The REAL killer of your marriage: And why no one mentions it

I have always had a thing for once-in-a-lifetime romance.

I think it started as a teenager when I decided that my favorite kind of books to write were the ones where the two characters fall in love in the end, despite the whole world coming against them. And then it all just steered me on the course– I discovered things like Nicholas Sparks and The Thorn Birds (a 1980’s miniseries you should totally check out) and Wuthering Heights and I listened to Air Supply. Love, love, love— undying, sickly sweet love wrapped in more rose petals and love.

thorn birds

And it only grew. Not just for me, but for the rest of us. Movies, music, novels, sitcoms with devilishly adorable characters and even cuter plot lines that lead up to that anticipated first kiss. *Let’s be honest, Jim and Pam in The Office made us gush*. And it bred in me the sense of expectation.

I wanted that kind of romance. I wanted to be that leading actress in my life.

But here’s the unfortunate thing–the expectation is not a positive thing to have. And it’s still something I wrestle with.

Unrealistic expectations that stem from watching Ryan Gosling in a boat surrounded by swans kills a marriage.

swans

Now, before you get all huffy on me, I’m not saying that marriage shouldn’t be exciting or playful or romantic. On the contrary. And I’m sure you have a love story that I’d love to hear about and knowing me, I’d think it’s the cutest thing ever.

But we have this deadly habit of being so engrossed in fake worlds and fake scenarios and airbrushed magazine covers that we forget what real life is like. We forget that people mess up. That forbidden romance is actually just a sexy term for a dark, unhealthy accident waiting to happen. That men can’t read our minds. That fights don’t always end in a dramatic romp to the bedroom and rosy cheeks. That romance doesn’t just happen all recklessly and unknowingly without us putting in effort, planning things and trying. That cheating on your husband to rendezvous with your childhood sweetheart is actually a very bad idea that never ends well. That the “bad boy” is usually just that. Bad.

GQ

We crave what we will literally never have and should by no means ever do either.

And it’s killing everything God has planned for you.

On my newsfeed every day I see countless articles that state “Top ten reasons your marriage is failing” or “How you are destroying your husband” or “The top five ways you’re headed toward divorce”.

The reasons always make sense. Lack of communication, built-up resentment, financial difficulties, unfaithfulness…

I’ve read it all.

But I’ve yet to come across anything (and I could be wrong) that simply states what is obvious. We’re holding our partners to the standards of unreal people, fake scenarios, and an ingrained desire to have the romance that EVERYONE else has, just because we see it or hear it or read about it. That’s the thing that’s becoming real to us, while our own lives and our own relationships are becoming sub-par or broken.

I couldn’t believe the number of blogs and articles I read when Nicholas Sparks, one of the nation’s most successful romance authors who made us all choke on tears at one time or another, announced he was getting a divorce.

nic sparks

WHAT?! Women across the country screamed. How could that be? The man who INVENTED what romance should be like can’t keep up his own marriage?! It appalled me the way so many women reacted to the news, calling him a hypocrite and a fake and howling about the devastation this brings and even how could we read another one of his books again??

Along the line somewhere we forgot that Nicholas Sparks leads a life separate from fantasy as well. He says the wrong things and messes up and can’t read his wife’s mind. They pay bills and don’t wake up in the morning with mascara freshly applied and don’t dangle from ferris wheels to get one another’s attention. Why would we hold that marriage to the standard of his writing when his writing is merely fiction? But we do that with ourselves too, and we’re not even the ones writing it.

I met my husband in a whirlwind kind of way and you might even say the love story is a book-worthy one. And believe me, it was thrilling and sweet and I love us. But let’s be honest. Marriage takes work. Sacrifice. Boredom. Stress. Imperfections. Marriage isn’t meant to be anything like the things we see on TV. It isn’t romanticized, photoshopped and edited. It’s raw, real, and filled with layers of mistakes and unedited material.

And that’s what makes us built to last.

DSC_0119-2

We don’t talk about love stories in Hollywood or books being unrealistic because we don’t want them to be. We enjoy those stories–and that’s ok for entertainment’s sake. But it’s not ok when it blinds us to reality and makes scenarios that are unhealthy or inaccurate in real life look golden on screen. It’s not ok when we lose someone we love because they didn’t match the mold that our minds created.

I still love romance. I love Nicholas Sparks. I’m obsessed with Gone With the Wind and Phantom of the Opera and all the old, timeless love stories that made me adore literature more than anything. But I live here, and I’m writing my own real-life story and it’s not even comparable to what I’ve seen.

