Relationships are built on truth, but we tell ourselves marriage lies all the time.
Your marriage is based on trust. And truth! But what if you’re telling yourself lies about your marriage?
Studio 5 Contributor Dr. Liz Hale says there are 5 common mistruths that pop up during couples counseling.
Five Marriage Lies and How to Correct Them
There is nothing so dangerous as a lie we believe that is entirely false!
There are lies that couples believe (and act on because they believe them) that take on a life of their own and unnecessarily destroy relationships.
These lies are not intentional, they are just believed and repeated. They get relationships off track, diverting and distracting us from what a relationship COULD be.
Instead of challenging the lies and improving our marriage, too often we use the lies as justifications for ending our marriage.
So, let’s expose the lies and find the truths.
Marriage Lie #1: “Marriage Shouldn’t Be This Hard”
If it’s this much work, then it’s wrong!
What’s at the heart of this lie? The meant-to-be myth which effects many areas of life. This myth says that if you are on the path you were meant to be on, the road should be easy and effortless. A struggle is proof that you’re on the wrong path. So, if your marriage was meant to be, there wouldn’t be any level of conflict or struggle. It would “just work” without it being work.
When we discover a lie we’re living, be aware of the tendency to believe that the opposite must then be true. So, “if it’s work then it’s wrong” is untrue, please know that it’s opposite, “we should always strive to struggle,” is also untrue.
Just struggling through a relationship (or anything else in life) is not the answer. The struggle is not the point. The path to better passes right through effort and struggle.
The point isn’t to struggle…but you will! The question is, can we persevere long enough to get to the other side? To something better, stronger, more satisfying. No mountaineer starts on Everest. They work up to it. They build their skills on smaller challenges.
Struggle in life is inevitable. Struggle in marriage is inevitable. And these struggles can take us to better, higher places, if we learn along the way. Can we allow the struggle to reshape and refine ourselves and our relationships? Can we be better than we were before the struggle? Better relating, better connection?
Let’s not just go through life, let’s grow through life.
“We either make ourselves miserable or make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.”
– Carolos Castenada
When life is tough, the tough need to get going….not out the door but into marriage counseling, a pastor’s office, or even to a well-established online marriage program.
Marriage Lie #2: “We No Longer Make Each Other Happy”
Most couples tout they are very happy when they first get married. They believed that happiness would just naturally always be there. And then one day, their spouse says, “I’m not happy.” And somewhere in there seems to be the belief that you are the cause of it; that you failed at keeping your spouse happy.
And likely your spouse failed at keeping you happy, as well.
A marriage can be a source of love & joy. But your spouse can’t and doesn’t make you happy nor can you or must you make your spouse happy. It’s an impossibility but it is one of the major lies people believe about marriage. The lie is the expectation that our spouse should make us happy.
It is not a partner’s responsibility to make their other half happy. No person can make another person happy. Not only is it NOT our responsibility but it an impossibility. However, this is often the lie we buy. It is often exactly what we expect from our spouse. And we are surprised and disillusioned when it fails. And it’s only a matter of time before it does.
Most people want to be happy! We just tend to look for it in the wrong places. Like, a spouse. Or any other person, for that matter. This lie is based on a bigger lie that happiness comes from something external. Something “happens” that makes us “happy.” The two words share the root word, hap, which means luck and fortune. It leads us to believe that finding happiness is external and by chance.
We buy into this belief every day. We see some shiny new gizmo or gadget on the Internet and some part of us believes, “Oooooh. THAT would make me so happy!” We hit the buy button. It arrives. And for a few distracting moments we are entertained – which we often confuse with happiness. We even get a hit of dopamine. And then, we return to our prior state and the search for happiness continues!
To believe you are responsible for the happiness of another is a heavy weight to bear; we have no power to manage another’s emotional state.
Wanting to be happy is not the problem; looking for happiness in impossible places, is. If we look for happiness out there, we give up the power to find happiness in here. But the greater lie is to believe that our spouse has failed us because we are unhappy.
There is an important distinction between seeking happiness from a spouse and seeking to bring happiness to a marriage. The difference is between getting and giving.
Ask, how can I bring happiness into my marriage? How can I bring my best self into my marriage? We start by building our own life of meaning and purpose and by finding our own sense of joy and satisfaction.
The marital relationships is not one of dependence or independence, but interdependence. This is where partners are mutually part of a process of meeting needs for the relationship. With lives woven together, both bring what they have to the relationship to build a WE. Together, they create a mutually satisfying relationship.
Marriage can and does meet a number of needs. We need deep and intimate connection. We need to be known. And we need to be accepted. Marriage offers a stable place through the struggles and successes of life.
When that deep need for connection and warmth is not met, it leads to the pain of a hurting marriage. While we can’t make each other happy, we can certainly make each other miserable.
Marriage Lie #3: “We Can Never Agree on Anything”
The lie here is that disagreements are the problem. Recall the research; nearly 70% of our conflicts are perpetual. They will not be resolved. They must be managed. The lie is that if we argue, we’re broken. That is not true!
The state of conflict can be resolved even if the conflict itself has no decision resolution.
Not understanding each other is the problem; disagreeing is not.
