Marriage Myth Number One
- Friday, October 03, 2003
For too long marriage has been saddled with unrealistic expectations and misguided assumptions. Every difficult marriage is plagued by a vast assortment of misconceptions about what marriage should be. The best time to grapple with these expectations is before you've even found the person who will be your lifelong love. In business jargon it's called "adjusting expectations."
What we anticipate seldom occurs; what we least expect generally happens - especially in marriage. Saying "I do" brings with it a host of conscious and unconscious expectations that aren't always fulfilled. Neil and Cathy, a couple in their late twenties and married for four years, each had a clear image of what life together would be like, but they had never discussed their ideas. They, like most newlyweds, simply assumed the other had an identical picture of marriage in mind. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
Cathy: "I expected married life to bring more stability and predictability to our lifestyle. To me it meant working in the garden together.
Neil: "I wanted our marriage to be exciting and spontaneous, not a ho-hum routine. To me it meant riding a motorcycle together."
The first year of marriage revealed these sharp and unexpected contrasts. What Cathy thought of as security, Neil thought of as boring. They valued many of the same things, but with different levels of intensity. Cathy painted carefully with delicate pastels; Neil painted boldly with primary colors.
Most incongruous expectations fall into two major categories: unspoken rules and unconscious roles. Bringing both of them out into the open can save years of wear and tear on a young marriage.
Everyone lives by a set of rules that is rarely spoken but always known. Needless to say, unspoken rules become more vocal when our spouse breaks them. Here is a sample of the rules we have heard from other couples:
Don't interrupt another's work
Don't ask for help unless you are desperate
Downplay your success
Don't talk about money in public
Never call attention to yourself
Don't volunteer to help
Don't get sick
Clean the kitchen before you go to bed
Don't be too serious about anything
Don't talk about your body
The second source of mismatched expectations involves the unconscious roles that you and your partner fall into, almost involuntarily. Without knowing it, a bride and groom are drawn into acting out roles that form from a blend of their personal dispositions, family backgrounds, and marital expectations. There are endless unconscious roles husbands and wives fall into. Some of the more common ones include:
If you are like most couples, you will try to follow a script that was written by the role models you grew up with. Being aware of this natural tendency is often all it takes to save you from a disappointing drama. Once you are aware of the roles you each tend to take, you can then discuss how to write a new script together.
The expectations you bring to your partnership can make or break your marriage. Don't miss out on the sterling moments of marriage because your ideals are out of sync. Instead, remember that the more openly you discuss your differing expectations, in the early stages of your relationship, the more likely you are to create a vision of marriage that you agree on and that is unique to the two of you.
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