Stereotypes of Marriage

November 15th, 2013 | Categories: Uncategorized

I’m married. What’s more, I’ve been with my partner for 21 years. More surprising, I’ve only just turned 40. I’ll take it up a notch and tell you, I’m actually happily married. Oh, yeah, and I forgot to mention we have two young kids.

So what’s our secret? We often joke that we should write a book but the conversation always ends the same. It would be a very short book. One page. It would say only this:

Don’t be mean to each other.

Sound too simple to be true? I don’t think so. After all, think of all the relationships you know that are on the rocks, involved affairs, mental or physical abuse, and are on there way toward divorce. There’s a point where the people in the relationship went from having difficulties to being mean to each other. Only you might not have found out about it until they had already gotten to the mean part.

I’m not sure where that leap happens where there are difficulties that convert into two people who were once in love being mean but I think the problem that causes this leap has something to do with stereotypes of marriage.

I’ve written about stereotypes of men, women, various sexual orientations, races, ethnicities, and so forth. I’ve talked about how the media provides us with images about these cultural groups that we internalize to believe they are true. Heck, my guest blogger wrote about this topic on Wednesday!! Well, marriage is no different. We think marriage is supposed t be this idealistic relationship where no one ever fights, we are always happy, and our partner can read our minds and finish our sentences. In this ideal marriage we share everything in common and always want the same things. When the deliriously happy couple has children then their happiness is further multiplied at the joy each baby brings.

WRONG!!!

My marriage hasn’t been like that. I’ve had at least four traumatic things happen that have each taken over a year to really full get over. In some cases longer. That’s only four things and I count myself lucky because all my family is relatively healthy and I live a relatively privileged life. But that’s already 20% of my relationship that I would say wasn’t all that swell. It was never bad, but it was definitely not sunshine, rainbows, and butterflies. Add in the great things that happened that were also extremely difficult. I have two children! My son spent there and a half years not sleeping well. I need you to read that again. I said 3 1/2 years! After both children I breastfed for nearly a year for each. That’s a year of my life that I had to explain to my husband that my first priority was feeding our child and his first priority was making sure I was eating. I didn’t have the energy to do both. I tell those about to have a second child that they have no idea how much free time they have with one child until it’s too late and they have two. I can’t imagine what three is like to balance.

Marriage is nothing like how it is in the media.

Listen, I admit. I have had an advantage in my relationship. My parents were divorced when I was young. My husband’s parents too. So we got to see that we don’t have to be married. There’s no one forcing us to be married. We are under no obligation. We have no ideal or dream to live up to. Our lives will go on if we are not married.

Heck, I never even pictured myself in a wedding dress – not even once – before I got engaged.

So once I got married I didn’t have unrealistic expectations and I didn’t take it for granted. Instead, I am still continually appreciative that I am married because I know at any time I could not be. In the meantime, I am sincerely happy that I have someone to share my life with today, and tomorrow, and the next day, and as long as we are both happy sharing our lives together but with no guarantee that it will be longer than that.

The one rule I follow is that I should not be mean to him. When I was younger, I had a few boyfriends I cheated on. I remember talking to my (now husband then) boyfriend about these relationships and providing all the many reasons I cheated and why it was justified this way or that way. He didn’t buy it. It was simple for him. I either cheated or I didn’t. The excuses didn’t matter. I was shocked. It was so simple. I internalized that conversation and translated it slightly over time to be the one simple piece of advice I follow in my relationship. Don’t be mean. He follows this advice too.

In every single decision you make in your relationship you are either mean or not mean. There are no excuses. We don’t let our kids get away with being mean. We don’t let ourselves get away with it either. We don’t curse at each other. We don’t insult each other. We apologize when we hurt each others’ feelings unintentionally. We go out of our way to avoid doing things the other would be unhappy about. When we find out we’ve done something to upset the other we try very hard not to engage in that behavior again. Basically, in a nutshell, we’re just not mean.

It’s mean to know what you are doing is going to bother someone and do it anyway.
It’s mean to do something you know someone would feel hurt by and do it anyway.
It’s mean to make someone sad and not care that you were the cause of it as you are doing it.
It’s mean to omit the truth (aka lie) so that you can do what you want without consequences.
It’s mean to blame someone else for doing x that you didn’t like and then use it as a reason to do y that they won’t like.
It’s mean…. well you get the idea.

