Happily ever after: Three words with So Much Power! As kids, this phrase may have excited and inspired us. As adults, it can set us up for a slew of disappointment in our marriage.

Some of What We’re Taught About Marriage

From watching our parents or reading fairy tales, we learn the cues. Pop culture—movies, TV, fashion, and more—reinforces the conditioning. As a result, even the most grounded, level-headed individuals can find themselves looking for a damsel in distress or a knight in shining armor.

Then you have all the expectations about the wedding itself. The dress, the flowers, the cameras, all the attention—in countless ways, we learn to see this as our birthright. This helps explain why so many couples put more planning into their wedding than their marriage.

Love, at first sight, is not enough. Finding your soul mate is not a cure-all. Fairytale endings are well…for fairy tales. Marriage is an evolving journey with inevitable detours and wrong turns. This isn’t cynicism. It’s reality. It’s a deep form of love to treasure your connection enough to not leave anything to chance because “it was meant to be.”

6 Ways to Maintain a Reality-Based View of Marriage

  1. Treat communication as a process

As part of a committed partnership, healthy communication comes along with the deal. It’s indispensable. This may include:

  • Body language
  • Listening skills
  • Non-verbal gestures
  • Timing and tone
  • Power dynamics and gender roles (see below)

A healthy communication connection will often be the difference between having disagreements and having ugly fights.

  1. Plan and prepare, but stay flexible

Marital sustainability and success is not an accident. It’s not preordained. When things are going great, savor it. But never stop preparing and planning for your shared future. That said, keep the door open for spontaneity and flexibility. How does this work? It begins, as always, with respectful communication.

  1. Understand power dynamics

Part of the conditioning we face involves dangerously unbalanced power dynamics. Factors like age, sex, ethnicity, and class impact all our interactions. Some of us command more respect when talking. Therefore, to keep your relationship on equal footing, this reality must never be ignored or downplayed.

  1. Reinvent gender roles

If we see the relationship world as princesses and knights, we’ve voluntarily revoked reality. Combine your commitment to communication with your attention to power dynamics. Decide for yourselves what feels right. Whether it’s sexually or when deciding how to split up domestic chores, throw away the script. Communicate and experiment.

  1. Work on your friendship

Marriage is far more than attraction, lust, and sex. The underlying foundation is friendship. Fairy tales and romantic comedies rarely (if ever) focus on this essential component. We’re conditioned to see our partner one way and our close friends another way. This can lead to a dangerous disconnect. Work on and enjoy being BFFs with your lover.

  1. Recognize the difference between compatibility and love

Yes, love can be forever. Compatibility requires far more attention. As individuals, you never stop evolving, growing and changing. Of course, this can shift your relationship in many ways. The love isn’t gone but your connection must undergo periodic compatibility checks. Never take each other for granted or blame one another for changing.

Do You Need a Reality Check?

It’s not easy to wade through the conditioning. Sometimes, the shortest path to a reality check is couples counseling. Working together with a therapist is a safe space in which your beliefs can be openly explored. We all face basically the same influences. It’s not “wrong” to form expectations based on shared influences. But we can shift the perspective away from picket fences and happily ever after. Couples counseling is a proven method for removing what interferes with reality for a truer, more fulfilling future.


Posted by Counseling Wise on February 12, 2018