The Reality of Marriage
by Debra Fileta
We all enter marriage with a set of underlying assumptions, though we often don’t notice their existence. Assumptions are the things we expect, or the way we think things are “supposed to be” in marriage. Our assumptions influence our actions, choices, behaviors and feelings, and they impact our interactions. They’re shaped by many things from our past relationship experiences, to the way we interacted with our parents or the people who raised us, to the friendships we develop, to the people we date. But slowly, those assumptions and expectations begin making their way into how we interact with the people closest to us, which is oftentimes why they go unnoticed until we get into the pressure cooker of marriage, and the realization hits that this is not what we expected it to be like! Talk about a reality check. What we expect marriage to be like, isn’t always in line with reality.
In gathering research for the chapters of Choosing Marriage (a candid look into marriage), I asked over 1000 singles to tell me what they thought marriage would be like regarding topics such as sex, communication, conflict, attraction and intimacy. I then asked 1000 married people to tell me the truth of what marriage has actually been like. The answers were astonishing, and I expand on them chapter by chapter, with practical application throughout the book. Yet regarding expectations, a few big-picture themes stood out that married couples reported caused more conflict and stress in marriage than they ever expected.
In my survey of married people, 80% reported experiencing sexual struggles in marriage. Many people are dealing with the reality check of sexual issues and problems, but because of the stigma we’ve created surrounding this important topic, many couples end up needlessly suffering for far too long. We tell couples that just because they wait, their sex life will be great, rather than preparing them for the potential issues that might arise along the way. No matter what aspect of sexual struggles you’re experiencing in your marriage, there’s hope for healing (much more on this in Choosing Marriage Chapter 8: Sex Marks the Spot).
Opposites attract. We tend to be drawn to people who possess the qualities, strengths and personality traits we lack. It’s not uncommon for an introvert to be married to an extrovert. Or for the funny guy to be married to the serious gal. Or for the laid-back person to be married to the structured person. And it makes sense, because we are often attracted to people who add something to our life. So yes, opposites do attract—but then they attack. The very same personality traits that draw you to someone initially are the exact ones that can cause conflict later and drive you crazy in your differences.
It takes a serious commitment to understand each other, communicate and allow our personality differences to become an asset rather than a point of contention. The many different layers to our personalities need to be understood and expressed throughout marriage.
Dealing with Extended Family
When you choose a spouse, you get his whole family thrown in as well. Therefore, it’s no wonder extended family can be such a stress point for marriages. It’s important to continually prioritize our marriages by setting boundaries with our extended family that simultaneously encourage relationship and reduce conflict.
I know one young man who is currently dealing with the verbal “stings” his mother-in-law tends to throw his way through subtle criticism. But rather than allow that interaction to destroy their marriage, he and his wife have learned to come together, take each other’s side, and set boundaries for the type of interactions they choose to engage with her. It’s important for us to learn to choose marriage for our relationships to come out stronger.
You’re probably not surprised by this answer, because we all hear the phrase “financial stress is one of the leading causes of divorce” thrown around. Whether we’re wired to spend or to save, our differences can cause serious stress. It’s important to understand our differences in values and habits when it comes to money, and learn to change our approach from ME (my money, my habits, my debt) to WE (our budget, our goals, our responsibilities).
The unchecked expectations people have going into marriage can cause major stress. But they also have the power to draw us closer to one another in communication with love and mutual respect. It’s not WHAT we will disagree about, but HOW we decide to navigate those disagreements that really matters in the end. Rather than holding on to the things we were taught to believe about marriage, overcoming our false expectations means that we let go of ME, and start thinking of WE. Because for the hope of a healthy marriage, the formula of We > Me (We is greater than Me) is where it always must start.
This article is an adapted excerpt from Choosing Marriage: Why It Has to Start with We > Me. Copyright © 2018 Debra Fileta. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Oregon.
Debra Fileta is a licensed professional counselor, national speaker, and author of Choosing Marriage: Why It Has to Start with We > Me. She’s also the creator of the popular relationship advice blog, TrueLoveDates.com, reaching millions of people with the message that healthy people make healthy relationships.
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