Sometimes marriage can feel like a long ride on the “struggle bus”. Particularly for those who have never been married, or who have been in marriages that didn’t go the distance, it can seem confusing that people keep choosing to join this institution of marriage when it only appears to make everyone miserable. Almost everywhere you turn, popular and social media is full of examples of miserable spouses, bickering partners, unfulfilled romantic dreams, and failed marriages.
A figure that gets thrown around a lot is the “50% rule” as in, “50% of marriages end in divorce”, with the underlying implication of “so why would you even try?”. It is likely that even if you did choose to chance the odds and get married, you have seen friends, parents, siblings, and acquaintances’ marriages begin and end, seemingly in the blink of an eye. Maybe, after a bad fight or disagreement with your spouse, you have even questioned your own marriage and wondered, “do all marriages have these struggles or am I doomed to be in that 50%?”
The answer to this question is Yes...and No!
The No part is that every couple gets to make their own rules for their relationship. Contrary to what popular media and long-held societal expectations say, there really are no hard and fast rules about what a “perfect marriage” for everyone looks like. What works in one marriage may not work in another, and what might sink one marriage may be the thing that saves another. If you have an idea of what a “perfect marriage” should look like, then it is good to sit down and think about where that idea came from. Did it come from TV? Your parent’s marriage? Your parent’s divorce? Your grandparents? Really looking at what your beliefs are around what marriage and relationships “should” look like, what needs it “should” serve or fulfill can be an enlightening process for you and your partner. Then you can come up with a new “ideal” of marriage that works for the both of you. You’re the ones in it, you get to make the rules.
The Yes part of the equation is that there is something that all marriages have in common. That is that the road to discover what the perfect marriage looks like for the two people in it can sometimes be bumpy. Everyone comes into marriage with different expectations of what the ideal marriage looks like based on their own experiences and past relationships they have been in or encountered. Sometimes discovering that what your spouse considers “ideal” is not something that you consider ideal can cause some anxiety and even conflict as you attempt to persuade your partner to espouse your point of view. This is where many couples start thinking about "getting off the bus"; the road has started to get really bumpy!
Disagreement is an inevitable part of being a couple. However, it does not always have to lead to conflict. Having a difference of opinion that leads to a healthy discussion can actually be a bonding and strengthening experience that can bring you closer together as a couple. Learning effective communication and conflict skills through self-learning or through the help of a trained marriage counselor can enable you and your partner to navigate over the bumps in the road. The STRONG couple is one that can have a disagreement, or even a fight, and still come away with respect and admiration for each other and the knowledge that "this too shall pass". They can, and will, continue to enjoy this journey to their perfect marriage, with all its' bumps, road blocks, and detours, together.
-This is Part 1 in a series on Conflict and Communication in Marriage for October 2016-
Visit www.austinstrongrbc.com or call 512-887-8036 to book a couples' or individual counseling session. Discounted rates for first-responders.
Kristal DeSantis, M.A., LMFT-A, is the wife of a first-responder, and founder of Austin STRONG: Relationship Building Center in Austin, TX