If marriages were made in heaven, God certainly has made a lot of mistakes! The divorce rate in the U.S. is about 50% of first marriages; it is even higher in second and third marriages. Some statistics put the California divorce rate at a whopping 75%!
The fairytale story that once a couple is married, they “live happily ever after” is a total myth…a fabrication of the story-teller’s imagination. There is no basis for assuming that once a couple marries life together should proceed happily ever after. Based on the statistics, being “happily married” is as much of a myth as the fairy tales.
There are three major reasons that marriages fail: 1) poor choices, 2) unrealistic expectations, and 3) failure to maintain the relationship.
Too many people are led by “chemistry” and a fanciful “soul-mate” concept. And then proceed to marry only to find that after the initial endorphin rush subsides, they are left with someone with whom they have little in common and may not even like. Romantic relationships should include many of the characteristics one would look for in a best friend, roommate, and playmate. Without similar interests, a similar sense of humor, similar values, similar priorities regarding finances, and similar daily living habits, even the most scintillating of relationships will deteriorate once the sizzle diminishes. I advise people to do their homework and vet their prospective mate with the same due diligence as one would a business partner.
All too often couples do not learn about the small print in their marriage contract until after they marry. It is only then that they realize that they each had expectations, both explicit and implicit, that were never discussed or agreed upon. Instead of discussing their respective expectations they end up being disappointed and even resentful when these expectations are not met. For example, they did not discuss their financial expectations (“I did know that you wanted your own bank account or that you gambled for high stakes”), sexual expectations (“she expects sex every night!)”, family expectations (“she wants to spend every weekend his family”), social expectations (“he wants to go out with people all the time; we are never alone”), or their respective needs for a life outside of marriage (“he wants to go out with his friends every weekend”), to name but a few. When any one of these expectations are not met, it can potentially lead to marital discord. Couples should spend significant time talking about their respective expectations; implicit expectations should be make explicit (“I never realized that he expected me to read his mind and mood without him having to say anything”). It would be similar to listing the expectations in a job description. Just as employees or business partners should know what is expected of them, marital partners should know what each expects of the other and have some say in whether they agree to meet those expectations. Preferably before they get married.
This is a big-ticket item. A marriage is similar to a vegetable garden. When planting a garden you must first cultivate the soil and then decide what vegetables you wish to plant and whether they will grow in your type of soil. You must also decide what vegetables are compatible with each other. Some vegetables need more sunlight or water than others; some need more attention than others. Some need more room to grow. Poor planning can cause an over-crowded garden. Then, once the garden is planted, comes the most important part: maintenance. The garden must be weeded, guarded against insects, diseases, and animals. It must be pruned, nurtured, watered, and fed. If all of these are accomplished, the garden will flourish.
Relationships, especially marriages, need the same type of planning and attention that goes into a garden. Unfortunately, more often than not, couples do not spend the same amount of time, energy, and attention to detail to their relationship that they would with a garden. They invest far less.
I asked one couple, “If you spent the same amount of attention that you give your marriage to your garden, what would your garden look like?” The husband’s response was, “We would be lucky to get one puny tomato!”
Couples seem to expect that once they are married, it will be “happy ever after”. They have a fairytale wedding at some destination and a fairytale honeymoon and expect that life back in the “real world” will somehow, magically, continue the fairytale. They fail to realize that after the honeymoon is when the real work of marriage begins.
I have heard many couples say that they did not believe that relationships had to be “worked on.” In fact, some hold to the belief that if a relationship were “meant to be” it should just happen naturally, effortlessly. They are surprised when I tell them that just like learning to ballroom dance together takes time and effort to learn how to synchronize with a partner, marriage will take a similar amount of time, effort, and practice.
Falling in love simply is not enough to make a marriage work; it is just the beginning. If couples are open to learn, committed to practice, and willing to make room for individual differences, marriage can be magical, wondrous, and fulfilling….in time.