This year my husband and I celebrated our 9 year wedding anniversary. That’s 9 years of some hard work, let me tell ya. I’m not here to tell you about the glamorous and unrealistic ideals of marriage. Though there have definitely been moments of pure fairy tale bliss through the years, that’s not my focus here. So if that’s your only jam… keep on moving.
The fairly tale moments are just that, moments. The reality of the marriage as a whole is that we don’t live in those moments 24/7. To be honest, there are also moments where I feel involved in a suspenseful thriller where I’m scared, confused, and I don’t really know what the outcome will be. Does this mean I have a bad marriage? No, it means I have a REAL marriage.
One thing I know for sure is that none of us live inside of a picture perfect relationship. We may want to present to the world as such, but come on, the only one we are fooling is ourselves. I’m here to chat with you about the reality of marriage. The ups and downs. The feeling of disconnection that can so quickly take over. Continual conflict over the same issues. The real side of marriage. The side that is SO much different than many of us expected it to be before we got married.
I was the girl that dreamed of the fairy tale wedding from the earliest age I can remember. I spent most of my days dreaming of the knight in shinning armor who would eventually come sweep me off my feet. The one who would rescue me from myself and the scary world around me and give me everything I ever wanted. It would be an easy and passionate love. He would dote on me and look at me with the most beautiful magical sparkles in his eyes at all times. We would always get along and there would be no conflict. Can you relate to this ideal?
That’s the way true love was supposed to be right?!
When you’ve found your one true love, it’s all supposed to be smooth sailing from there on out. As little girls, that’s the ideal we create for ourselves. Before we are even able to write our ABC’s, we are well versed in every princess song there is about waiting for our prince to come and being in perfect love. We are inundated with messages that once this man comes and sweeps us off our feet… we will indeed live happily ever after.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good love story. I think we all love to get lost in the excitement of falling in love. And, yet when the fairy tale is the only message coming in. We set ourselves up for failure. We need to know and embrace the fact that love is not a feeling, it’s a choice. That when all the magical newness wears off, we will need to begin to choose to love our partner. We need to know that it’s really hard sometimes. That it takes work. When we aren’t taught these things, we create the marriage of perfection in our minds at a very young age. Then we are baffled when it doesn’t actually turn out that way.
Marriage is No Fairy Tale
By now you understand the rude awakening that our fairy tale hearts receive when we get older and actually get married. We are abruptly awoken to the reality of what a real relationship is. I see it all the time with couples in therapy. The conflict between expectations of what things are supposed to be like versus what’s really happening. This is a huge source of conflict for many couples.
I regularly see two major dynamics that play out in marriages that I think contribute to the most common conflicts. One is the expectations we create as women of how we want things to happen and how we want things to be. When they aren’t that way, we do our best to control and manipulate either our spouse or the situation, to make it all fit inside a pretty little box. Then we don’t allow ourselves to be vulnerable and communicate in a healthy way. So, we resort to destructive tactics to try and get our hubby to engage. I can tell you right now, this will never work.
The second one is something I see happening on far to large of a scale. It almost seems like an epidemic that is taking over the men in our culture. This is when the husband does not have the ability to emotionally connect in the relationship so he’s inactive and silent. Taking a back seat to life and the relationship and not engaging on a level of depth and vulnerability with his spouse.
Do you see these two dynamics?
They play out over and over again. They feed on each other. The man disengages, the woman controls more to try and get him to engage. It’s a downward spiral that doesn’t end pretty when there is no intervention or new ways of being.
In this article I’m not going to go into the second dynamic. That will be my next piece, because I think it needs a lot more attention than a brief mention. For now, I’m going to focus on what we can do as women to pull ourselves out of the fairy tale thinking and place ourselves more firmly in reality. Because the truth is, the more we are grounded in ourselves and our understanding of our relationship and need for control, the less we will perpetuate this dynamic.
The Reality We Must Cling To
The hard lessons I’ve learned from being married are not found in any story books that’s I’m aware of. My biggest take aways so far: I’ve learned to rescue myself. To not put my happiness or self worth in my husbands pocket. To not be a victim, but to take control of my own life and my own growth. That its a good thing to set boundaries in marriage. When I do these things, my marriage is better, not worse. As soon as I lose track of myself and start looking to him for my own validation, things get dicey. I retreat and turn inward because he does not act the way I think he should and resentment builds.
