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Five Modern Myths of Marriage

May 9, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

Romance, happiness and other marital misconceptions.

Myth #1: Marriage benefits men much more than women.

This destructive falsehood has led women to view their role in the relationship in a negative light, to assume they are martyrs to their husbands' needs, despite any experience to the contrary. The power of popular myths to alter expectations and perceptions of reality is astounding.

Apparently, despite earlier reports to the contrary, both men and women live longer, happier, healthier and wealthier lives when they are married. (This and the other four myths are based on studies done by Rutger's National Marriage Project. Their most recent survey is entitled "The Marrying Kind: Which Men Marry and Why?")

Hopefully many women will be freer to acknowledge that they enjoy being married, to more fully appreciate the experience and to recognize that the giving that accompanies a healthy and strong relationship is a pleasure not a burden. It will also help redress potential imbalance if women no longer perceive themselves as generous donors with their husbands the sole beneficiaries.

Myth #2: The keys to long-term marital success are good luck and romantic love.

Striking a blow at Hollywood, the couples studied cited commitment and companionship as the secret of their longevity. Elaborating, they explained that creating their marriages required hard work, dedication and commitment. "The happiest couples are friends who share lives and are compatible in interests and values."

This answer could have been drawn from the Torah's account of Eliezer's search for a bride for Isaac. He searched looking for a girl with good values, particularly kindness, which Rivka evidenced when she brought water both for him and his camels. We are also taught the importance of commitment when the Torah describes that first Isaac married Rivka, then he loved her. Jewish marriages have always been built on shared values and commitment. "New" may be preferable in a laundry detergent, but for marriages frequently the "old" wisdom is the most reliable.

Myth #3: Couples who live together before marriage are able to test how well suited they are for each other and have more satisfying and longer-lasting marriages than couples who do not.

Many studies have found the exact opposite to be true. Possibly people who cohabit have a greater fear of commitment, already established as a key element to a successful marriage. This attitude has other implications. Without commitment, how hard are you going to work at problems that arise? And the converse is also true: with commitment is there any problem that can't be faced? (Granted that some are harder than others!)

"But how will you know if you are compatible?" is the frequent charge. This is magical thinking. There is no special test of compatibility, no amount of time spent together that will give any guarantees. The only thing that works is commitment (and hard work).

Whenever I teach marriage classes, people are frequently disappointed with what I have to say. (Could be my teaching ability!) Everyone wants some deep insight, some dramatic idea that will change their marital experience. But there isn't one. Building a good marriage is very simple in its conception, and like many simple ideas, difficult in its execution. It's making the commitment to keep driving forward one small step at a time, no matter what. Living together can't prepare you for that. Only attitude change, perhaps a supportive community and the Almighty's help can get you there.

The benefits and opportunities of marriage are only in the comfort and security of commitment.

When marriage is about creating together, about congruent goals rather than companionship for the latest movies and the trendiest restaurants, then we dig in our heels for the long road ahead.

Myth #4: People cannot be expected to stay in a marriage for a lifetime as they did in the past because we live so much longer today.

Sounds crazy, no? But the research shows that this thinking is more common than not.

As the author wisely points out, we also marry much later! And half of all divorces take place by the 7th year of marriage, an "opportunity" available to our ancestors as well. Once again, our unwillingness to make a deep and last commitment rears its ugly head.

It's a fascinating rationalization – "people cannot be expected." Who put such a limitation on our abilities? Abraham and Sarah had their first child at the advanced ages of 90 and 100. Who lives much longer? Who "cannot be expected"? As every educator knows, children (and adults) will rise and fall according to the expectations placed on them. If you expect your marriage to last there is a much greater chance it will than if you assume you can't make it.

Myth #5: Marriage will make me happy.

An unhappy single person is an unhappy married one. Marriage is not a panacea. We bring ourselves with all of our baggage into the relationship and our spouse brings their neuroses as well. This is actually not a recipe for happiness or fulfillment.

We have to work at being happy and cheerful, and at bolstering our partner's spirits in order to achieve happiness in marriage. All the secrets to good relationships that we have read about and practiced on our friends for years must now be brought into play – letting go, being forgiving, ignoring faults, not caring who's right. Happiness is available but it doesn't come automatically with the ring.

Marriage can be an amazing experience, an exciting roller coaster ride. There will be joy and laughter; there will be poignancy and tears. But it must be approached seriously and with reasonable expectations. It's a paradox. In order to have real "fun" in marriage, we have to approach it with real seriousness. The benefits and opportunities of marriage are only obtained in the comfort and security of commitment. Other theories offer a tempting, easier way in (or out), but in the long run marriage is built on good old-fashion work.


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