Marriage has been taking a beating for four straight decades. High divorce rates, lower marriage rates, and more couples co-habiting are only some of the factors wearing on the American marriage. These factors gain a lot of attention in the media because they are easily quantified and useful for whatever agenda the reporting agency has.
However, there is another way in which marriage is taking a beating that does not get all that much attention. It comes in the form of expectations. Each person enters the marital union laden with expectations – usually high expectations – fueled by a romantic perception of the fairy tale of marriage, access to lots of guilt-free sex, or the hope that the loneliness will finally cease. When the marriage gets beyond the honeymoon, many of these expectations get unraveled and the marriage settles into a pattern that slowly wears the couple down.
Let’s explore some of these patterns and see what we can do about them.
Pattern #1: The “It’s All Business” Marriage – This is the marriage in which both members of the marital unit work full time jobs and have no kids. They are bringing in more money than they really need. They had a terrific honeymoon that cost five digits and have a professional looking scrapbook to prove it. They are climbing the ladder of success at work, and yet are having this vague awareness that perhaps something is not quite right.
That professional smooth that gets them so far at work never gets checked at the door when they arrive home at six or seven in the evening. No, that smooth continues, a kind of faux peace that glosses over mounting conflict and makes nice, even if all hell needs to break loose. There is no fighting, just diplomatic negotiations. They are above conflict and take pride in that fact, but also cannot deny that they just don’t feel close.
Pattern #2: The “Isolated” Marriage – This is the marriage that is overrun in responsibilities with work and children and probably one more thing than can be dealt with. They are too busy for anything but that which functions to make the next day or moment possible. They want to be connected to other people, but they just cannot fit it into their lives. They probably do not go to church although they feel, like they should, and if they do, it is functional and not communal. If asked, they would not be able to name one person who really knows what is going on their marriage.
They feel alone, but are too busy to deal with that loneliness. Their lives are stressed and they feel always behind on something. Priorities to them means having to decide what good thing not to do. Usually that thing is social engagement on a personal level – friendships. This is the couple that when they finally get a moment to rest realize that not only do they have no friends, but that they hardly recognize each other.
Pattern #3: The “Disillusioned” Marriage – This is the marriage where one, if not both, in the couple complain that they never thought marriage should be so hard. They go ahead and enter into the hard decisions and the conflict, but they don’t feel like they should have to. Marriage was supposed to be the best thing to ever happen, living daily with their best friend and lover, enjoying every minute of everyday. What they feel like, however, is that the marriage is sometimes humdrum, boring, and without spark.
Sometimes efforts to spark up the marriage either fail or wander to dangerous areas that actually threaten the marriage. This adds to the belief that something is critically flawed – beyond repair. The bar is raised so high that every effort, no matter how good, falls short of the exaggerated expectation.
Quick solutions. First, be aware of the meaning of your dissatisfaction in your marriage. If you are not aware of it, you’ll probably just blame your spouse. Second, work to resolve the problem slowly, not all in one shot. You didn’t get dissatisfied overnight, so expect recovery to be slow. Third, understand that marriage is not only beautiful because of how enjoyable it is, but its beauty also flows from the depth of patience, wisdom, self-control, self-sacrifice, and character you gain from being so intimate with another free will being.