A marriage takes work. Sometimes it takes a lot of work. All relationships do! Expecting relationships to just be perfect and lovely all the time is not the way to produce any healthy relationship, especially a marriage. That’s why it’s critical we teach our children this as they grow. Otherwise, they may not know. I know that may sound silly but it’s true.
Our world is full of images and stories of perfect marriages and perfect relationships. Social media highlight reels, celebrity breakups, and TV shows like The Bachelor all peddle this storyline.
They all perpetuate the false idea that relationships are magical and nothing but joy and excitement filled. If they aren’t, then there is something wrong and the relationship is not right for us. This just isn’t the right way to go about it.
But how will our kids know this if we don’t teach them? It’s our job to show our kids that this isn’t accurate. To teach them that marriage is joy and excitement, but it also takes work and is never perfect, even when it is right.
The heightened experience of “being in love” doesn’t last!
When Andy and I got married, we chose two readings to be performed at our ceremony. Here is the one by C.S. Lewis from the book “Mere Christianity.” This perfectly sums up everything about what love and marriage is and isn’t.
“If the old fairy-tale ending “They lived happily ever after” is taken to mean “They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married,” then it says what probably never was nor ever could be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were. Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years? What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, your friendships? But, of course, ceasing to be “in love” need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense- love as distinct from “being in love” is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both parents ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even you do not like yourself. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be “in love” with someone else. “Being in love” first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.”Mere Christianty-C.S. Lewis
This may seem to some as an odd reading for a wedding day. However, we were fortunate in that we had no delusions going into marriage on “being in love,” what that means, and if that’s really what holds a relationship together. (Spoiler alert: It’s not.)
We had already been together seven years on the day of our wedding. We had already experienced what many don’t until a few years in. That quite simply, that heightened emotion in books and movies, television and Hollywood, is not permanent. Though many would love you to believe it was!
So we chose not to honor the mushy romance of a new relationship that day. Instead, we opted to acknowledge the dedication, work, and promise of what marriage really is. It is choosing every day to continue on this journey with this person, regardless of how you may feel about them on that particular day.
The experience of being in love is something that comes and goes in a long-term relationship of any kind. That’s what we need to teach our kids. To not search for that “in love” feeling that never goes away. Because that just doesn’t exist.
Life is messy. There are fights and arguments, no matter how much you love the other person. There are moments where the tiniest inconsideration can just push you right over the edge. Some days those things don’t matter, and other days they spark anger. You roll with it.
Obviously, if you’re in a dangerous, possessive, obsessive, or otherwise unhealthy relationship, get out. There’s a difference between committing to a promise together, and having a one-sided commitment where someone is abusive in any way. But that’s not really what we’re talking about here.
We’re talking about the normal marriage that takes work in every day life.
Marriage takes work. Show the work.
Not to sound like math class, but it’s time to show your work. We tend to want to shelter our children from some of the more unpleasant things in life, which is great. But we can’t shield them from all of it. Where else will they learn about these intimate details about what it is to really live in the world?
Your relationship with your spouse is going to be the basis for all of their relationships. Don’t pretend it’s perfect. They get plenty of that already. We need to be real for them.
That’s not to say you should start having all of your fights in front of the kids and let them in on everything between you and your husband. Please don’t do that! But let them see both sides of marriage; the “in love” and the work.
Don’t be afraid to argue in front of your kids. Small arguments show them that you can disagree with someone you love, and it doesn’t mean you aren’t compatible. Some day, they are going to be in a relationship that inveitably has arguments. You want them to realize that it’s normal, and not to run away just because things aren’t perfect.
When you do argue in front of your kids, show them how to make up. Resolve the situation and apologize to each other if necessary. Teach them how to have a civil disagreement with someone they are in a relationship with.
Let them see how you share in managing the household. That it takes compromise sometimes and doing things you don’t want to do. Maybe Mom usually takes care of the laundry and Dad hates it, but if Mom’s working late, Dad does it anyway. There’s nothing wrong with your kids knowing you’re annoyed and don’t really want to do it. That’s great! They know you’re doing something you don’t really want to do, even though your annoyed, because someone you love needs it.
Don’t try to hide it when you’re annoyed with your spouse. Kids can tell. If they ask what’s wrong, don’t just say “Nothing.” Explain in a kid appropriate way that you’re having a disagreement and you need to calm down before resolving it with Daddy. They get that. Kids get into disagreements all the time.
Let kids see that choosing the work is worth it.
Someday, your kids will be in relationships. Maybe they already are. Be the example they need in this world. In a world where romance and unhealthy relationships abound, show them how marriage works. How it’s supposed to work. A give and take, loving, commitment and promise to each other.
No one has the upper hand. There are disagreements and frustrations. It’s not perfect. And if you can trust in that imperfection and follow what you feel when that “being in love” phase starts to dim and go in and out, it can be wonderful.