——–The Story Tellers——–
I was recently at a party with several women who were sharing their thoughts on marriage. Honestly, I found some of the advice to be off base or harmful, and I realized that I have heard these same thoughts and ideas since I was a young girl. They, like me, have seen these messages reflected in social media, preached from the pulpit, handed down over generations, and recycled time and time again. We are all at risk for buying into these messages. And this isn’t specific to women, these messages are affecting men as well.
The problem with these lies or misconceptions, is they lead to unhealthy communication, needs, roles, conflict resolution, and ultimately unhealthy marriages. I’m no marriage expert but I have had some unique experiences in my marriage, I work in the clinical social work/therapy field, and I have sat along side amazing, healthy women who have been married much longer than me. So in some ways, I have some good knowledge for debunking the terrible lies ‘they’ tell us! The list below is based on my personal experiences over the course of my adult life and the experiences that others have shared with me.
#1: Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. If I have heard this once, I have heard it a million times. I’m not sure why this myth has been perpetuated when it clearly doesn’t work. Most of the time, I find arguments start after the sun has already gone down, and they get pretty bad before they get better. In these situations, experience has shown me, I’m more likely to say something terrible, get overly emotional, or act selfishly the later it gets.
Healthy conflict means: take a break when its needed. Take time for your own self-care. Have boundaries about how long or how late you will fight. Experts say…don’t argue if you are: HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired).
So if going to bed angry is what you all need to be healthy…then go to bed angry. 9 times out of 10, things look differently in the morning.
#2: Never sleep apart even when angry. My beef with this is, well, everything. To me, this is a co-dependent statement that really says “No matter how badly someone treats you or how unsafe you feel, you should still sleep next to them because you HAVE to.” What this statement does is take away choice and not allow people to take care of themselves. Self-care in marriage is huge! How do we expect to bring our best selves to a marriage if we can’t take care of ourselves?? What if your spouse is acting unsafe: physically, verbally, sexually, emotionally? What if you have a 7am presentation and lying next to someone you are livid with will keep you up all night?
This myth is illogical. If someone needs space…they can take it.
#3: If your spouse wants to have sex, you should do it. I had someone tell me that she never tells her husband no, even when she doesn’t want to have sex with him. She trudges through since its her duty. Sex is intimacy that starts outside the bedroom. In a marriage, hopefully its about mutual trust, respect, love. The best way we can love our spouses is to first love ourselves. If we can’t take care of us, how can we take care of others? Follow me here: If we don’t respect ourselves enough to be honest about where we are sexually, how do we have a mutually trusting, respectful, and loving relationship? How does “trudging” through sex result in intimacy and relationship?
And lastly, and most importantly…marriage doesn’t mean a spouse now owns their partner’s body. Each person still has choice in how they bring their body to the relationship, what they do with it, and what someone else does with it. Every person has the right to say “no, I don’t want to have sex right now.” No person has to have sex with their spouse…it is not their duty. EVER.
#4: I must have sex with him (or her) so he doesn’t look at porn or cheat on me. Hold on, what!? What’s crazy about this myth, is I have heard it from dating couples, christians, celebrities, old married folks, etc. This lie does not discriminate. The irony here is that people think they can control someone else with sex, when they can’t control someone else at all. This too is a form of co-dependence and very common. The partner takes responsibility for their spouse’s behavior, but wait, why? If someone decides to look at porn, cheat, etc. That’s on them. That was their choice. No amount of sex or lingerie can fix that. If your partner is telling you that having sex with them will keep them from doing those things….that’s called manipulation.
We cannot control anyone’s behavior except our own.
#5: If you’re marriage is struggling, get into couple’s therapy. The problem with this solution is that people think the marriage is the problem instead of looking at themselves. If a person’s marriage is in trouble…get into individual therapy. We each bring a history with us into marriage. And whether we talk about or even acknowledge this history, it will play itself out every day. How we respond to conflict, share feelings, and view roles are all impacted by how we were raised, trauma we have experienced, and learned behaviors.
Here’s what I have seen be the most successful: get into individual therapy and work on yourself. Learn new skills with a therapist. Work through triggers, and build self-care and healthy interdependence. When you and your spouse are in a healthier spot, then go to couple’s counseling to build upon those items together. Get yourself healthy first…so you both can bring the healthiest versions of you to the table. It usually works.
#6: I’m so glad she found someone who can take care of her. I used female pronouns here simply because when I have heard this, it is usually about a heterosexual female. I think I get confused here because, did this woman get adopted? Like did she marry her dad? If two grown adults are joined in marriage to be partners…why is everyone so glad she now has someone to take care of her?
Also, I typically feel bad for the guy here. I know he can’t take care of her. I know he will fail her because that is reality. My understanding of a healthy relationship is this: each person is responsible for taking care of themselves, communicating their own needs, and asking for help/support when it is needed. The marriages I respect are the ones where the couple knows how to care for themselves so they are free to care for each other and others.
I don’t want a marriage where I get taken care of. I’m not a child and my spouse is not my parent. Plus how exhausting for him.
#7: When there is conflict, one of you should just take off all your clothes. I remember someone telling me this when I got engaged. What a terrible way to handle conflict. This solves nothing, it doesn’t hear or respond to the other person. This does not exchange empathy or care. This is literally a band aid on conflict. And I worry that couples who use sex, humor, or their bodies as a way to handle conflict, will only put band aids on their problems.
Conflict and how we respond to it, grow through it, and embrace it can make or break a marriage. Conflict is inevitable. Will we be healthy and mature enough to sit with it, to listen to one another, to apologize, and to grow in empathy?
Taking off all one’s clothes typically doesn’t accomplish any of that.
#8: Marriage should be easy. Healthy marriage is hard and it is a lot of work. If couples really engage their conflict, pain, shame, and if people are living in true transparency- it will be hard. Growing next to someone is not easy. It is rewarding. It is fulfilling. It is fun. Becoming the best versions of ourselves feels good. Marriage can help us do that, if we choose to engage it. But it’s not easy. And, that’s okay.
There are many other lies floating out there in the void, however, these are the ones I hear A LOT and wanted to challenge. I hope if you read this, you found some of it challenging. Maybe you disagreed with something or had never thought about it before. Regardless, I hope if you are in a dating/marriage relationship, that you are moving towards health, talking openly with your partner, and living according to your needs and choices.
Let us all keep doing the best we can.