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Because family life matters

The myth of the perfect marriage

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Rob Parsons talks about the illusions … and the reality

This is so for many newly-married couples. I suppose we were no different to everyone else who speeds off on their honeymoon with cans rattling and dubious messages scrawled on the sides of their cars. We all hope for ‘the perfect marriage’. For most of us, it isn’t many days before the cracks began to show.

Shell-shocked

I can’t tell you how many couples feel completely shell-shocked when they discover the flaws in their formerly perfect mate. These may not be big problems, but they conspire to warn us that it may not be the ‘roses over the door’ affair that we’d hoped for.

She couldn’t possibly have imagined that the immaculately-dressed man, who dazzled her on their early dates together, would have a side to his character that allowed him to leave the bedroom floor as though it was the back room of a second-hand clothes shop. And he would have been amazed if somebody had even hinted that the starry-eyed woman who was always the life and soul of the party, had difficulty getting up at any hour before 11.00 am, let alone at a time that would give them a chance of getting to work on time.

It’s inevitable that similar scenarios will occur in most marriages. But what is vital is that they are talked about. The alternative is to bottle up the disappointments: “I hate the way he eats!” “Why can’t she be ready on time?” They may be small issues, but unless we get them sorted out they will create pressures in our marriage which become intolerable.

Don’t bottle it up

I remember, as a young lawyer, being faced with a man who was leaving his wife after 12 years of marriage. He explained that it was because he had returned to an empty house from a late shift to find that she had left a tin of pie filling for his meal! (And, to make matters worse, he couldn’t find the tin opener!) But I doubt this was the real reason – it is more likely that it came on the back of one hundred other frustrations which had never even been talked about, let alone sorted.

A friend of mine, a marriage counsellor, told me about a couple whose marriage was breaking up. When she asked them why they were having problems, the wife told her about something her husband did. “When he does that,” she said, “it annoys me so much.” My friend asked whether she’d ever let her husband know how she felt and was told, “No”. She then asked the husband if he knew how much it annoyed his wife when he acted in that way. It all came as news to him!

That there will be some disappointments with our partner is certain, but what we must not do is to bottle the whole thing up until it all comes tumbling out as, “I simply don’t love you anymore.”

That there will be some disappointments with our partner is certain, but what we must not do is to bottle the whole thing up until it all comes tumbling out as, “I simply don’t love you anymore.”

The truth is that if any of our relationships, let alone our marriage, are to deepen, it will usually be because we have learned to love ‘in spite of’ and not only ‘because of’. It was Benjamin Franklin who said, “Keep thy eyes wide open before marriage and half shut afterwards.” This has some truth in it but, like all good advice, there is another angle. It’s that you actually widen your eyes after marriage, see each other’s imperfections, learn to live with some of them and, with the others, let your partner know how you feel so that you can both work on some changes.

And even if, after that, we don’t end up with exactly the partner we dreamt of, we may take some comfort in the fact that even if we did find the ‘perfect’ partner, he or she probably wouldn’t want to live with us!

On a final note …

  1. Be realistic in your expectations in marriage – settle for less than ‘perfect’.
  2. Let your partner know how you feel – as soon as possible.
  3. Develop the practice of sorting out conflict quickly – don’t let bitterness build up.
  4. Avoid the pitfall of believing, “If only he/she would change, our marriage would be perfect”.

For more great insights into married life, listen to our Marriage Challenge podcasts. They’re fun, practical and thought-provoking!