In real life the conflicts are just beginning, the cute little quirks stale, the annoying habits morph into irritations, and the little issues multiply, but these false models of marriage leave many people unprepared and expecting that the love and excitement of the courtship to continue rather than fade as it inevitably must. But like every new job or activity marriage must evolve over time. The trick of course is to meet the inevitable changes with understanding, flexibility, and above all a commitment to making the marriage work.
Ironically most people know very little about their future partner both before and after the wedding. It might take 50 years before you truly know your partner – if you ever do. Entering into marriage is entering into the unknown and every day becomes a learning experience and possibly even a challenge.
Marriage as viewed in the movies and books is nothing like the real thing because what they describe could not be further from the truth. Like all courageous endeavors, marriage can and must evolve over time. We enter into it with the greatest of intentions, hope, and commitment. We spend enough time together to determine if the partnership is a good match in terms of shared values, enough connection, some ability to resolve conflict, and no serious red-flags. And then we jump off the wedding cliff together with a leap of faith. For we never know at the onset what the final outcome will be. Marriage, like life, is ultimately a mystery regarding a magic formula for success. And the intricacies of this mystery, the strands of the story that comprise the final tapestry of one's marriage, can never be known on the day you say "I do."
And yet we long to know. We want the answers right at the beginning of the story. Instead of being an unfinished work of art, we expect our partners to know everything about us and fulfill each of our needs. Most people, when they marry, actually know very little about each other, especially compared to how much they'll know in 50 or 60 years! Human beings are complicated creatures, and it takes living with each other day in and day out -- sharing finances, dealing with work stress, having children, handling the conflicts that arise around each other's families -- before we slowly, slowly learn the details of thought, feeling, and spirit that comprise our partners.
What if we viewed the wedding not as an ending -- the final chapter of the story -- but as the beginning that it is? What if we understood that a marriage is a work-in-progress that begins on the wedding day and continues to grow and change for the rest of our lives? What if we let ourselves -- and our partners -- off the hook regarding having to feel and receive the greatest possible love on and around the wedding day? We put so much pressure on ourselves these days, and oftentimes it's that very pressure that dampens our ability to know and be known by our husband or wife. In other words, by not allowing ourselves to ease into the marriage over a period of several years, we place the marriage itself in a vice where it can't breathe organically and evolve according to its own rhythm.
What interferes with most people's capacity to experience the wedding transition free of anxiety are their expectations. The bride-to-be expects to feel happier than she's ever felt in her life during her engagement. The groom-to-be expects to be able to let go of his bachelor identity easily. And nearly everyone expects that the engaged couple should feel solid and certain about their relationship. We view the wedding as the culmination of a relationship instead of it as a beginning. Marriage, in the end, is largely a journey of acceptance, and while we may enter into it believing we fully accept our partners, very few of us actually do. And that's okay. It's only the expectation of otherwise that interferes with our ability to accept the inevitable challenges that arise during the early years of marriage.
As with so many aspects of the wedding transition, the practice is about letting go: letting go of pressure, letting go of expectations, letting go of perfection, letting go of the old life, letting go of "should’s", and letting go of trying to squeeze yourself and your relationship into a preconceived image or model of how you think your relationship is supposed to be. A successful marriage develops and evolves over years and is built on successfully resolved conflicts, tears, laughter, and shared experiences. It is the adventure of a lifetime and the marriage should be viewed as the first step. The love on the marriage day is a faint outline of the love you will have in 50 years.
Sheryl Paul, M.A., has counseled thousands of people worldwide through her private practice, her bestselling books, her e-courses and her website. She has appeared several times on "The Oprah Winfrey Show", as well as on "Good Morning