It is entirely possible to understand each other’s perspective and not agree with each other’s perspective. In fact, sometime there are many times when that is all that is needed. We do not necessarily need our partner to agree with us….but it’s heaven when they seek to understand our perspective.
Conflict is a part of marriage; it is unavoidable. Because we have two different people, from two different families and backgrounds, with two different personalities and viewpoints. Thank goodness!
It’s not unusual to hear from a client, “I don’t have arguments with anyone else in my life. Only my spouse.” They use this example to demonstrate how their marriage is broken. Because marriage is their only source of conflict!
Sometimes we just need a reminder that we can walk away from any other relationship. Or end the phone call or leave the conversation. You can even agree to disagree. We can’t always do that in marriage. Sometimes, something needs to happen. A decision needs to be made. A point of view needs to be understood. An expense needs to be paid.
Conflict can eat away at the foundation of a marriage because it can cause disconnection. By pushing for your own desire and agenda, you are often pushing against your spouse. It’s the opposition that does the harm.
Shift your perspective. Marriage is about creating a WE. “We are in this together.” “We are a unit.” Don’t give up on your perspective, beliefs, hopes and dreams, but instead pull both bundles of these together. Bring the best of yourselves, ideas, talents, and brainstorms to the partnership.
Conflict should be in the service of progress. It’s no longer, “What’s best for me?” Or, “what’s best for you?” But, “what’s best for US?” Let’s face this difference together. This does not stop the conflict. Conflict is NOT the problem. How we handle our conflict is the problem.
Conflict can either lead to undercutting or to connection.
The lie is that conflict means a marriage is broken. Don’t believe it!
Marriage Lie #4: “Marriage is a 50/50 Partnership”
Some couples are proud of their egalitarian beliefs; they’ve constructed what they believe to be a fair relationship. What they don’t realize is that they’ve built their marriage on a lie. At what point in the marriage vows do we commit to, “I will if you will?”
Marriage is not merely transactional. It is not about a balance sheet approach. This lie of 50/50 causes more relationships to be sucked dry of love than any other. Each person plays smaller and smaller, out to match the seemingly small output of the other.
As noble as it sounds, when we demand that marriage be fair and equal, we approach it from a comparison perspective. It is based on comparing, “what am I putting in? versus “what are you putting in?”
What if we make a shift from “what’s fair?” to “all is fair.” As in, I bring all of me and you bring all of you.
We can liken marriage to a sports team. “Today, I’ll try and play my best. And today, if you can’t play your best, I’ll try and cover you. We’ll just do our best. We’re working together for the win.”
The goal is winning the game, not proving the contribution to the game. The way to win is to play your best with what you have, and to overcome the obstacles. In a game, it’s to overcome the opposing team. In life, it’s to overcome the struggles and challenges.
Many couples report their score-keeping. And it is always in frustration, not celebration. Who initiated love-making? And who didn’t? Who cleaned? And who didn’t? Who planned time together? And who didn’t? What matters is that we made love, cleaned the house, and had a date. It matters not who did what. Because we are a WE.
Marriage Lie #5: “My Spouse Should Complete Me”
Or my spouse should meet all my needs.
Remember that famous line from Jerry Maguire? “You compete me.” It certainly sounded like a romantic line. Herein lies the problem with this lie: For something to complete you, must be incomplete. You are working from a deficit model. A need-based relationship. Instead of desire-based; choice-based.
Truthfully, none of us are fully complete. We are a work in progress. But it’s just not the task of our partner to complete us. That is our own task.
Expectations on marriage has expanded over the last few generations. We are expecting more from marriage and more from each other than ever before. The focus of marriage is now more about fulfillment and not just security and survival.
The prominence of self-expansion (self-growth) has filtered even into marriage. Couples report higher levels of marital satisfaction when they feel their self-growth is supported by their spouse. We also call this the “Michelangelo Effect,” where close partners mutually shape and sculpt each other in the expansion process of self-growth.
So is the opposite true? My spouse shouldn’t meet any of my needs? Again, the opposite of a lie is still not the truth. There are some very real human relationship needs. We do need connection. We do need relationships and intimacy. That is built into our DNA. Without needed connections, there are serious negative consequences to our mental health and emotional life.
Healthy life functioning is not a lone activity. Connection comes from relationship with others, and marriage is an ideal place for that connection. The level of intimacy that is possible in a marriage can meet that deep human need for connection.
It is the pressure- and the impossibility – of meeting all of a spouse’s needs that makes the lie of “You Must Complete Me,” such a dangerous lie.
While we as couples cannot meet all of our partner’s needs, we can meet some of them.
A vital shift is incredibly important: “What am I getting?” to “What am I giving?” And from “How is my spouse loving me?” to “How am I loving my spouse?”
Instead of longing for a more perfect spouse, we can work to better perfect our marriage. While we will never be perfect, we can always be improving. We can always find ways of doing better, of being better as a couple.
Dr. Liz Hale is the Studio 5 Family and Marriage Contributor. She is passionate about helping relationships survive and thrive! She works hard on keeping her own relationships healthy and strong. But don’t stand in her way of a daily, sanity-maintaining brisk walk (just ask her husband, Ben!)