Some of you may remember the song “I Can Love You Like That,” made popular in the 1990’s by both John Michael Montgomery and All 4 One. The song is catchy and the message is sweet. However, this song also contains a prevalent and dangerous message that is often found in our popular culture – a message that has harmed countless relationships.
The song begins with the following words: “They read you Cinderella, You hoped it would come true, that one day your prince charming would come rescue you…” You might be thinking that this line seems rather harmless, even romantic. However, carefully reread the last part of the line again (emphasis added this time):
“.. that one day your prince charming would come rescue you…”
Now, ask yourself, what dangers await the woman (or man) who views marriage as their great escape?
Deadly Expectation #1: Everything will be better once I’m married
Elder Bruce C. Hafen tells a story of a young woman sighing blissfully on her wedding day “Mom, I’m at the end of all my troubles.” I can almost hear many of you chuckling as you read that line and exclaiming, “Oh you silly girl!” Those of you already married know that life will still be challenging for each of us – even after we’re married.
Please note, I am not suggesting that marriage isn’t worth it or that it can’t be wonderful. I am a strong proponent of marriage and the joy that can be found within this union (see this article for example). But, expecting life’s trials to evaporate once you are married is as unrealistic as it is dangerous.
Dangers caused by Deadly Expectation #1
In what ways is this first myth so dangerous? Can you imagine how incredibly difficult life must be for the spouse of someone who has unrealistic marital expectations? If someone expects a life of ease, constant bliss, and an absence of trials, how could you ever hope to make him or her happy? Unrealistic expectations can poison a marriage even before it begins.
Sadly, too many marriages have ended unnecessarily because one or both spouses had an unrealistic fantasy of what marriage should be like – while not being willing to put forth the effort to create something wonderful in its own right.
So, please, work toward marital bliss. Give it your very best effort, while constantly having your sights set on exaltation (a gift so wonderful that we cannot comprehend all it entails). However, please don’t forget that “happily ever after” is a realistic goal for the next life, but a dangerous expectation for this one.
The other end of the spectrum
Teaching marriage classes at BYU-Idaho is both enjoyable as well as challenging. Each semester I have some students who long to be rescued (myth #1). However, just as dangerous (and possibly even more prevalent) is the expectation of marital failure.
Deadly Expectation #2: Marriage is bound to fail
A study of high school students found that some of the respondents gave themselves a 100% chance of divorce if they married in the future. Yikes! How can some people have such a negative view on marriage?
When covering the topic of divorce in my marriage classes I give each student 4 Starbursts (one of each color). You’re probably thinking, “I didn’t know he gave out candy, I wish I could take his class”. But, stay focused, that is not the point. 🙂
For this exercise I have the students move their desks into a semicircle and I place a box in the middle of the room. I then assign a number to each color of Starbursts (1, 2, 3, and 4+). I ask the students to quickly tally the number of divorces for family members or close friends. Then, on the count of 3, I have them toss the respective Starburst into the box.
As you can imagine, virtually every student ends up tossing a Starburst – many of them representing multiple divorces. This is always an eye opening exercise for me and for my students. With so many divorces in society today, can you see how some individuals begin to lose hope in their ability to form their own happy marriage?
Over the years some students have confided in me that they are absolutely terrified to marry because they have never seen a happy marriage.
Dangers caused by Deadly Expectation #2
You may have heard of the social science term: self-fulfilling prophecy. The term can be defined as a prediction that causes itself to come true. In other words, because we expect a certain outcome (often negative) we will behave in such a way that can virtually guarantee that outcome.
So, if a surveyed high school student, a terrified BYU-Idaho student, or any of you believe that marriages are doomed for failure, those marriages may indeed be at great risk – ironically, due to those very expectations.
What’s the solution?
You have to believe that wonderful marriages exist (there are so many of them). Find those marriages and find out what makes them strong. Then, form your own realistically high expectations for your own marriage. In other words, expect your marriage to be wonderful – then nourish it, prioritize it, and treat it in such a way that it will become wonderful.
However, please also remember to expect challenges and trials. Then, rather than becoming disenchanted with marriage when life gets hard, strive to find joy in being able to face life’s challenges hand-in-hand with your best friend – your spouse.