Nearly half of first marriages end in divorce. Unreasonable expectations about marriage followed by inevitable disappointment are a primary reason.
Expert Michelle Wiener-Davis explains that both newlyweds and long-term couples often base their relationship on faulty ideas, adding, “Unfortunately, bad ideas are one of many things in life that don’t improve with age.”
Wiener-Davis provides a True/False “Relationship IQ Test” to check our expectations:
1. “Conflict and anger are signs that your relationship is failing.” (False) Wiener-Davis explains that marital conflict is “more than unavoidable, it’s necessary.” Two people cannot live together without disagreements, sometimes over serious matters. Constantly avoiding conflict is a mistake. “Bottled negative feelings become poison;” they inevitably lead to brooding resentfulness.
Venting or always expressing your feeling when you’re upset is not good either. Venting makes matters worse; angry statements made in haste are often regretted forever. In good relationships, couples learn “to distinguish between the important issues and the petty ones,” and to choose their battles wisely.
2. “You’re more likely to divorce if there are differences in your backgrounds, likes and dislikes, and interests.” (False) Don’t expect to become clones of each other. Differences can add color and depth to your marriage. Learn to nurture the interests you share and respect the interests you don’t, “or simply make peace with them.”
3. “In healthy marriages, major disagreements get resolved over time.” (False) Weiner-Davis notes that “approximately 60 percent of what couples argue about is unresolvable;” argue forever and they’ll still never agree. Expecting to eventually find mutually satisfying solutions to all major problems is pure fantasy. Healthy conflict resolution means dealing with differences respectfully; resolving the issues you can and learning to live with those you cannot.
4. “In healthy marriages, spouses have the same definition of what it means to be loving.” (False) Expert Gary Chapman explains that what each of us needs to feel loved varies widely from person to person. Weiner-Davis adds that good marriages do not require an agreed definition of love. Instead, she says, “it involves understanding your spouse’s definition and showing your love based on that definition, not yours.”
5. “People just fall out of love.” (False) Marriage is a dynamic relationship requiring constant nurturing. You’ll drift apart by taking it for granted and not spending enough time together. Work, the kids and family obligations are important, but the marriage must be your overall priority.
Moreover, healthy love is not simply a feeling; it’s a decision. Successful marriages involve couples who decide to talk respectfully, even when they don’t feel that way; decide to do things together, even when they’d rather be doing something else; and decide to have time for intimacy even when they don’t feel loving.
6. “An affair doesn’t have to ruin a marriage.” (True) Infidelity is one of the most devastating blows a marriage can suffer. It violates the connection and trust that binds your marriage together. Yet Weiner-Davis notes that “most people survive infidelity and can, in fact, make their marriage stronger once they work through the issues infidelity has brought into their lives.”
7. “Most people are much happier in their second marriages because they’ve learned from their mistakes.” (False) Some people learn from the mistakes in their first marriage, but most don’t. About 45 percent of first marriages and 60 percent of second marriages fail. Weiner-Davis explains that most people simply change spouses not “the bad relationship habits they learned the first time around.”
Realistic expectations will not, by themselves, insure a healthy marriage. However, they will greatly increase the chances that couples can build the type of marriage that will last “until death do us part.”
©2014, All Rights Reserved. James Sheridan’s website is www.marriagedoneright.com. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.