But I’ve learned to love that more, simply because it’s real.

And it’s mine.

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44 thoughts on “The REAL killer of your marriage: And why no one mentions it

  1. This is such a great post and so TRUE. I enjoy sweet romance books and am addicted to the Hallmark movies, but I know that it is all just fiction. I remember that…that’s the thing. Others don’t. My daughter enjoys the sweet romances and hallmark movies, too. But I remind her that in the end, men are just men and eventually the butterflies die down. In it’s wake is a deeper greater friendship and there is nothing wrong with that.

  2. I noticed some of the books you mentioned. There is an awesome book from the 60s or maybe 70 called Five Smooth Stones. It is a love story and civil rights story. It is in and out of print. I bought my last copy on eBay. Loved it and Thorn Birds. I enjoy your posts.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  3. Completely true! Awesome post that really gets to the root of the problem. Expectations and living in a false reality really can be too much for even the most loving, romantic, genuine spouse to live up to. Thank you for this great reminder!

  4. I think Dennis Prager (national syndicated radio talk show) expresses this same idea. He talks about how individuals “expectations” destroy their happiness. They have an idea of what, who, where, when or how something or someone should happen and when it doesn’t measure up, then they focus on that and not the present joy they could be experiencing. Learning this has brought so much peace, consideration, kindness, gratitude, patience and so much more to my marriage. I Have an amazing marriage but has taken years of work, tears, fights, hugs, apologies, listening, appreciation, love and knowing that this is worth the struggle and that NO GRASS IS GREENER. Thanks

  5. I always look forward to your next blog entry. I feel like you are so real that you are talking to just me. Last week I went to a friends house and she had your blog pulled up and I got jealous. “How do you know about Lemmony Things?” “How did you hear about her?” Wow. I guess I have to share but just keep your articles coming because they affect me in my own special way. Thanks.

  6. This is excellent. And honest. Because it is so true. Movie romance and novel romance isn’t real. It shouldn’t be real – most of the time, you know those people are, basically, going to live “happily ever after”. Yeah, we want that assurance in our lives, but we also know, when reading that book or watching that movie, that nothing *too* terrible is going to happen.
    Real life doesn’t work that way, and yes we can always hope that nothing *too* terrible is going to happen, but you don’t have that assurance like you do with fiction.

    Thank you for writing this, because it really is the best outlook to have. I wish more people realized it.

  7. I also believe it’s Walt Disney’s “fault” whenever I feel dis-satisfied in my marriage. After all…. wasn’t I supposed to be awakened with a kiss and swept onto the back of a white steed to be taken to a castle to live happily ever after?? Darn you, Disney!!

  8. Gary Chapman, in his book “The Five Love Languages” (I highly recommend this book!!!), calls romantic love an obsession that runs its course in an average of two years. He says we cannot control it, we cannot even control who we become obsessed/fall “in love” with, we cannot fall out of love in a controlled or timed way (so our spouse can become unobsessed at a completely different time than we do.) Thereafter comes the time to commit to love, rationally choose to make this thing work. I love this concept; it helps me to forgive myself for some things and be happy with myself for some others. I do not like equating romance with being “in love/obsessed.” I think romance is like an adjective to a relationship…we can make it happen if, like you said, we work at it, whether we are obsessed or having a mature, rational relationship.

  9. I am sure if everyone followed this, there would be less disappointments in marriages! We want our spouses to match that hero/heroine in that movie or that character from that book but we forget they are their own person! Very nicely written!

  10. This is great! I’ve been married for 25 years to a man without a “romantic” bone in his body. He barely remembers his own birthday, let alone mine. The one time he sent me roses, I actually thought someone from his work had sent them! However, I quickly learned to find his “I love yous” to me in his willingness to do the dishes, mop the floors, and watch our kids so I could have the occasional girl’s night out with friends. I could list more, but you get the idea. Our marriage has flourished because I dropped the notion of what love & romance in marriage was “supposed” to look like, and accepted what it did look like. 25 years later, I’m still happily in my ever after marriage.

    • Me too. Years ago I heard a “know your religion” talk titled, ” Look for the other person’s love token”, and just like you, I found his “I love you’s”, and so gratefull for over 60 years, but did always get the roses too.

  11. This is 100% the way that I feel. Little else bothers me more about the way we view romance than the idea of a perfect soulmate whom you meet and everything just always works out and every day is a fairytale when usually most days are pretty mundane and even if you have great chemistry and work together really well, there’s always gonna be something where you disagree. Certainly my marriage seems like a match made in heaven and even we don’t always get along, even if we don’t fight.

