We think of “myths” as fanciful stories that people believed centuries ago. But every generation has stories it believes because the stories explain – or even justify – what people want to believe. When myths are based on false assumptions, however, they can cause problems.
Les and Leslie Parrott explain that “the belief in a happily-ever-after marriage,” the kind regularly seen in Hollywood productions, “is one of the most widely held and destructive myths.” This is especially true in second marriages.
The Parrotts warn us of several popular, but misleading, re-marriage myths. Here are three of the most damaging:
“Everything bad in my life will disappear.” The Parrotts note that “this myth has been handed down through countless generations.” Cinderella and Prince Charming came from different backgrounds and have spent only a few hours together. “All they have in common is a glass slipper and a foot that fits it!” Yet, we “know” they're “perfect” for each other and so they'll “live happily ever after.”
The Parrotts explain that deep down we all long for a soul mate, who will “make everything bad go away – especially if this is our second marriage.” Then reality hits. A second marriage “may mean trying to blend a family, cope with a difficult former spouse, deal with more than one set of in-laws, and so on.”
As Ron Deal points out, divorce doesn't end a relationship, it rearranges it: The problems just come in a different form.
“Adjustment to married life occurs more quickly in re-marriage.” You would normally think “that because you have traveled this marriage pathway before, you will know how to adjust to it more quickly.” You might even assure yourself that you're experienced, wiser, stronger, more mature and more self-aware of your strengths and weakness. There may be some truth in this. However, the Parrotts warn that if you expect your re-marriage will quickly and effortlessly “settle into a comfortable groove, you're going to be doubly disappointed.” Reality: It won't be quick and it won't be effortless.
Stepfamilies need about six to 10 years to begin feeling like “families.” The Parrotts warn that “life in a new family is not normal.” Even without children, “the proverbial baggage you bring into this current marriage from your previous one takes time to unpack.”
Hara Estroff Marano explains that when a marriage ends, whether by death or divorce, there's a loss that must be grieved. It's essential “to see the goodness of the prior relationship as well as the negative aspects.” This is best done if you and your new spouse honestly explore these issues together. If it is not done, there is a high risk of “projecting all kinds of baggage from the old relationship onto the new one.”
“My spouse will make me whole.” This belief is a major problem in first marriages and nearly disastrous in re-marriages. The Parrotts warn that when people believe this myth “they are not interested in nourishing the relationship but in being nourished by their partner.” They think being married solves all problems. And if they have children, the “new spouse will complete the picture for their children,” too.
The Parrotts describe this belief, along with the opposite, rugged self-reliance and disengagement, as “deeply flawed and dangerous.” Marriages are at their best when two people, each with solid self-respect, commit to nurture their relationship, their spouse and themselves.
Everyone enters marriage believing these myths to a certain extent. As the Parrotts explain, however, “every successful marriage patiently works to challenge and debunk these myths.” In the process these couples build a great life together.