As our upcoming teleseminar approaches all about creating and maintaining loving intimacy in relationships, I felt compelled to address a long-standing question that so many people who seek out marriage counseling ask me:
“So…When will I be able to stop working so hard at my marriage?? When am I going to finally get to the ‘happily ever after’ part???”
(Oh dear…! At this point in the session I usually pause, take a deep breath, and prepare to burst their bubble, as gently as I can….)
The problem is most of us were raised on fairy tales, where the maiden meets her prince charming and they go off (usually on a white horse) into the sunset to live “happily ever after.” What we think that means is: “They’re always happy and madly in love, they never argue, and someone else does the dishes so they can spend their time walking hand in hand through the flowers.”
Unfortunately in 99.9% of cases, “happily ever after” is just a lovely fantasy, and the rest of us are left wondering what the heck we’re doing wrong – because our lives most certainly are not turning out that way! We have stresses, annoyances, frustrations, health issues and money to manage, to name just a few things that interfere with our “happily ever after” on a daily – if not hourly! – basis.
Movies and television shows haven’t helped to dispel this myth, either. Think about it – how many love stories have you seen where the hero loses, everybody’s fighting, and the couple looks like they’re headed for divorce court at the end? Not very many! And that’s not surprising, because probably only a tiny percentage of moviegoers – the hard core “art film” lovers I’m guessing – would pay to see movies on their night off that end with the thud of disappointment, or even misery.
My point is, fairy tales (and Hollywood romances) don’t continue beyond the joyous coming together of two worthy souls in blissful communion. They never address what the maiden and her prince are likely to face after that as they go forward in their lives together. The story always ends with the honeymoon, that happy, romantic bubble of time, full of promise that “life will just go on this way forever.” So we never see what happens next, or how Cinderella and the Prince handle it!
Ah, but all too soon, reality steps in – with jobs, family relationships, children, decisions to be made, crises to be handled and recovered from, and differences of opinions to be negotiated. It’s hard to remember your vision of that blissful, effortless “happily ever after” (let alone feel like it’s even remotely possible!) when real life is happening every day.
So, what’s the solution? Should we give up on fairy tales, or simply rewrite the endings so real life doesn’t come as such a shock later?
How about this revised, more realistic ending to Cinderella:
“Cinderella moves in with the prince and his parents….”
Hmmm… Living with the in-laws – a definite source of stress going forward. “But wait!” you say, “…the prince is still living at home with his parents?! Do we perhaps have some separation issues here?”
And what about something no one really discussed before the wedding: that Cinderella isn’t of royal descent…how do his parents really feel about that? Another potential obstacle going forward!
So even if we don’t get to see it on film, life just may not be so “’happily ever after” even for the luckiest of fairy tale couples!
In other words, all couples have challenges, stresses and issues to handle in every day life – it’s normal, it’s part of life, and it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with us!
As soon as you factor in challenges, differences of opinion, other people and all their needs and wants (be it children, parents, other relatives), happiness is often on a back burner. There are many sayings, quotes, and messages to inspire us to feel happy in the moment and move through our challenges more easily, but the bottom line is that there are still challenges, stresses and stumbling blocks along the way.
So the bottom line is that you are not doing something wrong simply because you are not feeling happy all the time in your relationships. So take a breath, and just acknowledge yourself for a moment! The goal is to stay focused on your desired outcome and work things through with the people in your life in a mindful, conscious and positive way.
Consciously look for the loving core and good intentions of the people in your life, rather than just seeing their faults and negatives. Who is that person, way down deep inside? Not all behaviors are stellar, welcome or admired. As I stated last week, none of us is so perfect that our partners couldn’t find faults with us too. Is perfection really what we’re looking for?
Here’s where compassion and forgiveness come into play. Are the issues you are so bothered by perhaps more forgivable than you originally thought? Can your differences be worked through? If we’re not referring to abusive, addictive or destructive behaviors (certainly worthy topics for another time), and you can see and feel that at the core you both want the same things in life, then there is space within which you can work toward achieving your own version of real happily ever after.
What that means is that you both can experience happiness at having chosen each other to share your lives with, and to support each other through the curves life throws you. You can encourage each other to be all you both can be, and learn to be vulnerable and authentic – and truly, deeply loving – with each other.
When we recognize that a marriage is a marathon and not a sprint; that happiness comes in moments shared, challenges overcome and lessons learned; and that we really can share this loving, caring partnership for a lifetime – then we come to understand what “happily ever after” really means.