When you were a child, you lived in a magical world and had little opportunity to learn what a real relationship might be like. If you had the good luck to live in a healthy, functional family, you were probably shielded from the normal struggles of the adults. Even if you did notice grownups struggling in their relationships, you probably thought that yours would be different: you simply wouldn’t have those kinds of problems because you would marry “the right person.”
By the time you started to have “practice” relationships as an adolescent, you were relying on your friends—your all-important peer group—to determine the right way to behave. And they had the same kind of misinformation that you did. It's nobody's fault; it just happens that way. You grow up both believing in and rebelling against stories about who you are supposed to become.
What you bring into a marriage depends upon your age, as well as upon your life experiences. When you marry, you and your husband can bring both complementary and competing myths into the relationship. Complementary myths are often more evident when you first fall in love: they help to make the relationship “feel right” because you are fulfilling each other’s unspoken expectations. One of those expectations may be that your marriage will be like your courtship, only better.
You may believe that there will be less stress and more happiness as you relax into your roles as husband and wife. Unfortunately, this is not always true. Marriage itself changes the character of a relationship, and not necessarily in ways you would expect. Even if you've been living together successfully for some time before you actually make the commitment to marry, the early programming about what marriage is like is activated by taking your vows.
You then struggle to enforce agreements you think you have made with each other but probably have never discussed. Of course, if you were lucky enough to have had premarital counseling, you may have been a little ahead of the game. Even so, most people simply try to do what they think is right, and then they struggle without even knowing why.
Janelle says, “I wish I’d known that it’s absolutely wrong to do things you don’t want to do just because your husband or society expects you to do something, or to be something or someone they want you to be.”
Constance, who raised five children, wishes she had known “that marriage and children can cause a dangerous loss of personal identity.” And Jennifer, who is married and has two young children, didn’t realize “how much of myself would actually become spent for the benefit of others.”
When you try to turn yourself and your husband into that mythological “one” you may think you are supposed to become as a married couple, you may assume you have to give up anything about yourself that your husband doesn’t like. In exchange, he is supposed to fulfill all of your emotional needs. Of course, neither one of you can keep this bargain, although you may exhaust yourselves by trying to do so.
Ultimately, you'll need to set aside these myths in order to figure out what kind of marriage you really want to have. You can’t do it by yourself, and you can't do it by trying to mold yourself into what you think your partner wants you to be. It doesn’t happen magically. It happens by having conversation after conversation with your spouse about how you can best do each of the things you've dreamed of doing together.
Edith wishes she had known “that women could honor and love themselves and not depend on the man to complete you.” Donna wishes she had known how to love herself more so she could be treated with respect.
It may be a challenge to find support for becoming a separate and valuable person. Lucky women get help from other people who are already doing this. Help can come from friends, from relatives, from support groups, or from a therapist or counselor. It can even come from your husband.
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