedication and commitment. "The happiest couples are friends who share lives and are compatible in interests and values."

This answer could have been drawn from the Torah's account of Eliezer's search for a bride for Isaac. He searched looking for a girl with good values, particularly kindness, which Rivka evidenced when she brought water both for him and his camels. We are also taught the importance of commitment when the Torah describes that first Isaac married Rivka, then he loved her. Jewish marriages have always been built on shared values and commitment. "New" may be preferable in a laundry detergent, but for marriages frequently the "old" wisdom is the most reliable.

Myth #3: Couples who live together before marriage are able to test how well suited they are for each other and have more satisfying and longer-lasting marriages than couples who do not.

Many studies have found the exact opposite to be true. Possibly people who cohabit have a greater fear of commitment, already established as a key element to a successful marriage. This attitude has other implications. Without commitment, how hard are you going to work at problems that arise? And the converse is also true: with commitment is there any problem that can't be faced? (Granted that some are harder than others!)

"But how will you know if you are compatible?" is the frequent charge. This is magical thinking. There is no special test of compatibility, no amount of time spent together that will give any guarantees. The only thing that works is commitment (and hard work).

Whenever I teach marriage classes, people are frequently disappointed with what I have to say. (Could be my teaching ability!) Everyone wants some deep insight, some dramatic idea that will change their marital experience. But there isn't one. Building a good marriage is very simple in its conception, and like many simple ideas, difficult in its execution. It's making the commitment to keep driving forward one small step at a time, no matter what. Living together can't prepare you for that. Only attitude change, perhaps a supportive community and the Almighty's help can get you there.

The benefits and opportunities of marriage are only in the comfort and security of commitment.

When marriage is about creating together, about congruent goals rather than companionship for the latest movies and the trendiest restaurants, then we dig in our heels for the long road ahead.

Myth #4: People cannot be expected to stay in a marriage for a lifetime as they did in the past because we live so much longer today.

Sounds crazy, no? But the research shows that this thinking is more common than not.

As the author wisely points out, we also marry much later! And half of all divorces take place by the 7th year of marriage, an "opportunity" available to our ancestors as well. Once again, our unwillingness to make a deep and last commitment rears its ugly head.

It's a fascinating rationalization – "people cannot be expected." Who put such a limitation on our abilities? Abraham and Sarah had their first child at the advanced ages of 90 and 100. Who lives much longer? Who "cannot be expected"? As every educator knows, children (and adults) will rise and fall according to the expectations placed on them. If you expect your marriage to last there is a much greater chance it will than if you assume you can't make it.

Myth #5: Marriage will make me happy.

An unhappy single person is an unhappy married one. Marriage is not a panacea. We bring ourselves with all of our baggage into the relationship and our spouse brings their neuroses as well. This is actually not a recipe for happiness or fulfillment.

We have to work at being happy and cheerful, and at bolstering our partner's spirits in order to achieve happiness in marriage. All the secrets to good relationships that we have read about and practiced on our friends for years must now be brought into play – letting go, being forgiving, ignoring faults, not caring who's right. Happiness is available but it doesn't come automatically with the ring.

Marriage can be an amazing experience, an exciting roller coaster ride. There will be joy and laughter; there will be poignancy and tears. But it must be approached seriously and with reasonable expectations. It's a paradox. In order to have real "fun" in marriage, we have to approach it with real seriousness. The benefits and opportunities of marriage are only obtained in the comfort and security of commitment. Other theories offer a tempting, easier way in (or out), but in the long run marriage is built on good old-fashion work.

October 16, 2004

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Visitor Comments: 15

(15) Rose, June 17, 2012 7:29 PM

Isn't it funny (sad, really) how the enemy of souls tell us that we can't be expected to stick to marriage for a lifetime when we "now live so much longer"? Adam lived 930 years, and it was during the last 800 years that he had many sons and daughters. unless we accuse the first man of adultery, he stayed married for -- wait for it -- 930 years, and the sex was at least good enough to make lots of babies after the first 130. Seth lived to age 105 before he became a father, and a total of 912 years. Enosh was 90 before his first son's birth, and then a total of 905 years. Kenan was 70 before the birth of his first son, and reached a total of 910 years. There was a time when people lived much, much longer, and marriages also lasted much longer. If there's anything in the modern world that militates against marital longevity, it must be the increasing number of sources for bad advice.

(14) Tziporah, April 28, 2011 5:41 AM

Right On!

G-D, along with people's intent makes THE DIFFERENCE. Are you looking for opt-outs?or Are you looking to make a world better for yourself and others? Living together may be less cumbersome and effort but the outcome is much less substenative. Building a society that improves the world isn't done with an easy-go-lucky perspective. It takes a magnanimous attitude toward oneself, your partner and others and the intent to create a place that is better than when you came into it. Will there be hard times and rejection in marriage? Most probably..same with the single life..Big rewards come with commitment and inner directives toward the goal. It requires persistance and LAUGHTER. GO FOR IT!!!

(13) Jack Israel, April 27, 2011 9:59 PM

I think you are pretty much on target, but I would add another, you have to find the perfect mate for a long and enduring marriage. .

Many prospective spouses think that the girl or fellow that they are to marry are perfect in every way. Obviously, that is not so. We all have our faults; no one is perfect. God did not make us that way. Problem is that when a mate finds his/her counterpart in a manner conrary to his/her, he/she makes immediate exit. If your mate is "perfect" more times that when he/she dispays a negative trait, consider yourself lucky. You have found the "perfect" mate. Stay married and learn to be more and more compatible.

(12) lorry spiegel, April 27, 2011 6:28 PM

for better or worse

Your article is very "right on" We have been married almost 59 years. My spouse has had many medical problems, The most recent was last week when she was hospitalizsed. I am in resonably good health for my age. I continue to excersise, and take some care of my diet. My top priority and commitment is to her. It's difficult when she is ill. If I have one prayer to G-d, it is for me to have The stength and patience to care for her as best I can. Real love lives forever. Sincerly Lorry (oldpainter)

(11) jackie, April 27, 2011 3:59 PM

second marriage

I agree with your article and believe in marriage. What of second marriages? How do you blend families? Should a person wait till the children are a certain age before marrying again? Is there a seminar or can you recommend book on this topic?

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