We go to school for so many years of our lives, sometimes close to 25 years depending on the carriers we have chosen to practice. School and college give us the tools to be great in our professions, but what education do we get on relationships and family satisfaction and well-being?
Most of what we think of what a marriage and parenting are comes from what we learned from our families of origin, as well as cultural beliefs— what is talked about in your circle of friends, as well as what we see in pop culture… Our parent’s relationship, movies, shows, as well as what the news tells us that actors and other famous people are doing with their relationships have a tremendous influence on our beliefs of relationships.
I became a marriage counselor because I did not want my parent’s marriage. My parents were married for nearly 3 decades, where I saw the marriage eroding through time leading to divorce. This set me to have a personal mission to make my marriage work, and a professional mission to help couples learn how to invest their efforts and attention to things that count for the marriage.
As a teenager, I became passionate about the idea of helping couples create satisfying marriages because I believe in the importance of having a strong family. Not only I believe this is an important element for personal emotional well-being, but also for the children. Let me clarify, however, that there are definitely circumstances that a marriage should not be saved, such as those where abuse is present.
With many of the couples that I work with, I hear the statement: “I don’t want my parent’s marriage,” just like I felt as a teen. Countless of us grew up seeing our parents in marriages that were not satisfying, some resulting in divorce, some resulting in sticking together because “that’s what you did.”
Some others tell me that their parent’s marriage is their role model and feel disappointed that their personal marriage is not in the right direction, and do not understand why.
Whichever is your opinion of your parent’s marriage, wanting your marriage to be different than what it is today and reading articles on how to improve your marriage is already a difference in generational thinking of what a marriage is.
What do I mean when I say a “generational” difference?
The institution of marriage has changed dramatically within the last decades.
Since the 50s, the role of men and women have changed. It used to be clear-cut what a man had to do to be a good husband: provide plentifully and protect the family, and as a woman: be a good homemaker and raise good children. There are more households today where both spouses are providers than ever before, shifting the perspective of what is a good husband and wife. Therefore, one can say that marriage was about tradition and survival— if each partner did their part, the family got everything needed, as well as status.
Also, getting married was something that everyone had to do, just like going to school. In fact, the average marrying age was 21 for men and 19 for women indicating that this was something done right after high school. It was part of adulthood.
Today, people are waiting longer to get marriage—29 for men and 27 for women. After a few generations of high percentages of divorce, people are seeing marriage as an option that needs to be well thought out. Divorce is very accessible today, and the perspective of it has changed—as in the past divorcees would be highly judged, today is it much more accepted when someone chooses to end a marriage.
Another element is that when something becomes an option, then it naturally turns into something that drives people to want to understand how to make it worthwhile. Makes sense right? If you’re not being forced to do something, then why get into it or stay in it if it will not satisfy you in somehow…
So, what does that leave us with in today’s relationships?
No clear roles for marriage
Prior generations that cannot teach us what we really want in today’s marriages
Higher expectations of what marriage should be
A faster route to end a marriage
I know that some of you at this point might be thinking: “Why even bother?” or “This is why I don’t want to get married”
And while there is nothing wrong with people not wanting to get into committed relationships, and being forthright about it, if you’re on the fence, know that there are things that one can do to have a satisfying marriage today. Here are some tips:
Analyze what you liked and didn’t like about your parent’s marriage, so you are clear about what you want to bring in your marriage and what you would like to see different. Learn the same from your partner. This conversation allows uncovering what your dreams and your partner’s dreams of a marriage are. Have conversations in which you explore how you won’t create the same problems in your marriage that you witnessed in your parents’ marriage.
Create roles for the marriage. Yes, you and your significant other have the magic wand on this one. You can create roles that are as conventional or unconventional as you wish them to be. There are no rules regarding this. Think of as many areas as you can: house chores, finances, parenting, errands, in-laws, friendships… In all these areas and more, what do you think your roles should be and how can you be a team in all these areas?
Chuck the belief that your spouse is your other half. Sorry to break it this way…. This is one of the social myths that hurt marriages. We are told that our spouses should complete us. As if we are broken or incomplete before we meet “the one.” What is your life vision? What are your dreams for yourself, and for the relationship? Do you have several things for yourself aside from the relationship?
Another one to discard: Your spouse cannot be your everything. Number two connects with this one. The higher expectations for marriage have created the idea that our partners need to be our everything. Since the institution of marriage has been dismantled as it was known, and people are not marrying anymore to fulfill traditional roles, it was replaced with the idea that our spouses have to be our “everything”: be a best friend, a confidant, a lover, be dependable, fun, passionate, supportive, ride or die, and the list can go on and on and on. Why can’t our partners be our everything? Plainly put, let’s blame it on personality differences. Dr. John Gottman found out that 69% of the differences or problems in a committed relationship are there to stay, and this is a number that applies to a satisfying relationship. This means that the grass is truly not greener on the other side. So, if one accepts point number two, where fulfillment does not come only from our partner, and that it’s okay that our partners are not our everything, that leaves us with the idea that we need ties to other people, friends, and family members or even find it from within to create a life with overall fulfillment. This does not mean that every time our partners ask something from us we should dismiss it and say: “Maybe someone else could give you this cuz it won’t be me.” Learning to understand our partners’ needs, listening, and exploring how to help our partners feel fulfilled in life is still needed.
Focus on connection: This is the real reason why we get married today. We want a marriage that feels like we connect. What is connection though? It is such a subjective term, but the best way that I can define it is the ability to be aware of when our partner is reaching out to us to feel loved and cared for and how we respond to them. This includes when our partners reach out for quality time, to talk, to have fun, to be intimate, to solve problems, to find support and many more.
In an era that marriage is being re-defined, the opportunity becomes one to create what we want our relationship to be. There are no more scripts, there are no more rules. It can certainly be an empowering experience.
To your relationship’s success, Sofia
If you would like to check out the health of your relationship, click the link below to get feedback and tips on how to enhance your connection.