The most successful marriages start with a solid foundation. That foundation is built on many things—mutual interests, shared beliefs, selflessness and, of course, love—but the biggest problem going into many marriages is that those basics are often held back by unrealistic expectations.
The differences aren’t the problem, though; our irreconcilable expectations are. Let’s look, then, at some of those predetermined ideas and dump marriage out of its box. Here’s something you should know before you say “I Do”: not what marriage is, but five things it isn’t.
1. It isn’t a cure for loneliness.In a society where we’re plugged in 24 hours a day, where “community” is more often used to describe your Facebook friends than an actual neighborhood, people long to connect intimately with someone.
We see couples everywhere—in restaurants, on TV, on the bus or train or sidewalks on the way to work—and feel like something is missing in our lives if we’re alone. As humans, we have an innate need to belong, and we expect a spouse to provide that sense of acceptance and intimacy and comfort.
Best case scenario, that’s what a good marriage will provide. But I know couples in loving relationships who remain lonely. Why? After all, they’ve found a perfect mate who has taken great strides toward fulfilling their need for intimacy. But that’s a heavy load for one person to bear. Lonely single people become lonely married people. If your goal in marriage is to satisfy your need to belong, your next stop may be heartbreak.
2. It isn’t an escape from boredom.
In 1991, U.S. News and World Report reported that half of U.S. workers said the reason they have a job—aside from needing to earn a living—was to keep from being bored. What does this have to do with marriage? Plenty. Some couples get married to shake off boredom. Life becomes dull, and it’s easy to convince yourself that a serious relationship will make the day more bearable. It’s something else to do, the next step after graduating college and getting a job and exploring the dating scene. When you get married, you expect built-in happiness. Automatic entertainment. Regular conversation. At least you’ll have someone to watch TV with.
Getting married in order to generate a little excitement in your life is a terrible motivation. Why? Because once the merry-go-round stops—once the novelty wears out—you’ll immediately start looking for the next ride.
3. It isn’t a rowdy sex romp.
As the old experiment goes, put a penny in a jar for every time you have sex during the first year of marriage. Then, beginning at the start of your second year, take a penny out every time you do the horizontal two-step. Chances are, a couple of years later, you’ll still be pulling pennies.
Does the sex stop after 12 months of good lovin’? No. Not by any means. But is every night a page out of the Karma Sutra? Nope. Despite what guys think, your wife won’t always want to wear that see-through teddy. Elastic and lace just aren’t that comfortable in some places. And ladies? Keeping the romance alive is hard work for us guys. Sometimes we just want to watch SportsCenter.
Still, with communication and sensitivity, sex can (and should) remain a vital part of marriage. It’s the ultimate bonding activity for a couple to share. But remember, it’s not the only activity. Don’t expect marriage to be a 50-year honeymoon of libido and lipstick.
4. It isn’t a means to a makeover.
How many times have you heard this? “He’s not really interested in the stuff I like to do, but that’ll change once we get married.” Very few marriages that launch from that pad end up happily ever after.
If there’s anything you should know about marriage, it’s this: Saying “I do” may change your legal relationship, but it doesn’t change your character. Don’t enter a marriage expecting to remake your husband or wife into someone else. You can’t. People have baggage, stuff they’ve wheeled around behind them since childhood. It’s been with us so long, very few have the willpower to drop it before entering the wedding chapel. The flaws go with you.
Don’t marry someone for who they might become. Marry them for who they are right now.
5. It isn’t an easy transition.
There’s a reason romantic movies end, rather than begin, with a wedding. It’s because that’s when the hard stuff starts. For anyone who’s lived on their own for any length of time, the space between singleness and marriage is a wide one. It’s a difficult transition for many.
“I wasn’t ready for all the changes,” a friend of mine once told me about his first few months of marriage. “I could deal with moving into her place and giving up my furniture—it was pretty much crap anyway. But what surprised me was having to deal with her emotions. When you’re dating, you always see her best face. Once you get married, you see everything.”
Women don’t have it any easier. Many secretly wince at the notion of placing their fate alongside that of another, worrying that the role of wife might eat into their sense of individuality.
There’s no way around making these adjustments. In order for the marriage to last more than a week or two, you’ll have to find a way to cope. Don’t be taken by surprise; expect a few hiccups going in.
Let me get a head start by ending with this disclaimer. We’ve been discussing what marriage is not, but here’s what marriage is: Marriage is wonderful. There is no better way to make it through life than with a partner who loves you despite your morning breath, despite your stinky Converse All-Stars and despite your failure to clean coffee stains. Marriage is deeply satisfying, incredibly fulfilling and loads of fun. It makes the harsh edges of life a little softer. It brings joy and hope and laughter. But it’s not easy, and it’s not something to rush into without thinking.
So: Know the benefits. Know the challenges. Know your potential mate. Get your expectations right. Then, jump in with both feet. You’re gonna like it.