Like it or not, if you're married, your relationship isn't "just" about the two of you. More often than not, external forces can pressure us into making bad decisions both pre- and post-marriage. Relationship experts Debra Smouse and Blair Bloom give us the lowdown on what surprise forces can confuse our decisions.
Smouse starts us off with some no-nonsense, real talk: "No matter what kind of relationship our parents have, we decide that when we grow up, our marriage is going to be like Cinderella's and that we'll live happily ever after. I hate to break it to you, darling, but what the fairy tales don’t tell us is that marriage takes work. Those fairy tales are just one of the outside influences on the health of your marriage if you allow it to be."
Bloom weighs in with a story of her own: "The first time I went to the alter, I did exactly what my parents wanted me to do. I married the 'right' kind of man. He was from a nearby town, a great guy, from a great family, and we were in love (or so I thought at the time). In actuality, my clock was ticking and I was 29 years old — I didn't want to turn 30 unmarried. However, it wasn't right, after all. He was a successful businessman but a workaholic. I was lonely and disappointed with my new life; I resigned from my career because we both thought that was the right thing to do, but I was bored and alone."
Smouse warns against following your family's advice too closely with an example: "Amy's mother never liked her husband. When asked about her daughter's new family, she talked about 'that boy' that married Amy who came from a poor family, didn't have a good enough job and sure wasn't smart enough for her daughter. Amy could have allowed her mother's ill feelings to affect her relationship. Instead, she realized that her relationship didn't need her mom's approval. Ten years later, she and her husband have an amazing relationship."
Bloom also felt societal pressure from cultural "norms" in making nuptial decisions: "Fast forward: I left the marriage, re-engaged in my career, moved to New York and started over. I was 35 years old and the next clock was ticking; I wanted a baby before it was too late. With this at the forefront of my mind, I met a man and we quickly decided to get married. We had a daughter almost immediately and in spite of the 'love' we felt initially and the beautiful daughter we both adored, we were miserable together; incompatible and very unhappy. We stuck it out, hung in there with the marriage for 13 years." When Bloom began to listen to her heart, she made the right decision for herself: "Getting divorced was the best thing we did together, other than making a wonderful daughter who has grown into an amazing person whom we both love dearly."
What's one of the biggest high-tech dangers for a marriage? "There are two big pieces around marriage social media. My client Diane sunk into a depression and believed that if her husband would be romantic, like her friend Millie's, then she would be happy again. What we discovered in our coaching sessions, however, was that Millie was only showing the picture perfect moments: romantic dinners, weekend trips to a bed and breakfast and new living room furniture. And so was Diane! Diane was Instagramming her perfect roast chicken, but she wasn't sharing the pizza delivery nights! When we look to social media, we often believe our lives aren't as perfect or glamours as our friend's, and we assume something must be wrong.
Diane began focusing on the good parts of her relationship and her depression began to lift and she realized that her relationship wasn't bad; she was just focusing on the less than glamorous parts. Emma, on the other hand, ended up divorcing because of social media. She and her husband had a fight and she posted a blow-by-blow on Facebook. Several of her friends, including her sister, chimed in about what a jerk her husband was. She and her husband may have been able to recover from the fight, but he was so embarrassed by her sharing of dirty laundry, he couldn't forgive and forget. Bringing others in on a fight is only going to weaken your relationship. Keep your arguments out of social media!"
Bloom reflects on her past marriages: "So did I fail, after all? I don't think so. I accomplished what I set out to do, I fell in love twice, and I gave birth to a great daughter. But everlasting love? I am not so sure I am capable of that — and yet I still find myself looking and yearning for it. Is it that 'happily ever after' mentality I grew up with? That fantasy central to every novel written? Perhaps."
Smouse explains why the happily ever after fantasy can be damaging: "My client, Brian, believed that finding his soul mate would mean that the relationship would be smooth sailing. Instead, when he and his fiancée had their first big argument, he worried it was a sign that the relationship was doomed. Books, movies, and media can make us believe that if our relationship is 'right', then it should be both easy and perfect. Though movies may present a little tension (usually sexual!), comparing our relationships to how things are in the movie is a sure-fire way to find dissatisfaction and unhappiness.
Family, friends, social media and cultural expectations can be useful tools as we move through our relationships, but ultimately, they may be more detractors than helpers. Here's some final food for thought from Smouse: "Marriages are not democracies that need the approval of the masses. The only opinions that matter are yours and your spouse's."
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