Ten marriage myths you may have fallen for

Fake news has become so prevalent that even reputable news outlets must check their sources and their sources’ sources. Some falsehoods, however, are hard to uncover as they may contain a grain of truth, seem rather logical or may long have been taken as truth. I call them myths. Over my decades as a marriage counsellor, I have uncovered some marital myths.

1. And they lived happily ever after.

An age-old myth is that marital bliss automatically follows the wedding. It is the stuff of ancient fairy tales and some modern romantic Korean dramas. I daresay few would fall for it nowadays, but it has been reported that there is a positive correlation between marriage and happiness.

I fear, though, that the notion of “happily ever after” is being replaced by another that marriage ultimately leads to disappointment, hardship and heartache. This observation is supported by the rising divorce rate as well as more people choosing to remain single.

The truth is probably somewhere in the middle—marriage is neither a cause nor a guarantee of marital happiness or distress. Being married does not make one live happily ever after but it is how one lives out the marriage that matters.

2. You complete me.

This idea is probably fuelled by a single person looking for a “better half” who satisfies some of their unmet needs. The thinking here is that if being alone makes me feel lonely, then having a companion meets my needs.

Even if it may be true that a spouse can satisfy or complement us, does this mean that a person is somehow incomplete or even inferior in some way? Individuals with such a view may become overly dependent on their spouses. Their spouses may feel burdened with a life of caring for the other.

I hope that individuals entering marriage are complete and confident in themselves, knowing what they have to offer the other and yet be willing to work together for a new level of happiness as a couple.

3. How difficult can it be?

Although seldom voiced as how people view marriage, this attitude is often reflected by how casually some couples prepare for their marriage. Many spend weeks and months meticulously planning every detail of the wedding day, but often gloss over preparing for a lifetime together. Finding our way through marriage does not happen naturally—it takes careful consideration and preparation.

That said, more couples now enrol themselves for marriage preparation courses which cover topics to help couples acquire essential knowledge and skills for their lives together. The sceptic in me cannot help but wonder how much actually gets through, especially since so much important material is crammed into a short period of time and the couples may be preoccupied with intense wedding preparations. Do they take time to deeply consider some of the questions around their concerns, hopes and dreams for their future?

4. Problems should be solved as quickly as possible.

This may not seem like a marital myth since it sounds like good advice not to allow unresolved conflicts to simmer. Others may point to the verse “do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Eph 4:26). Whilst the intent may be good, trying to resolve differences hastily may not be a good idea. I have heard of couples arguing into the wee hours although no resolution or compromise is in sight as both refuse to give in.

For those who have the habit of sweeping conflicts under the carpet, a good practice is to do some spring cleaning occasionally. Parties should not bear grudges over past feuds. They can either dunk it into the rubbish bin (i.e., drop it and move on) or, if the differences cannot be set aside, they should then agree on a date and time to discuss and attempt to resolve their differences in a well-paced and considered manner.

5. And the two shall become one.

These words are often expressed during the wedding ceremony. However, they do not reflect the reality, that two families—with their separate histories, customs and traditions—are also being merged into one couple.

We all bring along habits and traits from our families of origin. That is why we have sayings like, “The apple does not fall far from the tree” or “He is a chip off the old block”. Couples need to take time to reflect on what each brings into the marriage and ask how they might blend. It is also good to get to know each other’s family as best as one possibly can.

6. Forgive and forget.

Being a marriage counsellor often leads to a jaundiced view of marriage. Take for instance this myth to forgive and forget as a way of handling differences. Whilst we certainly should try to forgive our spouses if we want to live peacefully with them, it is often very hard to forget. I am not referring to minor annoyances that pepper many relationships, such as leaving the toilet seat up or not clearing the rubbish until it spills over.

Some hurts run deeper. With such hurts or for individuals with elephant-like memories, we must have another way of dealing with them. If memory loss is not the answer, we perhaps need other ways of remembering. One is to remember to recall the good as much as, if not more than, the bad. Some may call this “counting your blessings”.