    In any case you’ve stated the whole problem with fantastical romance very elegantly!

  12. I have a little different take than the other posters, just another point of view to consider. I just left an abusive marriage. The thing is, I didn’t know it was abusive for a long time. I did know that my husband had dramatic mood swings, that he would seem perfectly normal/charming in public, but was cold, distant, and verbally abusive in private. Because he blamed his behavior and periodic rages on me, I felt that I was the problem (if you saw us in public, we probably looked like a model family!). I went through a long grieving process where I realized that my husband was not ever going to give me love, affection, or validation…or even worse, that he would never be the dad that other kids had (he was cold and very uninterested in our kids…and it was heartbreaking). Strange as it sounds, I had a friend whose husband fed her kids corndogs for breakfast when she went away on a trip. I craved for my husband to take an interest in our kids but he just didn’t– I would have loved if he had fed our kids corndogs for breakfast because that would have meant they were bonding and having fun together. For many years, I told myself that my expectations were simply not realistic and that real men don’t act like they do in the movies. Now I realize that the fact that my husband acted SO much differently than other men, even flawed ones, was a big red flag that I continued to ignore, thinking that I was doing my kids a favor by “sticking it out.” It wasn’t until my husband (who is a successful, charming, middle class man with advanced degrees) started verbally abusing and intimidating our kids that I finally sought therapy and learned that he suffers from a mental health condition called a personality disorder that is highly abusive and will never change– they lack empathy and a normal, functioning conscience, but appear normal in public. It explained my gut feeling about my husband all along, that something was wrong. It was damaging to me and my kids and now I wish I hadn’t smoothed over all of the toxic things he did all those years, and make excuses for him. I wish I had been brutally honest with a trusted friend about what was going on behind closed doors, because abusive men are masters of psychological manipulation– ie, telling you that your relationship is normal but that your expectations are too high or that you’re too sensitive. So my gentle caution is this– I agree that healthy marriages don’t look like a romance movie. Just don’t overlook unhealthy behaviors if your instincts are telling you something is wrong…if I had done so it would have saved me years of heartache and having to recovering from PTSD. Normal relationships should have give and take and affection– even if it doesn’t look like it does in the movies.

    • Yep — my husband’s ex-wife is like that. She invents these awful scenarios and people BELIEVE her — so did I — because ‘she can’t POSSIBLY be making this UP!’ and it has damaged our eleven-year marriage. She has hounded him for 16 years. She has falsely accused him in court and to church leaders. She’s a sociopath (someone who knows right from wrong but who doesn’t care) and it’s really sad how many people automatically believe her without even attempting to hear the other side of the story. She was the physically abusive one but accuses him of the abuse, and of course, is believed. It’s hard to hang in there but WE WILL PREVAIL. She also tried to destroy her first ex-husband with accusations of sexual abuse towards their daughters. This woman is evil personified. God bless you and your family, C.

  13. @ Kayla: I love your posts, I agree with the vast majority of what you write about, I even like your style of writing…you’re ability weave emotion and logic. This leaves me with the chore of figuring out why I feel compelled to argue with you despite basically being aligned with you. It is your titles. I’ve never considered myself a stickler in grammar, syntax, or writing style, but I will admit that my issue with your titles may sound like that to readers.
    Your titles convey a harder stance on an issue than the body of your writing describes. Your titles are declarative statements but they often convey an absolutism that muddies your message in my opinion. Today’s title is, “The REAL killer of your marriage: And why no one mentions it”. The use of “the” instead of “a” does make your statement more emphatic, but it implies that the issue of unrealistic relationship expectations is “the” biggest relationship pitfall. Using the word “REAL” again, is great for emphasis and “hooking” readers, but it implies that the other reasons are not “real”. Research doesn’t support this. I’m not saying it doesn’t play a role, but those of us who are professionals in this field are compelled to argue the title’s assertion until we read the post and find you less emphatic. I want to believe that this isn’t an intentional technique similar to how tabloids sell issues, but it does feel like a hook to up your view count.

    Again, as a devout, modern Mormon, I appreciate your ability to present societal issues softly from the Mormon perspective. Your writing is already good enough in content, sound doctrine, and writing style to stand on its own without using hooks in your titles. The hooks detract and hurt credibility IMHO. Good luck to you and keep pressing on.

