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Good marriages aren't built on these myths
By Ken Potts | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 11/15/2009 12:02 AM

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Recently we've had a number of friends whose adult children are planning weddings.

Most are slated for next spring, which is still the most popular time of the year for weddings. In fact, in about six months churches, synagogues and reception halls will be sprouting brides and grooms by the thousands. One particular chapel in our area will actually have wedding ceremonies scheduled at half-hour intervals from dawn till dusk every weekend this spring.

That's great! I wish the only best for these couples. However, my best wishes will not be near enough for these couples to be among the approximately 50 percent of couples whose marriages will survive the test of time.

As both a minister and marriage therapist, I have seen couples at both extremes of marital happiness. I've officiated at weddings filled with joy and hope, and I've conducted counseling sessions with couples almost overwhelmed by sadness and despair.

Ironically, our unrealistic assumptions and expectations as we enter marriage often are the very problems that eventually bring our relationship to the brink of divorce. As my gift to those couples being married in the coming months, I want to dispel some of these myths about marriage.

1. "The hard part is over." Many of us seem to operate on the assumption that, once we meet, get to know and commit to marrying another person, we're on easy street. Our task is accomplished, our goal met.

That's not the case. In the words of a pop song that was a wedding standard a few decades ago, "we've only just begun." Building a successful marriage is a lifelong and difficult task. It is pleasant and painful, rewarding and frustrating. And there is no guarantee that we will accomplish what we set out to do.

2. "I really know the person I married." Perhaps. A good part of becoming intimate with our spouse, however, happens after the wedding. When we get down to the nittygritty of everyday life, day in and day out, we learn much more about that person than during the courtship period. Even couples who live together before marriage report that actually being married is a whole new ball game.

To complicate things further, we continue to grow and develop throughout life. The person we married at age 25 will not be the person we are married to at age 45, even if it is the same individual. We all change. That means we have to continually learn who our spouse is becoming.

3. "We both know what it means to be married." We each come into our relationship with our own "job description" for "husband" and for "wife." When they are the same, things often go smoothly. But when our expectations are different we can find ourselves with a good deal of uncomfortable negotiating to do.

For example, how do we show love? Who really is responsible for earning enough to support the family? How do we raise the kids (and do we really even want children)? Who does the dishes?

We learn to be husband and wife by watching our parents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, TV, movies, etc. As every marriage is unique, so too is every person's understanding of the roles of husband and wife. It is inevitable, then, that each new couple will have to iron out some potentially significant differences in job descriptions.

4. "We'll live happily ever after." Quite the contrary. Every time "we unite this man and woman -" sooner or later there is going to be conflict.

Such conflict is neither good nor bad, it just is. It is a natural consequence of our differences as people. What can be good or bad is the way we deal with it. Just as in other areas of our marriage, we need to work out "our way" of dealing with our difference.

"Our way" needs to acknowledge and respect both our individual right to live our lives to the fullest, our need to establish common interests and goals, and the necessity of just plain compromising enough to live together. That sort of agenda is bound to mean conflict.

5. "We'll always be this much in love." Romance is fine. It is not the foundation for a lasting marriage, though. I've sometimes used the term "romantic best friendship" to describe my idea of what is at the heart of a truly healthy marriage. Romance is part of such a marriage, rather like the icing on a cake. It isn't much good, though, unless it is spread over a good many layers of carefully built intimacy - emotional, physical, social, spiritual and so on.

In fact, the intense romanticism upon which many marriages are based is bound to wane. Such intensity simply cannot be maintained forever. When a truly intimate friendship between husband and wife is built, however, a deeper, more mature and lasting romance is created.

That's enough to think about for now. One final "wedding gift," perhaps, might be helpful.

I suggest you explore some books or classes on preparing for marriage, or on marriage itself. You may also want to use a priest, rabbi, minister or marital therapist to do some premarital counseling. I strongly urge engaged and newlywed couples to use such resources as well as to make talking and sharing about the issues I've raised here a regular part of married life. Best wishes to you.