An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Unrealistic Expectations

Unrealistic Expectations

Last blog I asked why couples in their 50s and 60s divorce—today I’m thinking about the reasons people marry in the first place. Societal approved sex, saving rent, all their friends are married, health insurance, and making the baby legitimate are all common reasons. Regardless of the reasons people tell themselves and others, I suspect most people marry believing they have found the one person who can make them happy. Now think about that—two separate individuals, each with the idea that the other will make him or her happy. A recipe for disappointment—unless one is a clone of the other.
The first thing I learned after marriage was that George and I don’t enjoy the same activities. This was not apparent before marriage when our palpitating hearts made anything we did together enjoyable. George loved spending Saturdays with his head under the hood of our car. Not the way I wanted to spend my day off. I enjoyed church meetings on Sunday morning and George preferred to sleep late. Summers were worse. George expected me to go fishing with him. Now, I’ll admit this was partly my fault. I had gone fishing with him once while we were dating and enjoyed playing dumb while my big, strong boy friend baited my hook and gave me pointers. Drowning worms with a husband who is more interested in the fish than in me was not the same.
Differences about how to use leisure time are relatively minor, but what about couples where each wants a totally different lifestyle? The wife who marries a non-member or less active man and realizes: 1) he’s not going to change, and 2) she desperately wants to be sealed to her husband and children. Or there’s the husband who wants to pursue a degree and the wife who wants him to drop out and take a job now, any job that will provide a house and minivan.
My daughter’s mission president loved working in the mission field. He retired with the goal of serving one mission after another for the rest of his life. His wife wanted to spend her golden years near her grandchildren. Her strategy, according to my daughter, was “fake it ‘til you make it.” That might work for one term as a mission mother, but can you imagine spending ten or fifteen years pretending you’re happy? Unfortunately, it’s not possible for a mission pres to serve as a single while his wife remains home pursuing her own interests. I hope this noble sister finally achieved some sort of compromise such as three years on and three years off. Otherwise, she probably spent a good deal of time hoping for her husband’s early demise.
A certain amount of deception is necessary in courtship—otherwise the marriage rate would plummet. Maybe the realistic thing is to marry with the idea that you will be about as happy married as you were single—that your happiness is basically your own responsibility. And you may need to compromise some of your own cherished goals if they will cripple the happiness of your spouse. Maybe premarital counseling would help couples open their eyes before marriage and avoid post-nuptial shock. Of course, truly realistic pre-marriage counseling could cut the marriage rate way down. How bad would that be?

Comments on: "Unrealistic Expectations" (9)

  1. Amanda Jacobsen said:

    I think the biggest problem is that people rush into marriage. What is wrong with living together for a year or so before taking the plunge into matrimony? You will find out more about your significant other during that one year then in the previous years you were dating. I can personally vouch for this.

    • I wonder how many marriages would take place if the couple lived together for a year first. Most of the divorced women I know tell me they knew within a few days after the wedding that they’d made a huge mistake. Most of them wasted years before getting out of it. Breaking up is hard to do, but maybe the sooner the better.

    • From a purely pragmatic perspective, the problem is that couples who shack up before marriage are more likely to divorce. Quite a bit more likely in fact.

      • Statistically that is true. It would be interesting to know what happens to couples who live together and break up without marrying. Women who have been in long term relationships can be hurt financially when the guy walks away. Splitting up has got to be emotionally devastating for the person who did not initiate the break up regardless of the legal status.

  2. Nelda Bishop said:

    My strategy was to make my own life after I quit working. Book clubs, League of Women Voters, friends who did want to talk gave me a connection. I also had fun being a mother and enjoyed my kids, both as kids and as adults. I couldn’t have lived together before marriage because it was so against my beliefs. As a divorce attorney, I have seen where the shacking up without a commitment leaves the woman when the guy leaves. I don’t think there is an alternative in Mormondom.

    • Nelda–You bring up a good point. Marriage is promoted by society in order to protect women and children. Without that commitment, a woman can waste time in a non-working relationship and have no legal rights when it ends.

  3. Perhaps those planning to marry should have some kind of counseling. Going into marriage with eyes wide open would be helpful to those idealists that believe marriage will solve all their problems. Even though I divorced after 17 years of marriage (and I’ve been single almost that long), I remember enjoying being married and working through those rough spots, as well as sharing the fun, good times, but I think I would have appreciated knowing that not all marriages are not “made in Heaven” and having some idea of the realities of marriage. When I was young, couples did not receive marriage “training,” and I’m not sure they do today.

    • <em> SK: My son belongs to a church that requires an in-depth premarriage course for couples wanting a church ceremony. He (and presumably) his fiance went into marriage with realistic expectations. Neither appears disillusioned 2 years and one child later.

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