  14. The main reason I ended the marriage is that I was tired of stretching my paycheck to care for two adults and that he was not interested in finding a job. A few times he worked when I insisted or threatened divorce but he would be let go. Also I was told so many lies I made bad decisions based on the lies. If I ever marry again I will do two things–a background check on my prospective husband and a credit check. I will also insist on a prenupt. Money isn’t very romantic but it or lack of it can cause a marriage to fail.

    • Oh I must say he was into kissing and hugging while I was trying to clean the house and figure out how to pay the bills when I made $6.75 an hour. At times when he had a minimum wage job he would come home early because he wanted to be with me because he loved me. Sorry, I’m not into romance as much as other people. You need a JOB. Your love gives me such a thrill but it can’t pay the bills. I need money. He would be hurt when I pulled away to continue my house work. “Can’t I tell my wife I love her?” I told him “If you want to show me you love me you would help me with the house work so I could have time to relax with you.”

  15. Yep. What you said.

    I figured this out some years ago, only I was looking from the perspective of our nation’s attitude towards marriage in general, and why so many people choose to live together and not get married at all. “I don’t need a piece of paper giving me permission to live with/love this person.” Well, no. But that’s not what that piece of paper is. It’s a public declaration of commitment between two people, officiated over by someone who can make sure the legally appropriate words get said, and in front of witnesses who can verify the vows were, in fact, exchanged and not under duress.

    But due to pretty much everything you said, plus maybe a few more factors, people kind of don’t know what marriage is anymore or why they should buy into it. So they try to do the “smart” thing, that doesn’t turn out to be so smart after all. (The breakup rate amongst the unmarried is well over 50%. And divorce is still lurking around 50%. Has been for years.) And then, when they do get married, they get divorced again because they think the marriage has failed because it stops being the fairy-tale romance.

    Bottom line: Getting to know someone (we used to call it dating) is a better foundation for a marriage than living together. And marriage is a lot of work. But it’s worth it. I read recently about a study that was showing that married couples who chose to stay and (successfully) work out some challenging problems found found that they were closer afterwards. They gained something by going through that trial together.

    Married couples live longer and are happier and more content than unmarried people. And married couples who work through trials are stronger for it afterwards. And over time love changes into something deep and strong.

    It’s so worth it.

  16. I just read this on Family share and it’s so true. My marriage stared as a whirlwind love story. We met on LDSSingles.com and within three months we were married. In exactly a month things went from that whirlwind love story to a tornado that came crashing through. My husband lost his job and in two years was only offered one position because he was ‘over qualified’. Eventually we ended up losing our house and moving into a fifth wheel on a piece of land we bought. It taught us true love, humility, and sacrifice. I don’t wish what we’ve been through on anyone but I have gained such a great love for my husband that the thought of losing him literally makes me cry.

  17. I love the sentiment about marriage and your words are true as far as how silly it would be to expect marriage to be like all the romantic scenes in a cartoon or The Notebook. I was compelled to object about you comparing the books Gone With the Wind and the Thorn Birds with Nicholas Sparks’ novels.
    Neither of those romantic classics build a fake, idealistic, happy-ever-after scenario. The lovers in those books have more trials, mistakes, obstacles and crippling dissapointments than even an average “real” marriage. They spend the majority of the or lives apart. The ends of the realtionships in Gone With the Wind and The Thorn Birds are utter devastating heartbreak and solitude, with a new path for the protagonist without their lover. Not the best examples of the main idea of your post!

  18. Crazy that this article just popped up on my FB feed because I just took my daughter to Cinderella and while I thought it was an adorable movie with a sweet message, I found myself upset at the end. Upset because I was in a terrible fight with my husband and am in a struggling marriage. I ache to have what I don’t. The “love” I keep seeing in movies and media and what I assume nearly everyone else has, doesn’t exist, at least not for very long. I was tired of watching it yet again, along with my daughter while she begins fostering this harmful falsity. And then exactly what you described hit me. That is probably a huge part of the problem in my marriage. We grow up with this false belief of what love is and when that goes away, we are left with real people just trying to survive and in my case, just tolerate each other. I’m angry I wasn’t better prepared for what marriage is like and I do think my expectations of this feeling of “love” is way off and has nearly ended my marriage. How do I prepare my children for a healthy and realistic outlook on marriage without my own jaded perspective? Perhaps our example of marriage will do the trick.

