One need only listen to just about any top-forty song on the radio to hear the common but destructive myth that says everything good in a relationship will get better. The truth is that not everything gets better. Many things improve in a relationship, but some things become more difficult. Every successful marriage requires necessary losses, and when you do choose to marry you will endure a mourning period.

There are many tradeoffs, both enjoyable and tedious, but by far the most dramatic loss experienced is the idealized image you have of your partner. This was the toughest myth we encountered in our marriage. Each of us had an airbrushed mental picture of who the other was. But eventually, married life asked us to look reality square in the face and reckon with the fact that we did not marry the person we thought we did. And-brace yourself-neither will you.

Here's the bottom line: each of us constructs an idealized image of the person we marry. The image is planted by our partner's eager efforts to put his best foot forward, but takes root in the rich soil of our romantic fantasies. We want to see our partner at his best. We imagine, for example, that he would never become irritable or put on excess weight. We seek out and attend to what we find admirable and blank out every blemish. We see him as more noble, more attractive, more intelligent, and more gifted than he really is. But not for long.

The stark fact is that this phase is necessarily fleeting. Some experts believe the half-life of romantic love is about three months, after which you have only half the amount of romantic feelings that you started out with. Others believe romantic love stays at a peak for two to three years before starting to fade. The point is that we marry an image and only later discover the real person.

An attorney we know who handles many divorce cases told us that the number-one reason two people split up is that they "refuse to accept the fact that they are married to a human being."

In every marriage, mutual hope gives way to mutual disillusionment the moment you realize your partner is not the perfect person you thought you married. But, then again, he can't be. No human being can fulfill our idealized dreams. A letdown is inevitable. But sunshine is behind these dark clouds of disappointment. Disenchantment enables you to move into a deeper intimacy. Once you realize that your marriage is not a source of constant romance, you can appreciate the fleeting moments of romance for what they are-a very special experience.

In biblical times, the special status of "bride and groom" lasted a full year. "If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married." The beginning of marriage was a time of learning and adapting. It still is.

As you date and begin to get serious with someone special, don't be afraid to discuss the expectation you have of your life together. As you enjoy the "my lover can do no wrong" intensity of young romance, remember that real love begins when the "honeymoon" is over.

 

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