Before getting married, most of us believe we have some idea of what makes a marriage successful. Consciously or subconsciously, we have formed opinions as we’ve made observations and absorbed information from other people, books, the internet, TV, or other sources.
Unfortunately, some popular beliefs about marriage aren’t accurate. Some may contain a bit of truth, but they are not “one-size-fits-all” advice. Others are simply not true. And some misconceptions can even be downright destructive.
Here are five ideas about marriage that don’t quite hold up in real life.
Five Common Marriage Misconceptions
Misconception #1: Marriage should be 50/50.
This is the belief that if a couple can keep everything “even,” the marriage will be more successful. It can be helpful to have some kind of system in place to divide everyday household and family responsibilities. However, trouble may result if either spouse keeps a strict mental tally of every task the other one does or does not complete. A mindset of “keeping score” is not conducive to contentment.
Even when husband and wife are both giving it their best, it is unrealistic to expect that the balance will remain consistently equal. Life can interfere in all kinds of ways. This week, one spouse may be able to handle 65 percent and the other 35 percent. The following week, it may reverse.
Benjamin Deu with Seattle Christian Counseling suggests, “Do not look at contributions to your relationship as doing your mate a ‘favor.’ A favor implies you go out of your way to do something for someone because you expect them to do the same in the future. Marriage calls for a servant’s heart, not a ledger.”
Misconception #2: If you’re with the right person, you won’t fall out of love.
This is one of the misconceptions that can lead to significant pain and has contributed to countless divorces. Too many people leave a marriage because they “fall in love” with someone else. They are often surprised when the blissful feelings eventually fade in the new relationship, too.
The reality is that human emotions fluctuate. The amount of love that each spouse feels for the other at any given moment is not a reliable barometer for the couple’s compatibility. Even in the happiest marriages, keeping the romance alive usually requires intentional effort on the part of both spouses.
Strong relationships depend on commitment, not feelings, to carry them through the tough times.
Misconception #3: Happy couples never argue.
After many years of studying what makes marriages succeed and fail, John Gottman learned many unexpected things. One is that some happy couples hardly ever argue, while other happy couples argue frequently.
He asserts that friction is a natural part of relationships and that some negativity does not necessarily hurt a marriage. The difference, according to Gottman’s research, is that a happy couple will have at least five positive interactions for every negative interaction during a conflict. “They may be arguing,” he says, “but they are also laughing and teasing and there are signs of affection because they have made emotional connections.”
With this ratio, the positive exchanges act as a buffer and prevent times of conflict from overwhelming the relationship.
Misconception #4: Having many common interests will lead to a happier marriage.
Well, that depends.
In a survey from the Pew Research Center, 64 percent of respondents indicated that “having shared interests” is very important to their marriages. It’s true that having things in common can contribute to the happiness of a relationship. However, it’s more important how spouses interact when pursuing their interests (or any other time).
“Any activity can drive a wedge between two partners if they’re negative toward each other,” Gottman says. For instance, if a husband and wife both enjoy playing golf but one frequently criticizes the other’s technique, having that hobby in common may not benefit their relationship at all.
Misconception #5: Healthy marriages don’t need outside help.
Cars need maintenance to run well. Gardens need maintenance to grow. Businesses require maintenance to be successful. Why should it be any different for marriages?
Unfortunately, the busyness of life or the mindset that “we’re doing fine” often keeps us from seeking the kind of periodic maintenance that would benefit any marriage. Whether a couple has been married for a few months or a few decades, one thing is true.
In every marriage relationship, there are areas that need a little extra TLC every now and then.
To illustrate this point, we’ll share some feedback we’ve received from couples who have completed one of our marriage courses.
– “We now understand each other’s emotional needs much better…. We had no ‘major’ issue in our marriage that needed to be dealt with, but now we have the tools to handle anything that might happen.”
– “My wife and I have grown in love over the past eight weeks and talked about a lot of hidden issues we were facing that we didn’t realize we had. Our communication is much more open and we are working every day to meet each other’s needs.”
– “As a newlywed, (less than one year), I felt I had it together and was not in need of a course or counseling at this time. But in the process, I found there was much to examine, much to learn, much to grow in! Your material, approach, and emphasis have caused us to go deeper, to heal, to be more honest than we ever have before.”
– “We have been married for almost 58 years, but we needed this class to remind us of the fundamental essentials. We have greatly benefited from each section and have had many in-depth discussions as a result. I will strongly recommend this class to couples of all ages.”
If you and your spouse haven’t taken a marriage course for a while (or ever), we encourage you to take our free Marriage Quiz and discover which of our courses would be most beneficial for your relationship.
Obviously, this list doesn’t cover all of the marriage misconceptions floating around out there. But we hope that taking a closer look at these five will encourage you as you pursue a healthy, resilient, and lasting relationship with your spouse.