Another way is to find the silver lining in each dark cloud. What did you learn from that dark period? More than one client has told me that although they had thought it impossible to forgive their spouse’s infidelity, they remained together even years after, both having learnt some hard lessons from that crisis.

7. Children come first.

Whilst we recognise that it is the responsibility of parents to care for their dependent children, this act of care should not go overboard without consideration of the parents’ needs and wants.

Parents should also take care to look after themselves and their marital relationship. I am all for parents having date nights and planning holidays which are not just about amusement parks and fast food but also for the parents to enjoy themselves. Family happiness is not necessarily a zero-sum game, where the children are happy and parents are not. Instead, it is often a reciprocal situation when the happiness and fulfilment of one contributes to the happiness of the other. Being parents does not mean that we need to “die to the self” for the children all the time.

8. Saying “I love you” is unnecessary.  

“He stopped saying he loves me.”
“So old, also must say?” 

In many marriages these days there is an expectation for expressions of affection to be verbal in nature and declarations of love to be more open. I am reminded of the song “Do you love me?” in the musical The Fiddler on the Roof. The farmer Tevye repeatedly asks his wife, “Do you love me?” After deflecting what seems to be a foolish question, she answers, “For 25 years I’ve washed your clothes, cooked your meals, cleaned your house … After 25 years, why talk about love right now?” And a little later she concludes to herself, “If that’s not love, what is?”

If it has been some time since you expressed your love and affection to your significant other, tarry no more. Most of us long to be appreciated and loved. Instead of making it seem like a passing thought (like asking the secretary to send flowers to your wife), find a way that is special and suits both parties. And if your effusive expressions seem to ring hollow, perhaps it is time to ask if you are truly communicating your feelings or just simply saying words.

9. You’ve changed / You haven’t changed.

For couples who have been together for several years, this myth can take two contrasting forms. For the first, some have the unrealistic expectation that their spouses should somehow remain the same, particularly in behaviour and temperament, through the years. The unexpected discovery of change may leave some feeling somehow hoodwinked into marriage. Protests like, “You were so patient before and never complained about having to wait for me” or “You were so attentive to my needs and it appeared that I could do no wrong.”

In the second situation, parties may be disappointed that despite living together for many years and constantly giving feedback, their spouses do not seem to heed the call for improvement. Statements Iike, “I can’t understand how many times I must tell you to….” may reflect this frustration.

The key to a successful marriage is to change together and constantly find ways of staying connected. Perhaps during courtship, it was tennis that brought the two together and later child-raising and still later travel.

John Gottman, a renowned professor, psychologist and author, said in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work that many conflicts experienced by couples are not resolvable because they are embedded in the personalities of each. Marriages that last are those that find ways of repairing the cracks that appear. And when repair is not possible, then to grow to accept and tolerate these imperfections.

10. Too old for sex.

As couples age, their interests, needs and wants change. One notable area is in their sex life. As seniors’ needs become more talked about, we know that there are those in their 60s and 70s who still desire sexual arousal and satisfaction.

As in most changes, a decline in interest in sex does not happen overnight nor at the same time and pace with each other. In addition to the normal gradual loss, health issues and high stress levels can also hasten the reduction in one’s libido. When this happens, this may leave one partner feeling unfulfilled and disappointed. The partner who rejects the other’s advances may also feel sad and disappointed with themselves. They should talk with each other. It may be that the loss of interest is mutually experienced and is not an indication of a loss of affection for each other.

When the loss of interest is unexpected, couples should consider seeking medical help. Pharmacological avenues may be available for those who find sex painful or hard to sustain.

Even when physical intimacy wanes, there is always a need for emotional intimacy. Whatever their ages, couples can and should keep this area well attended to. Having emotional intimacy can take the form of being a confidante, constant companion and close helper. As they stay close to each other, they can approach the autumn years with less apprehension and more fulfilment.

To conclude, do bear in mind that more misconceptions and myths may appear along the marital journey and couples need to talk through any that might trouble them.

Benny Bong has over 40 years of experience as a therapist, counsellor and trainer. He also conducts regular talks and webinars. Benny has helmed the You & Your Family column for more than 16 years and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.