If you're like most people, you probably entered into marriage with a number of unchallenged assumptions in place. These assumptions may have been about what marriage is and entails, about love, or about your spouse. While you may have already bumped into reality concerning some of your assumptions, you still may be operating with others firmly in place.
Why should you be concerned if this is the case? Because what you aren't aware of can blindside you down the marital road, that's why. Life throws in enough surprises on its own, so you don't want to be caught off guard unnecessarily.
The following misguided assumptions can get you into trouble in your marriage. Review them for a quick reality check:
1. You should always feel loving toward your spouse.
It's not realistic to think that you'll always have loving feelings toward your spouse. There are occasions when Lee and I are upset with each other and we don't like each other very much. We may have to make an effort to remind ourselves of the other person's positive traits.
At those times, we know that underneath all of our upset feelings we still love each other, but the predominant feelings we're experiencing are anger and hurt. And it's difficult to feel loving when you're frustrated, feeling resentful, or harboring anger toward your spouse.
That's when it's vitally important to clear the air as soon as possible so you can be in harmony with your spouse and get those loving feelings back.
2. Love should consistently feel the same way.
Feelings vary in intensity over time. It's just not possible to experience forever the ecstatic feelings that can be there when a relationship is new and you've just fallen in love. At that time, every sensation is ultra intense and heightened.
But the feelings associated with the initial or honeymoon period of every relationship eventually change. Love deepens and grows in different ways.
Of course, there are still wonderful high's, but there are other feelings in the cycle of love that you also experience—a rhythmic waning and waxing of desire, the enjoyment of companionship, and the comfortableness of knowing someone well and sharing a history together. Love has many faces and produces a variety of feelings during a marriage.
3. Your spouse should just “know” what you need without you having to tell him or her.
It's not unusual to feel that if your spouse really loved you, he or she would somehow be aware of your needs and desires without having to ask you. But in reality, most of us do rather poorly when we try to second guess someone else or try to “read their mind.”
This particular assumption leads to many hurt feelings in a marriage. “He should have known that I wouldn't want to celebrate my birthday with his family.” Or “She should have known that all I wanted from her was a little understanding and sympathy.”
When this happens, spouses often erroneously conclude that their spouse must not love them or they would have been more tuned in to their wishes and needs. But the responsibility to let your spouse know what you need and want ultimately rests on you. Give your partner feedback and clues so he or she can have the information needed to make different choices.
4. If you really love each other, keeping a loving relationship shouldn't take much work.
I've heard this or statements similar to this numerous times. But the sobering reality is that relationships always take a lot of work.
It's a challenge to keep the communication channels clear of debris and residue from disagreements. It takes time and effort to follow up by checking with the other person to be sure that things aren't building up under the surface and that everything is truly okay now.
This process can be compared to housecleaning. You can clean the house one week, but by the next week it needs cleaning again. It's a constant cycle—the same is true in a marriage relationship. What you ignore doesn't just go away; it stays right where it is, waiting for more dust or debris to collect on top of it.
5. Being married lets you off the hook in the romance department and sets you up in the sex department.
This assumption has tripped many spouses up. As a counselor, many times I've heard the statement, “But I thought now that we're married, I didn't have to do all of that romantic stuff I used to do.”
Often this is said when the marriage problems are already serious and the marriage is in crisis. It just makes good sense to take the offensive and make the effort to find ways to be romantic throughout your marriage. If you do, you'll be accumulating those “good will” bank deposits or “brownie points” that Lee likes to talk about.
And as for thinking that marriage assures you of unlimited great sex without any extra effort on your part, that's a fantasy. Emotional intimacy sets the stage for great sex and depends on good communication, plus a host of other qualities such as sensitivity and empathy, all of which take work.
6. Your spouse will speak up and tell you if he or she is unhappy in the marriage.
This is an assumption which has been the undoing of many marriages. The reality is that numerous spouses are uncomfortable with anger and are afraid that expressing it will damage the relationship. So they try to bury their feelings and pretend that everything is okay.
It pays to be observant and pay attention to your spouse's tone of voice and non-verbal communication. It also pays to learn to disagree without attacking each other and to be respectful even when you don't understand how your spouse could possibly have such odd ideas.
When you create a safe environment for discussing your real feelings, you increase the likelihood that your spouse will gain the courage to share from the heart with you. You can help this process by taking the lead in making yourself vulnerable by sharing your real feelings in a respectful way.
7. The commitment expressed in your wedding vows is enough to sustain your relationship.
The commitment you made to your spouse and marriage on your wedding day was certainly important—and it counts for a lot. But it's not enough.
It's all-too-easy to treat the marriage commitment as a one-time thing, when the reality is that a satisfying, healthy relationship requires daily commitment—over and over again, day by day. It's similar to what individuals do who are successful in 12-step programs for sobriety—they recommit to their sobriety each day.
The recovering alcoholic may say, “Just for today, I'm sober, with God's help.” The spouse with a successful marriage makes a daily commitment, also, even if it's unspoken—“Today I will honor my marriage and be the best supportive partner I can be.” It's that level of daily dedication and commitment that makes the difference in marriages that make it and those that don't.
Nancy J. Wasson, Ph.D., is co-author of Keep Your Marriage: What to Do When Your Spouse Says "I don't love you anymore!" This is available at http://www.KeepYourMarriage.com, where you can also sign up for the free weekly Keep Your Marriage Internet Magazine to get ideas and support for improving your marriage.