The problem is that the stereotypes of marriage from the media make us think that we are owed some ideal marital bliss (that doesn’t actually exist). When we don’t get that, we act out (like children). I was asked recently by someone who was trying to decide whether to continue to do something mean to his partner whether my husband and I laughed at the same jokes. Because, you see, he had found that in someone outside his marriage and according to the media stereotypes of marriage these commonalities are what marriage is all about. Laughing at the same jokes.

I’ve asked several happily married couples I know if the one partner laughs at the same jokes as the other partner. I get the same answer I give. “No.” but I say more than just “No.” I say ” No. And who cares about that.”

Marriage is so much more than that. And it is nothing like it is on tv. It’s much much better.

So think about all the things that are leading the people you know, if not yourself, to have a rocky relationship. Are they being mean to each other? Well. Our advice after 20 years being happily married is that they stop being mean. It is that simple.

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  1. sggrams
    November 15th, 2013 at 11:06

    Holy Mackerel, I love this article. Marriage is hard and it should be. But it is also one of the most rewarding relationships in our lives. It is the ultimate partnership. Totally agree about the media thing. Sets expectations that are crazy. Well, I guess that is part of our society just as Barbie is supposed to be the perfect woman so is oh gosh who is it now? Don’t watch much grown up tv so not sure.
    Here here for true marriage.

  2. sggrams
    November 15th, 2013 at 13:10

    Well, I couldn’t leave this alone. I talked with my husband about this..the history of marriage and what it should and/or should not be and I had to take to heart an alternative view which is quite logical:

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2003/sep/07/gender.politicsphilosophyandsociety

    Intriguing is it not?

  3. Anastacia Kurylo
    November 15th, 2013 at 13:43

    Thanks for the reference sggrams! The author of that article has views reminiscent of Anthony Giddens. http://www.amazon.com/The-Transformation-Intimacy-Sexuality-Eroticism/dp/0804722145

    One of his arguments is that after the advent of birth control pills, pregnancy and having kids (since they were fairly unavoidable for a woman and gosh if you had one out of wedlock you were in trouble!) were no longer the main reason to get married so there had to be a new reason for society to convince people to get married. Love!

    When I say the word in class it always makes students laugh at the way I say it. “Lo-o-o-o v-e” and I say it as melodramatically as possible. As a society we create this myth of love and marriage being inseparable so that people feel the social obligation to marry as a sign that they ‘really’ love the other person. It’s all BS of course.

    Marriage is work and oftentimes marriage has nothing to do with love especially when you consider norms of other cultures don’t tie the two together in the same way. Nonetheless, taking care of a home and raising kids is work whether or not a person is married. I like having a partner to share the work, bounce ideas off of, and share the good stuff with.

  4. November 15th, 2013 at 17:03

    Great article! Sometimes the most brilliant thoughts are the most simplistically articulated. It is mean to be mean. A kind word or a hug goes a long way. I look forward to the article you write after being married 42 years!

  5. November 24th, 2013 at 11:28

    Interesting post. I found a few interesting topics to explore further. I read that article referenced and I do agree that there is a problem with “marriage” even having all these heteronormative expectations, etc. so I am excited to see if legalizing gay marriage will change the statistics of success in marriage and people’s views of marriage as it has not been that many years that gay marriage has been a possibility.
    Also, I tend to be suspicious of any general ideas of how to make a marriage “work”, even the idea of not being “mean” which is a good idea but in my experience it doesn’t wipe out all other issues that need to be addressed.
    Of course there is also the idea of marriage within polyamory to consider as most people just assume when someone is married that that means the contract is monogamy which may not be true. It would actually be interested to see if polyamorous marriages differ in a lot of ways from monogamous ones.
    The other thing that could be a topic of a post is the stereotype that people with more than one children have in mind, ie. having 2 totally changes everything and having more than 2 is more of that, whatever that means. People in this country view people who only have one child in very strange ways, but one idea that makes it seem like people with one child have it easy in their relationship or life is not true. Having one child changes the relationship between the two parents in profound ways, so it would be good if people didn’t assume that having a second kid puts their relationship in some whole new category as though parenting one kid is easier and with each kid the marriage is more in jeapordy. This seems to be a very accepted stereotype or assumption in our culture, as does the assumption that people with no kids have it easy in their longterm relationships.
    then there is the whole other long topic about choosing not to be married and to have kids or not without marriage. My partner and I didn’t want to get married and still don’t want to be married. In any other country we would still be unmarried with one child but the US is messed up and economically forces you to get married with the kid and health insurance stuff…

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