I was scrolling through my Facebook feed recently and came across an article that intrigued me but, as I read it, it made me increasingly angry. It was entitled “10 Signs You’re Going to Marry Your Boyfriend Someday”. As a marriage and family therapist, of course, I find these articles interesting and they often do have good tips. But this was inadvertently promoting a false reality of what marriage “should” be. Let’s take a closer look at some of the signs the author points to as proof you have found your perfect mate.
“You’ll feel attracted to him all the time.”- We all know that AMAZING feeling when everything’s new. We call it the Romance stage of relationships. In this initial phase, everything feels good and we can’t get enough of our partner in all ways, including physically. Sex is new and therefore is erotic and exciting. But is it realistic to believe that in a long-lasting marriage, we will feel attracted to our partner all the time? The reality beyond this myth is that as the relationship develops and goes through different stages (such as the Difficulty phase where the relationship is experiencing more conflict) our attraction likely ebbs and flows. When we are in conflict, or when our relationship is struggling under stress, or simply because we’ve been together so long, it makes sense that we don’t feel a daily attraction to our partner. But sex and intimacy can be great in your relationship - with realistic expectations!
“You’ll feel like you can work anything out without a fight”- Sure, we may have disagreements at the beginning, but we are much more willing to overlook our partner’s faults or annoying habits and we tend to find most things about our partner endearing, leaving us little to fight about. The reality beyond this myth is that arguing is a normal part of every healthy relationship. As two separate individuals with our own unique perspectives on life, we will naturally disagree at times. And just as intimacy is affected by increased stressors, naturally, increased stressors give us more to fight about. The key to success in the relationship is not so much about the fact that you argue at times, but it is about learning how to argue respectfully and to repair after the fight. Arguing fairly means thinking before you speak so you don't say something that's shaming or contemptuous. Repair includes coming together after the fight and being able to have an effective conversation to get to understanding the other's perspective and having empathy.
“You’ll Feel Like His Little Quirks Are More Adorable Than Irritating”-Sure, at the beginning his little quirks are adorable, because all the good feelings of a new love make us look at everything about our partner in a positive light. The reality beyond this myth is that we wouldn’t be human if we weren’t irritated by our partner at times. As compatible as we may be with any person, being in a committed relationship, living with another person, and sharing our lives with another person involves feeling irritated at times. Feeling irritated with our partner is as normal and healthy as arguing! To weather these irritants, the key is to nurture the fondness and admiration you have for your partner’s positive traits.
When I take a closer look at this article, I notice the author has only been married for a few months, and I wonder if she would have a different perspective years into her own marriage. The danger in an article like this is that all these positive thoughts and feelings that are occurring in the Romance stage of the relationship and are not necessarily going to continue through the life of the marriage. If we believe they will, we are often left feeling disappointed and disillusioned, and perhaps even thinking our partner is not the “right’ one. Rather, let’s teach couples to have an understanding that it is normal for these positive feelings to ebb and flow, just as other emotions come and go like the ocean’s tide. Of course, this doesn’t mean a relationship beyond the Romance stage is destined for a life of lack of sex, fighting and discord. On the contrary, once we move through the stages of Difficulty and Commitment to making our relationship work, we ultimately reach an even better place that we refer to as Mature Love. Mature love has the same positivity as Romance; in fact, we can be having even better sex and better connection, love and friendship in this stage because we have come to accept that both our partner and ourselves are flawed. But, we love them despite these flaws and we know how to work through differences respectfully.
If you want to learn more about how to work through the Stages of Relationships and how to have realistic expectations of a long term relationship, contact us at GetSupport@CouplesTherapyCenterOfNJ.com or 908-246-3074.