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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.