Image licensed from Shutterstock // Kate Kultsevych
I thought we’d live happily ever after when she poked through the doors of the wedding chapel. The setting. The attention. The emotion. Lost in the moment, it gave me the absurd but resolute belief in our invincibility.
But it wouldn’t take long before we faced the first threat to our marriage.
Like many new couples, we wanted to start a family. Months of attempts yielded nothing but disappointment. Another year of doctors, tests, and procedures left us frustrated and desperate.
That’s when we turned over our checkbook to science. If it failed, we’d be without savings, without a baby, and without hope.
When we arrived at the doctor’s office, my sweaty hands couldn’t even grip the handle to the door. An hour later, we left to feast on a celebratory breakfast.
Two days of doubt and uncertainty followed, but it brought us closer together. I knew it. Nothing could break us.
A day later, the doctor called and delivered the news. I immediately made a dinner reservation with the expectation of… I don’t really know. A diversion, maybe? The news did not call for a celebration.
A live band played at the restaurant, and we sat silently at a sidewalk table, listening to the music through the retractable wall. Other than ordering our food, neither of us uttered a word. I remember thinking that if we didn’t succeed, we might not last. No couple could claim invincibility to life circumstances, not even us.
That might have been the lowest point of our marriage — the official end of happily ever after.
Fortunately, things turned around, and we eventually did have children. But the experience shattered the lie of our invincibility.
Happily ever after is, of course, absurd. The best we can achieve is ever after with dollops of content, sprinkles of happiness, dashes of joy, and splashes of passion. But first, unlearn the seven lies.
1. You’ll feel butterflies in your tummy whenever they walk through the door
“Twenty years after marriage, and I still feel butterflies in my stomach every time she walks through the door.” I heard that in an interview somewhere.
If you’ve been in a relationship with someone for more than a year, and you hear someone talk like that, it’s likely to stir up a tornado of self-doubt. Oh no, the butterflies no longer tickle my belly. We’re no longer in love.
Passion crests and crashes as your relationship progresses. It’s normal. You’ll still feel passion, at times, but it’s not that constant, unrelenting pull of desire you experience during the early days of a relationship. Don’t fret; it’s a good thing. You’d never get anything done if your belly rumbled with lust all the time.
2. You should always be happy
A lot of younger people I speak with about relationships often comment that if they feel unhappy for one second, then it’s time to end their relationship. What an unrealistic outlook. You won’t always feel happy or even content. That’s life.
Sure, sustained unhappiness signals a problem, but relationships go through highs and lows. Either life throws a challenge at you — leading to conflict, or life throws no challenges at you — you coast and get bored.
Rather than lament every moment of discontent, try to address the source of unhappiness before you call it quits. When you work through your problems, you learn to solve problems together and become more adept at making each other happy.
3. Disagreements mean you’re growing apart
A few years after my wife and I married, we disagreed about where to live. I enjoyed the city life, and she wanted a house with a yard. For a while, neither of us budged, but we soon came up with a win-win compromise.
We agreed to stay in the city until we had kids of such an age where it would be advantageous to live in a house. I won the immediate gratification of keeping the status quo. She won the delayed gratification of living a good portion of our lives in the suburbs.
Disagreements test your commitment, but win-win compromises allow you to both get what you want and sacrifice something for your partner’s happiness.
4. With enough love, you can survive anything
There’s a former number one song by Lionel Richie, Love Will Conquer All. The chorus goes, “There’s no need to worry, love will conquer all.”
It’s a catchy 80s tune with a simple yet grossly simplified message. Love matters, but it’s only one ingredient to making a relationship last.
Life circumstances will test the boundaries of love. As a couple, you face challenges, some of your own doing, and others out of your control. With hard work, empathy, and patience, you can survive most obstacles that impede your way. Let love motivate you to keep your bond secure, but don’t rely on it to make everything okay. It doesn’t conquer all.
5. You shouldn’t be attracted to other people
When someone claims they’ve never felt an attraction to anyone but their partner, I chuckle a bit inside. Perhaps they’re demisexual. More likely, they feel ashamed to admit they’re attracted to another human being, even though it’s normal. It doesn’t make you a horrible person.
There’s a difference between merely feeling an attraction to someone and acting on that urge. A mature adult knows they don’t have to let emotion control them. They use logic, reason, and impulse control to guide themselves.
If you find yourself attracted to someone other than your partner, maintain proper boundaries. Go ahead and meet that colleague for coffee to discuss a project, but don’t go out for a candlelit dinner afterward just because you feel a tingle.
To keep it simple, follow this advice. Don’t engage in behavior you feel you’d need to keep secret.
6. You need to include your partner in everything
The happiest times in my marriage have always been when we both pursue separate interests. When we both grow professionally, spiritually, and intellectually, we’re more content as individuals, which means we’re happier as a couple.
It’s hard to feel content when it seems like you’re passing up growth opportunities. When you believe you’re sacrificing too much for the sake of a relationship, resentment ensues.
Individuality should not end when you move in with your partner. It’s okay to maintain separate lives and pursue interests that allow you to grow as individuals.
7. You need to follow pre-determined rules
Perhaps the biggest lie about happily ever after is that there’s a playbook, and if you follow it, you’ll ride off into the sunset living in eternal bliss.
Relationships are more like parenting. You can follow guidelines and models, but they won’t always work. Figure out what works for you as a couple, and agree on your own set of rules. It’s hard work, and it never ends, but it’s still worth it.
There’s a feeling of invincibility that engulfs you when you walk down that aisle or make that ultimate commitment. Perhaps that’s the biggest lie we tell ourselves — thinking we’re different from other couples who’ve tried and failed or tried and succeeded.