Have you ever felt like there is something about your marriage that doesn’t add up? As though it doesn’t fit as neatly into the box that you subconsciously shaped before marriage to contain this lifelong experience? Maybe the match isn’t as seamless as you first thought…
In reality, our marriage begins long before we walk down the aisle.
It begins in the moments where we are either embraced or rejected in our bids for love from our parents or caregivers. It continues to develop based on our cultural and societal influences, such as the expectation to find someone by a particular age to “guarantee” happiness and wholeheartedness. It picks up speed when we begin to experience romantic relationships with others, often without any idea what we are getting ourselves into. And it crescendos in a commitment centred on two of the most significant words you will ever say to someone else… “I do”.
Marriage is a mindset. Your expectations for marriage are fed by so many external factors, both interconnected and conflicting.
So many of us don’t realise just how much turmoil we are experiencing until we find ourselves on the other side of our wedding day, questioning what happened to the good thing we had. The more we can challenge ourselves before marriage and sift out the problematic ways of thinking, the more likely we are to build a marriage from a balanced, rational perspective – free of the expectations that stem from dysfunctional roots. If you are reading this while married, know that there is still room for you to grow too, regardless of how long you’ve been married. This often requires more of a focus on individual growth as there is no guarantee of collective change, but growth is always the goal regardless.
Here we’ll break down key mindset hurdles that trip up many married couples:
1. As a husband/wife, you should…
These roles are defined by what we see around us, especially if we grew up in a home with parents who were married. Even though there may be aspects that we decide we either aspire to, or would much rather leave behind, there is so much that pours into our subconscious from well before we are of age to filter what we see and experience.
If your one of your parents was always away at work while the other parent struggled to maintain the family home, but despite struggling they masked their true feelings, then you may also learn that being a “good partner” means self-sacrifice and keeping your needs contained.
This is just one example, but illustrates how we take in the environment that is presented to us day after day.
2. If you loved me, you would…
I remember a recent experience where I felt so frustrated with my husband based on his lack of action when I believe it was needed, that I began my sentence with “Most men would…” Have I met most men? Do I experience most men within relationships? Can I accurately compare my husband to most men? I had the awareness to recognise that this wasn’t fair or rational to pin on my husband based on the strength of emotion I was feeling in that moment. I instead had to dig a little deeper, only to discover that I was reacting from a place of childhood frustration based on the love I failed to see on display between my own parents.
If our sense of feeling loved feels threatened, we can react from deep places of hurt without even realising what is driving us in the moment.
3. At this stage in our marriage, we should…
Let’s be honest, all of us are figuring this thing out together! On a moment by moment basis, your experience is entirely dependant upon the actions of those directly involved in the relationship. You can share the most romantic, lovesick content on social media and have others praying for what you seem to have, but in reality, no one will ever know what you truly have unless they are in a relationship with you too! It’s so easy to forget this simple truth, and we fall into the trap of comparing ourself to others and the “snapshots” we have of their lives. Others are having babies, buying houses, enjoying holidays, going on dates – they definitely aren’t struggling to even look each other in the eyes like us right now… we should be able to figure this out – it’s too early for us to be on the edge and considering divorce after 2 years of marriage…
Every marriage is different, and you need to find a shared pace that works for the both of you.
The only valid voice that is telling you where you should be at this stage of your marriage is your own, and if that voice you are hearing is a parent or carer, your culture, society or otherwise, you need to step back and rediscover your own voice.
4. I must put his/her needs above mine
So many of us get caught up in this way of thinking, especially when coming from a religious context. There is a difference between being selfless and being a slave to the needs of others. Being selfless is the decision to put others first, but it doesn’t mean that your needs are never a consideration. It also includes give and take from you towards yourself. On the flip side, the contrast is clear to see. To be a slave means to be “forced” and “controlled” to work “excessively hard”. The sad reality is that even though this can come from an external influence, it often comes from our own treatment of ourselves based on the way we have been conditioned to live as a means of earning love.
We need to learn what it means for us to meet our own needs, for the health of any marriage.
5. We need to get back to where we used to be
…instead we should be saying we need to find a way to continue growing, based on the fact that we are no longer who we once were, and that’s okay! Many marriages consist of two people who have outgrown their marriage, yet are trying to squeeze themselves back inside. I get it, there is comfort in the familiar. We have fond memories that we look back on and we want the feelings that came with those memories, but we don’t factor in the inevitable change that comes with life. When we can learn to embrace change, then we can instead look for a new definition of our marriage that fits the couple we are and are working to become.
Hopefully this post has highlighted just how powerful our mindset is to the overall dynamic of our marriage, along with how important it is to challenge our thinking instead of reacting from a lack of self-awareness. Here are some questions that you and your partner can ask yourself in reflection to unpack this topic in more personal ways:
- What is impacting my perception of marriage, and how can I address this?
- When I think of my parents’ example, what influences do I want to take from them or leave behind?
- How can I ensure that I am taking care of my own needs while married?
- What does it meant to me to be loved, and what might be feeding the belief that I am unloveable?
- What kind of marriage would we both like to have, and how can we work towards this?