Sally Connolly, LCSW, LMFT has been a therapist for over 30 years, specializing in work with couples, families and relationships. She has expertise with clients
- “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”.
- “You shouldn’t have to work at marriage.”
- “Personal happiness is more important than staying in a ‘love-less’ marriage.”
- “Arguing always destroys a relationship. You should never argue in a marriage.”
- “All problems can be solved in a marriage.”
- “Your partner should always ‘get you’. You should be able to finish each other’s sentences. Your partner is your soul-mate.”
Do any of these ideas fit for what you believe should be happening in your marriage?
And are those qualities, that you believe are crucial, missing in your relationship?
If so, you are not alone. Holding on to these ideas; however, will make living in a healthy marriage harder than it needs to be and may cause you to turn away from a marriage that could be saved and improved.
Often people have ideas about love and marriage that are unrealistic and then, when their own relationship does not match up to their ideas of what should be, they turn their attention outward, away from the marriage.
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In this article, I want to share with you some of the realistic thinking about these ideas.
* “Love means never having to say you are sorry”.
Really? Can anyone really think that this is true today? People do and say mean things, sometimes without even meaning it in a hurtful way. Good people do bad things. Statements and behaviors are sometimes misunderstood.
Sincere apologies and forgiveness are crucial in healing any damage done in a relationship.
Realistic: Love means learning how to acknowledge your mistakes, take responsibility, apologize and ask for forgiveness.
* “You shouldn’t have to work at marriage.”
Those couples who have been in long-term marriages often tell you that marriage does require effort.
Finding ways to make the relationship a priority, thinking and acting in loving ways, planning dates and learning how to remain calm and work through differences are all ways that couples ”work” on a relationship.
Realistic: Marriage doesn’t come easy to most. It takes effort and work. “Love is a verb.”
* “Personal happiness is more important than staying in a ‘love-less’ marriage.”
When you are in a successful marriage, you don’t lose the “I” but the “we” becomes more pronounced.
In my practice, I often find that people can have both, it just takes efforts to learn to resolve problems in their marriage as well as to gain a deeper understanding of what might be making them feel unhappy. Rarely is the relationship the reason for all unhappiness. Even if it is, ending a marriage is usually not the answer.
Realistic: Finding ways to nurture and enhance love in a marriage brings personal happiness as well as finding ways to bring meaning into your life in other ways.
* “Arguing always destroys a relationship. You should never argue in a marriage.”
While some couples say that they never disagree, for most this is untrue. It is unrealistic to think that you and your partner would not disagree on many different issues. (Sex, money, children and in-laws are the top 4.)
A lack of resolving conflict can lead to distance and loneliness in a marriage. Resolving conflict helps erase distance.
Realistic: Discussing, compromising, negotiating and looking for ways to resolve conflict are healthy ways for couples to feel connected to each other.
* “All problems can be solved in a marriage.”
John Gottman, PhD, found that couples generally argue about the same things two-thirds of the time. Not all problems are solvable. If couples can learn how to talk about their differences respectfully then they can enjoy a healthy relationship.
For couples who disagree about finances, it might be one bill, paycheck or expense at a time. For those who disagree about parenting, it may be one situation or one child at a time. Whatever the issues, differences crop up over time.
Realistic: Differences should be expected and applauded as couples learn how to talk about them and work through them.
* “Your partner should always ‘get you’. You should be able to finish each other’s sentences. Your partner is your soul-mate.”
Partners in most couples have different life experiences. Their parents may have had different parenting styles, they may have come from different economic conditions, been children of divorce or long-term marriage of parents, be oldest, youngest, middle or only child in their family, etc. This clearly affects the way that each person thinks about problems, issues, ideas and situations.
Realistic: Uncovering and understanding each other is one of the gifts and one of the mysteries of a marriage.
In summary, it is good to have high expectations for yourself and your marriage; just make sure that they are realistic.
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