Should Marriage Be Hard?

I’m assuming I’m not the only one who’s ever heard this, right? “Marriage is hard work.” It’s as ubiquitous a saying as, “The grass is always greener on the other side,” or, “What goes around comes around.” And I don’t like it. I don’t like that marriage has a bad rep as something difficult, something that has to be endured. Marriage rates have continued to lower, especially amongst a younger demographic (Hi millennials!), and I’m not surprised, because a culture that is increasingly obsessed with instant gratification is really going to shy away from one more thing that looks hard. 

And “marriage is hard” isn’t a new concept. Each generation has faced its own unique set of challenges, and the saying has continued. Divorce rates, while still high have been in decline since the 80’s, and there is a lot of speculation as to why. Delayed age of marriage plays some part in couples being less-likely to divorce, and it’s likely that the US economy plays a part as well, but even though marriages are statistically doing better, the stigma tends to sound the same. Marriage anecdotes still sway towards the negative, and when it doesn’t, there’s often a tone of judgement, “They just don’t know yet,” “They’re still newlyweds,” “Just wait, you’ll get sick of your spouse soon enough.” It’s hard for people to be happy for happy people. 

But we all want to be happy people right? When people come to therapy we look a lot at specific goals, but the theme is usually, “I just want to be happier!” And I want to help people be happier. I want people to be happy whether single, dating, monogamous, polyamorous, married, etc. and I want people to stop believing that a marriage license is a certificate for unhappiness. 

So how do we do this? How do we make sure that our marriages are happier? 

  1. Start at the beginning: in the dating phase. Far too often I hear from people who make dating sound like a life long commitment. For a lack of better terms, they are putting up with a lot of bull shit for someone they have no real commitment to yet. If it’s been less than a year and you find yourself more sad than happy, it might be time to call it a day. Don’t be afraid to break up and move on, because while time can heal many wounds, time can also bring new and harder life challenges, and if you are already strained, it’s only going to get worse. 
  2. Be really honest with yourself: While some of dating is about putting your best for forward, there is going to come a time where the really, ugly, only likes to shower once a week and never puts dishes in the dishwasher side comes out. If you’ve spent all of your dating life hiding that, and then once marriage hits, you let it all go, that is a recipe for resentment. With that being said, I’m not proposing acting like a total slob right out of the gate either. Find a middle ground where you can be your best self, and sustain it. For the long haul. And don’t lie in your online dating profile. If you’ve never camped or hiked a day in your life, there’s no need to click the “outdoorsy” box. It won’t win you life points. 
  3. Think about the end goal: Marriage might not be that for you. Maybe you only ever see yourself in consensual non-monogamy, you’re asexual and want a child raising partner, or you would prefer to be a solo world travel blogger. That’s cool. Just get real with yourself, and don’t assume that you have to give marriage a try because of external pressures. Being a square peg in a round hole is painful, and you don’t have to do it. And if marriage is for you, be honest about that too. Don’t try and change someone who doesn’t want that, because you’ll end up spending the length of your marriage trying to convince someone it’s worth it, and again that’s a painful process. 

If you’re already married and feel like it’s too late, it might not be. Couples therapy isn’t for everyone, but in so many cases it’s the recipe for success. The problems that continue to cycle back around can often be worked through, and when they are you can find yourself being that happy couple that everyone envies. Find a way to break out of the “hard work” and find a place where you can enjoy each other and just enjoy being in love. 

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Parenting

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I’ve come across several articles recently on the topic of parenting. This morning my cousin posted a link to this one on Huffington Post, in which the author discusses the idea of making long-term parenting decisions versus short-term. She writes, “What makes my children happy at age 10 or 15 is somewhat different from what will make them happy at age 25, 30, 40 and beyond.’ She is absolutely right. I can vividly remember times where I thought my parents were being so unfair. Right before high school, they decided to pull me from public school, and place me in an all-girls Catholic school, where I knew no one. I truly believed this was child abuse. I was 14 years old. At 26, my outlook has changed significantly. I cherish, not only the quality education I received, but the psychosocial growth that occurred in having to step outside of my comfort zone and create new relationships in a new environment. This skill serves me well on an almost daily basis–therapists meet new people often, and have to create relationships very quickly. I had to build that muscle, and it was very uncomfortable in the beginning.

I imagine that was not easy for my parents. The whines of a 14 year old girl can be bone chilling, and they had to put up with a lot of complaining. They did not back down. They knew that at 14 I was not capable of making long-term life decisions, and they did it for me. They were parents who parented. Nowadays it is not uncommon to hear a parent give in to a child’s demands. Parents emit fear in front of their children, and worry constantly about their child’s present level of happiness. I can tell you that there were several months where I was unhappy. Nothing about starting over is easy, but I got over it. The short-term unhappiness was far outweighed by the long-term benefit of the choice they made to hold firm. I learned disappointment and fear, but I also learned that I can start fresh, I can make new friends, and that no matter how hard it seems in the moment, things always get better. I don’t know that I would be the same person without having gone through that journey.

It seems that the fear based parenting takes place today because the parent-child relationship is primary. Parents put the wants and needs of their children so high that they forget about their own needs and the needs of their partners (if they are lucky enough to have a partner in parenting). Any threat to the parent-child relationship is a breakdown of the primary relationship, and that can be frightening. Who will mom turn to if she has not continued to cultivate the relationship with dad? She needs the child’s happiness as validation, which is an unhealthy place to parent from. I can speak from experience in saying that a child’s happiness is not a reflection of good or bad parenting. The overindulgence that leads to daily “happiness” is what also leads to lack of coping skills in the real world. If we want to have trust in the future generations, we need to know that they can handle a multitude of emotions without having a breakdown, or without having to turn to medication. Strong parenting, and life experience will facilitate that.

 

If you are having trouble with parenting, feel free to reach out: www.jacquelineplantetherapy.com 

Photo by Mindaugas Danys via Flickr