Cinderella. Belle. Jasmine. Disney’s version of Rapunzel. Disney’s version of Ariel. All of these love stories have their struggles – what with missing glass slippers, evil sorcerers, solitary confinement and being half-fish – but they all end the same way: happily and without problems. Hundreds of other movies and songs tell us the problems in relationships are at the beginning when you’re trying to get the girl/guy. They don’t often show what happens AFTER.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could see Cinderella and Prince Charming fighting over the internet bill or the fact that Charming never closes cabinet doors and Cinderella complains about being fat every day? That seems more legit to me. Somehow I doubt I’ll ever see that come to life.
But that’s what we’re talking about today: the reality of good relationships and the lies we – and society – tell ourselves about them.
1. Good relationships are easy.
Ah, I love this one. Have you ever had friends or family tell you that the “right” relationship shouldn’t be hard? It should be easy and not take a ton of effort? Granted, relationships shouldn’t be the kind of difficult that involves fear for safety, manipulation and control, denial of your beliefs/morals, and all that. I’m talking about the healthy relationships that turn into marriage, with your average ups and downs. Sure, they may be easy in the beginning when you’re trying to impress and hook your future spouse. You probably use your best table manners, you don’t show off your bodily functions, and you are sweet and more forgiving.
But once the shiny newness wears off – as will happen to any relationship – our human habits kick in and the filters we may have used in the beginning come flyin’ off. This is a totally normal part of a relationship that can lead to arguments, frustration, feeling overwhelmed, confused and even doubtful. And why shouldn’t we feel this way? I mean, we’re only fusing our entire being to another being, right? Shouldn’t that be easy?
Before marriage, we had a lifetime of creating habits, opinions and independence. We are a whole, separate person. Then after marriage, your whole, separate person joins for life to another whole, separate person, and then you two create another whole, separate entity that only exists when the two of you are together. Not only are you taking care of yourself, you’re taking care of your spouse and your marriage! Those are two HUGE additions to your world. There’s bound to be some adjustment and growing pains.
Love isn’t easy – just look at the cross for a reminder of that. But love is worth it.
2. Sparks should always fly.
Hate to burst your bubble, but alas, this is another falsehood of marriage or LTR’s. Our brains love new and novel things. Once a relationship stops involving new and novel things, our brain doesn’t give us that nice kick of neurochemicals it used to that made us feel giddy, excited and enamored. The bad news is that means at some point in your relationship, the hot raging fire that once inspired poetry and mix tapes, has now fizzled and takes the form of watching TV and going to bed early. But the good news is that since we believe love is a choice we make every day, we keep our relationships alive by MAKING AN EFFORT. I know, I know. In the days of insta-everything, making an effort seems tiring. But stick with me – all good things take time and effort, and your relationship is no different.
If the sparks die down, don’t freak out. It happens to all of us. Remember how the brain likes new and novel? Shake it up a bit – try a dance class, cooking class, trivia night, or a pub crawl. Or how about mass in Latin? A foreign film? Anything new and different can help.
And in the meantime? Keep choosing that love every day. It’s that self-lessness that makes marriage so awesome, and in the end, a ton stronger and resilient.
3. Kids ruin your relationship.
Ugh… this one drives me nuts. Do kids add stress to a relationship? Yes. Do kids decrease the amount of alone time you spend together? Totally. Do kids suck up all the money you may previously have spent on fancy dates? Undeniably. But to say that kids ruin a relationship is a sad, misguided truth that our individualistic, self-serving society has preached to us.
(Sometimes I wonder if people who are anti-kids realize that kids are little humans that eventually grow into big humans that keep our society in existence. I feel like they see kids more as mosquitoes or other pests, that are really just annoying and seemingly without purpose. I digress.)
Really, kids are a beautiful testament to the sanctity of marriage. Whether adopted or born naturally, kids are a blessing that instill hope, joy and newness that inspires an impossible kind of love. And that kind of love makes us better people. Kids may not make a marriage easier, but they are little proofs of your love that can grow up to change the world.
Once I told Danger while we were dating that I wanted kids so I could build a Catholic army. He looked at me like I was crazy and exclaimed, “What?! No, you have kids so that you can love God more.”
Oh, well that too.
4. Good partners know what the other wants without asking.
Repeat after me: Your partner cannot read your mind. They are not telepathic, clairvoyant, or anything else X-Men-esque. They are normal people with normal brains. Sure, after time it becomes easier for your partner to guess or assume what you may be thinking. They may be able to anticipate what you might want. But those are not the same as reading your mind. That being said, we all need to get a little more comfortable with the phrase, “I need you to ________.” Whether it’s “say I love you daily”, “pick up your dirty clothes and place them in the hamper 12 inches from you”, or “hug me when I get home from work”, tell your partner what you need (lovingly). It’s okay if they didn’t know you needed it! It in no way means they love you or know you any less. It just means they’re not Professor Charles Xavier.
For example, I typically buy Danger the wrong kind of milk. I need him to tell me, “I need you to buy ONE PERCENT milk, darling, honey, baby, beautiful sweetheart.” Okay, so maybe he doesn’t have to call me those sweet names after his request. I’ll have to figure out if that’s a need of mine…
5. Your partner should be more like your best friend.
Okay, so your partner is probably the closest person to you, as they should be. But let’s be real – guys need dude time, and ladies need girl time. We cannot expect our spouses to exhibit the same traits our BFF’s do, because they shouldn’t. Your husband is not your girlfriend. And your wife is not your bro. Sure we can ask our husbands to listen empathically, but we can’t expect them to listen with all of the perfectly timed nods, “uh-huh’s”, and facial expressions that our BFF’s use. Nor should we expect our husbands to understand and join in when we monster-attack a brownie or cry randomly at stuff. That’s what our girlfriends are for – they get it, they’re women, too.
And guys? Don’t expect your wife to be able to go to her nothing-box with you. Here’s a hint: she doesn’t have one to go to in the first place. Also, don’t expect her to get excited about all the same stuff you nerd out on. That’s what your guy friends are for – they get it, they’re men.*
So let your partner be who they are, and love them for the masculine or feminine traits they bring to your marriage. And when you need to be around the gender that will understand you the best, give your friends a call and get some best-bud time in.
*I understand I probably made gender stereotypes, but please know it’s because I’m speaking to a general audience. If these don’t apply to your specific, one-of-a-kind relationship, I apologize. Take it with a grain of salt. Preferably on a margarita glass.
And it kicks so hard,
It breaks your bones.
Cuts so deep
It hits your soul.
Tears your skin and
And makes your blood flow.
It’s better that you know,
That love is hard.
If it was easy,
It wouldn’t mean nothing.
– James Morrison, “Love is Hard”