You’ve heard them before: “Rules” about marriage passed off as anything from an old wives tale to time-tested wisdom. You probably heard a few at your bridal shower, saw them written on the cards that came with your wedding gifts, or had them whispered to you after the ceremony by loved ones who mean well. And you’ve definitely seen them touted all over pop culture, subconsciously influencing the way you’ve approached every one of your relationships. Sure, some of the advice is useful, but a lot of these so-called rules aren’t as helpful as they seem. In fact, following some of them might actually hurt your relationship. Liz Higgins, LMFT is here to walk us through some of those most common rules and the reasons you should absolutely ignore them.
“Your spouse will complete you.”
“Contrary to fantasy and idealistic beliefs in our society and culture, your spouse will not complete you,” says Higgins. Yes, the idea of your spouse being your “other half” is sentimental and symbolic but the reality is that they will never complete you—nor is it their responsibility. She continues, “The real ingredients for a healthy and lasting marriage are two healthy individuals who are working to bring their best self to the relationship (and to themselves). When you place focus on being the best partner you can be, and expecting less from your partner, you will actually find more satisfaction and fulfillment in your life and relationship.” So embrace your “me time,” knowing that it will actually help make your marriage even stronger.
“Marriage should be easy if you’re with the right person.”
This is like saying “workouts won’t make you sore if you’re doing them correctly”—wrong! “So many people think that when they find ‘The One,’ it should be reflected with an absence of conflict,” Higgins says. “But ‘Healthy couples don’t fight’ is one of the top unrealistic expectations that people tend to have about relationships. The reality is that ALL couples fight, have disagreements, and experience seasons of life when they aren’t as attracted or connected to each other. The true essence of a healthy couple is in how they navigate the changing terrains and challenges of life and love together.”
“You should never go to bed angry.”
Here we go, busting myths left and right. This may be the most-repeated marriage rule, and it’s high time we put this one away. “Contrary to popular belief, going to bed angry doesn’t indicate an unhealthy relationship. Sometimes, the best thing you can give each other is space,” Higgins explains. “The issue often lies in our ability to tolerate the anxiety of not resolving issues in the moment. While it can be ideal to move past issues and make up before your heads hit the pillow, many healthy and successful couples allow themselves time and space to have unresolved issues.” So if you’re too emotional (or tired!) to come to a solution right now, press pause, agree to come back to it in the morning, get some sleep, and address the issue with a clear head.
“Your spouse is ‘The One’.”
“Our modern culture is fixated on finding ‘The One,’ yet the dating pool is saturated with potential mates at our fingertips. Many of the options out there (especially thanks to today’s online dating realm) may appear a perfect match for you,” Higgins says. “The reality is that there may not be one single person that could or would be the ideal spouse for you: There may actually be a number of ideal possible partners for you.” That’s not to say that you and your spouse don’t share a special connection, but it does mean you can’t expect Fate to take care of everything. Higgins continues, “What makes a marriage work is commitment; the conscious choice to work towards a life of shared meaning with someone who holds all of their own desires, dreams, and goals, separate from yours. You create a life as soul mates more than you simply luck into being with the right person.”
“Your spouse is a ball and chain.”
“For decades, people have cynically referred to marriage as the ultimate ‘settling down’ and loss of freedom. In a culture that is more focused on individualism than ever before, our world today is not immune to this mindset about marriage. But I beg to differ!” Higgins says. “Marriage can be the ultimate freedom, if you know what it takes to cultivate it. Commitment doesn’t have to be a prison if you look at it as the ultimate opportunity to experience a deep and fulfilling intimacy, connection, and self-actualization—with another person. When two people are working at their relationship and encourage one another to follow their goals and dreams, share the joys and pitfalls of life with each other, and give reciprocal trust, there is less likelihood to feel constricted and controlled by marriage.” See your spouse and your marriage as an incredible opportunity you wouldn’t have otherwise, instead of something that’s holding you back. After all, your partner just might be the best cheerleader and support system you’ve ever had.