I know it’s not only me that can get sucked into this pattern, because I see so many women in therapy and coaching that fall into the same vortex. It’s easy to get swept up by it. But we’ve got to cling to the pattern of this reality and the knowing that we have the power to make it different. To be aware and to be vulnerable. To learn how to communicate in a way where we will actually get our needs met.
One way to do this is to zone in on the magical thinking that goes on inside our heads that perpetuates this way of being.
Our Biggest Magical Lies About Marriage
So let’s break these down. Here are my top fairy-tale lies that we get caught up in that wreak havoc in our real marriage.
He will have the ability to read my mind
Classic. He will be able to anticipate my every need and meet it each time without being asked. Sounds really kind of crazy when we say it out loud doesn’t it?! This is a huge lie. We have to learn to communicate what we need on a regular basis.
To not withdraw into ourselves and to DEFINITELY not take your husbands lack of mind reading as a direct reflection of his love for you. He is a person and your thoughts and emotions are probably much more complicated than his. Get used to explaining and inviting him into your experience so you can teach him a different perspective.
Communication will be EASY
This one literally makes me want to laugh hysterically as I write it. Communication is easy in the early days of your relationship when you’re wearing the rose-colored glasses and are completely infatuated with each other. At this point your primarily focused on wooing each other into bed. There is nothing to argue about. Who cares about dirty dishes or the socks all over the floor. You feel me?
Communication gets hard when real life starts. Bills, kids, schedules, laundry, and no time to spend alone. It has to be prioritized. Heck, sometimes he may have to schedule conversations. Just know it’s not easy to listen and be heard. It takes work, vulnerability, and a conscious effort to connect.
Things will stay lighthearted and fun forever
Man do I wish this one were true. When I met my husband, he was the funniest guy ever. He was silly and goofy and just plain fun. Then all the seriousness of life came into play and it can weigh you down. It’s hard to laugh with each other when you’re exhausted, don’t have enough money to pay bills, and haven’t had a date night in forever.
We have to work to keep the light hearted. Remember why you fell in love in the first place and make it a priority to go have fun with each other!
I will be his everything
Oh, man. I could write a whole blog post on this one alone. As women we are taught to look to others for our worth and value. Especially our husband. Let me tell you… This is TOO much pressure to put on your man. Your value and self-esteem has to come from within yourself. It can’t be dependent on whether or not he tells you that you’re beautiful or notices your hair cut or says exactly what you need to hear.
You both need your own sense of self. Then you walk through life hand in hand as a healthy partnership. The truth is, you may be his everything. But I can guarantee you he isn’t always going to express it the way you need him to. Find your worth within yourself. When you do that you have more confidence to ask for extra love or reassurance when you really need it.
He will be perfect
Insert in the big ol’ “C” word here. Not THAT “C” word… come on now. I’m talking about control. Admit it to yourself. You want your man to be perfect. Exactly as you want him to be. To say and do the right things all the time. To become all you want him to be. I can say this because I know I’m guilty of it too. My hubby can say things that make me cringe. It’s my reaction to instantly correct him and belittle him. That’s a hard thing to admit, but it’s true.
Now this isn’t saying that we can’t have conversations when we don’t agree with something, because we should. But it needs to be done respectfully in a “I’m not trying to make you into a different person” kind of way. And some things… just need to be let go. He will never be perfect. EVER. And neither will you. Lean into both your imperfections.
The Biggest Reality- The Easy Loss of Connection
One of the hardest realities of marriage is how easy it is to lose the feeling of connection with your spouse. It can come in so quickly that it’s shocking, and it can also be a slow progression that takes place over a long period of time. You just wake up one day and realize it’s gone. Either way, it hurts. Our greatest desire for marriage is to be known and connected. To be aware that it’s a normal thing to get to this place is a good place to start. Recognize it for what it is and then do the work to reconnect. Keeping in mind all the unrealistic ideas that can trip up your thinking will really help.
Re-defining the Fairy Tale
I can tell you that the way I see my fairy tale these days is much different than it used to be. To me, fairy-tale love is about commitment to loving each other. No one I know has a fairy-tale marriage. Mine isn’t perfect either. It’s been a whole lot of conflict and hard work. But the reality is I’m committed and so is he. At the end of the day, that’s what truly matters.
The commitment to learn, grow, and do better. To practice leaning into each other when you least feel like it. When he really isn’t measuring up to the prince I dreamt he would be. This is the new fairy tale. So lets continue to hash this thing out and chip away at the things we both need to do to make our real marriage better than a fairy tale.