Internet search the word “myth” and you’ll find its secondary definition: “a widely held but false belief or idea.” While Greek and Roman creation stories usually come to mind as examples, mythology doesn’t end there. Many of us are responsible for unwittingly perpetuating myths in our own society. Sometimes, these myths concern marriage.
The Catholic corner of the internet overflows with testimonies for marriage and tales of undying love between spouses, from the moment they laid eyes on each other unto natural death.
While I don’t deny the sweetness of some of these love stories, I do doubt their accuracy. Describing one’s marriage in a blog, much like sharing about it on social media, is often just a highlight reel. And for those of us like me who are tempted to compare, stories that share only the beautiful aspects of marriage can be discouraging when I don’t relate to the fairytale romances they describe. This discouragement can lead to despair. I’ll wonder if my marriage really is broken because it doesn’t match the testimonies of other Catholic bloggers. I’ll start to wonder if I have done something wrong or didn’t think things well enough through beforehand.
If you, like me, have fallen into the trap of comparing your real life to other people’s stories, then I hope that uncovering these five myths about marriage will offer you some comfort. I didn’t think of them; they come from the Relationship Tools section of Agape Catholic Ministries’ marriage prep course. These myths were a great help to my husband and me as we prepared for marriage last year—I appreciated their honesty then as I do now.
A good marriage will always be romantic.
Movies and books are to blame for this first myth. It’s the ill-conceived notion that a fairytale-level romance will infuse every interaction after marriage, including activities like brushing your teeth or going to the grocery store. In our minds, true love would transform commonplace circumstances like these into a hilarious date. But, in all honesty, how often are you up for flirting while brushing your teeth in the morning darkness? Or excited to linger any longer than needed in line at Kroger?
For me, simple activities felt romantic the first two or three times I shared them with Dalton because sharing them with him was new. But novelty doesn’t last in a marriage—that’s the difference between dating someone and making a lifelong commitment. You can find romance, heck, even novelty, in sameness, but it’s not going to pan out the way it does on the blog or the screen. You’re living side by side, so all those days that you feel exhausted and don’t want to talk to anybody, too burned out to form sentences, let alone generate romance, yeah, you’ll be sharing those days with your spouse too.
Which leads directly into the second myth.
My spouse will make me happy.
You tell yourself this. I have told myself this. We all want to believe this because it would be so easy to let our happiness rest on another person rather than doing the work ourselves. We all keep pretending it’s true—thus perpetuating this myth for others—while we ourselves slowly realize that no, we aren’t happy. Many days we are lonely. Too often, our spouse doesn’t seem to understand us at all. What then? Decide it’s not meant to be, and initiate the relatively easy process of receiving an annulment in the Catholic Church?
Of course not. But the truth is that no human being can make another one happy all the time. Imperfect people can only make people happy imperfectly. True and lasting happiness comes from one source only—Him, not him. And the degree to which you are happy depends greatly on the amount that you invite Him into your life and ask to see things from His perspective. Only you can make this invitation. Not your spouse.
My partner should intuitively know my needs.
A few weeks ago, Dalton and I sat down to watch a movie: a crime thriller with a darkly comic undercurrent. When it comes to watching movies, I maintain that people adhere to one of two opposing schools of thought. There are those who will talk while it’s playing, and those who can’t stand it when people talk. During a critical scene toward the end, Dalton made a joke. I got fed up and shushed him. He became very irritated. We had to pause the movie to talk through our conflict.
What we discovered was a twofold misunderstanding: I was frustrated that Dalton hadn’t taken the hint and quieted down during an important scene, and he was hurt that I had shushed him like an elementary school student. For me, growing up in a family of eight, watching a movie demanded a sacred silence—anybody who spoke too much was mercilessly shushed. But he, growing up an only child, had done whatever he wanted during movies and had never been shushed by a family member. In his mind, shushing was for students, not spouses. In the course of a minute we had each managed to push buttons we hadn’t known the other had.
I share this story to illustrate how much we failed at intuitively knowing each other’s needs that night. And this is just one example among many. Of course we wished we had understood each other better during the movie, but our failure was natural. We are different people, from backgrounds so opposed that the amount we have in common is surprising. There’s no reason to assume that Dalton looks at any situation the same way I do.
If we don’t tell our partner what we need, he or she has no way of knowing how to help us.
Conflict means a lack of love.
This myth must be false. I can’t think of a single relationship, married or dating, that isn’t forced to overcome conflict at some point. It arises from our different backgrounds, preferences, and goals, and is usually kindled by pride—a demon that tempts each of us.
Far from indicating a lack of love, I believe that conflict can sometimes be a symptom of it. Thus we are much more likely to argue with siblings, parents, or spouses than with friends or coworkers. Arguing with the latter group isn’t worth it. We usually fight with people because we’re invested in our relationship with them. But to quote The Lumineers, “the opposite of love’s indifference,” not conflict.
This isn’t to say that we should be complacent about arguing with one another. But the devil is more likely to attack the relationships that matter to us, and so it’s no surprise that we typically find ourselves fighting with our loved ones the most. Knowing this, then, the problem is not so much the existence of conflict in marriage as how we respond to it. Don’t let it lead you into despair.
We must have the same definition of what it means to be loving.
This is probably the myth I have struggled with the most. My husband is very introverted, while I am not. Even though we’ve only been married ten months, there have already been times that I have tried to do something nice for him that has completely fallen flat, and vice versa. I attribute this to the reality of our different tastes and temperaments. The times that these differences have led me into despair are the times I have given up to the myth.
Some of the best advice I’ve heard for reconciling different expressions of love comes from Dallas family therapist Dr. Marshall Voris, who is quoted in Agape Catholic Ministries’ Ministry to the Newly Married course. “Remember,” says Dr. Voris, “the golden rule doesn’t apply here.” Treating one another the way we want to be treated doesn’t work. Too many of the special occasions and lively discussions that I crave exhaust Dalton, and too much of the silence and autonomy that he needs makes me jealous of his attention. So to love each other well, we each must sacrifice a little bit of our own comfort. In the end, I’m grateful for our differences. If loving each other were too easy, we would never grow.
To build further awareness of the many ways to give and receive love, I’d recommend Gary Chapman’s much-referenced book The Five Love Languages.
One more thought by way of conclusion. No matter the myth, keep moving. While counseling me through some doubts about my then-fiancé last year, my roommate said: “Don’t be afraid to act and to choose. God will work through your decision for good if you let Him. There are many right answers. The only wrong answer is despair.”