  19. Interesting, some truth for some I guess.. For me I will always be a hopeless romantic, believing that anything it’s possible, where relationships are only as limited as the attitudes of the people in them. That includes being someone that your partner wants to love and can trust with your love, give it freely, unconditionally, without limits or expectations. Not taking it back, being able to trust that it is always there, growing becoming stronger as you become closer. Commitment is the best part of love, feeling safe, confident, in spite of the fact it is real, and not hollywood, ie fantasy. Life is empty without it, no other accomplishment can match the happiness God planned when he put man and women together. The fact we don’t make it what it could be is just falling short of possible potential. Just like anything, the more you put into it the more you get. You cannot reap where you did not sow. I say lets not find excuses to settle for less, let’s take action and see how good it can be!

  20. I have finally left my husband of ten years…I left him for now…hoping he will still be enlightened…divorce is an option, yes…but i am giving him some time to think everything over first before we both decide on that…

    mywordsaremybullets.wordpress.com

  21. I have often said that the two main killers of marriage are Disney for Women and Playboy for Men. Disney has women believing in fairytale endings of “happily ever after.” Playboy has men believing women are objects for deviancy. Neither fantasy is healthy for a long-term marriage. Both leave the partner with unfulfilled expectations. The idea of “happily ever after” is not the same as “in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, for better or worse, til death do us part.” These days, they should change the vows to “until I get bored, until you stop making me feel good, til I find someone better.”

  22. I too have a wonderful marriage and I agree with you 100%. Thank you for your thoughts. One clarification. The photo of Ryan Goesling in the boat…..those are white ducks not swans. 😜

  23. Could you go into a little more detail on why imperfect marriage is meant to last? I believe it was paragraph 19 from the top when you said “And that’s what makes us built to last.” I really want to more fully understand that. I feel like there is more to be said on that and that there might be some important insight in that statement.

    • It seems to me that imperfection gives us room to grow and that growth gives us strength and bonds us together. My husband has provided a nurturing place for me to grow and I have done the same for him. We are better people because of our relationship. It is the growth that keeps things alive and vibrant. For me that is more romantic than dancing in the moonlight. We have been happily married for 38 years.

  24. Although timely and important information, the biggest problem I have experienced is all you mentioned fir marriage, but the underground world of single life in the church, and members outside it. All those singles leaving the church and why? Why single people such as myself with a temple recommend or not don’t want to get married again. The reasons you mentioned apply to single life too, but also harder to stay a member, want marriage, family or even date because of the fantasy world and illusions of deception that Satan uses to destroy all of it. I AM A convert. I have recently become inactive, unavailable, cynical, and leaving the church. All because of being single! There are numerous amounts of us being pushed out from members. Nobody has a clue what really goes on in the underground world of lost singles.

    • I don’t understand all the things that happen but I do know that the truth, doctrine, power and peace of the gospel are available to every individual regardless of their situation.

  25. I am just awed by this article.I can actually relate myself to what has been mentioned!it’s just heart breaking to see that so many of us have been influenced by the media and literature that we have forgotten those boundaries where this fiction ends.Thank you for the post!

  26. Amen, sister! I learned my lesson over 10 years ago. My husband and I have been happily married 21 years and I’m so grateful for all the “real stuff” that has made us fall in love over and over through the years. My husband struggles to meet the expectations I have in my mind. I’ve learned to just love him and our lives the way they are. Thank you for these words to encourage younger women to love their real lives with the same enthusiasm as the romantic notions in our heads.

  27. Well said! It was thrilling to me to read your article and I agree with every well written sentence! I have been married for 24 years next week and while there have been many ups– there have also been several “downs”. Even though I try to remember fiction is not real I do often tell myself in dark times that the story of Cinderella would never be told if she had always had an easy life!! Great Article!

  28. This is very true. “Love” in movies and TV is scripted. I am sure we could all have a life like that is we were to write our own stories, but the exciting part is that we can’t. We don’t know the end, we don’t know where life will take us. With that said, it only allows for something better than we can find on the screen. A love that grows, changes, and is more fulfilling than anything we could ever write! Writing what we know is limited, whereas living the adventure of life and accepting all that comes with it (the ups and downs, changes, flaws, and greatness) we are able to experience something that we couldn’t write about – because we don’t know about it yet!

  29. The killer of my marriage is how my husband treats me. He is all nice and sweet until he gets what he wants..sex. Once he gets what he wants, he turns into angry monster until the next cycle kicks in. Otherwise he is glued to his e!ecfronic devices and being angry over stupid stuff. He refuses counseling to save us. He thinks it is all me. Soon I will be leaving with our boys who get how he is and they want nothing to do with him.

  30. Pingback: Unrealistic Expectations – Citizens for Decency

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