THE MYTH OF HAPPILY EVER AFTERJune 18, 2013
What makes a happy relationship? It basically comes down to one word – expectations. When our reality matches up to our expectations, we consider ourselves happy. The greater the disparity between expectations and reality, the more unhappiness we feel. This can be bad news for our relationships in a society that sets the bar of expectations so unrealistically.
Women seem to be particularly vulnerable to the fairy tale spin on relationships in books and movies. “Chick Flicks” and romance novels have taken the place of the fairy tales of our youth. If we buy into the fictionalized view of men and relationships portrayed in this media form, we will be forever discontent and left longing. Virile men and constant mind-blowing sex sell a lot of books and movies, but it isn’t the reality of a long-term relationship.
Our Facebook generation is under scrutiny. Researchers are curious to know how this voyeuristic look into our personal lives is affecting our level of happiness. We see a constant stream of updates and pictures of our friends talking about their kids’ achievements, and telling us about their amazing vacations, jobs and spouses. It’s easy to fall in the trap of comparing our lives with what we see and falling miserably short on all counts.
It appears that the modern “perfect” family is now depicted as fit and healthy with a concentrated effort on nutrition. This would be a gluten-free, MSG-free diet with low carbs and increased protein. The kids are high academic achievers who are involved with many extra-curricular activities in which they also excel or they are home-schooled and working on the family farm where they grow their own food. The parents are always loving and attentive and everyone lives in harmony all the time.
What about the family with average kids and average salaries? What does it mean when the kids fight, the parents are stressed and tired and everyone could drop a few pounds? Where do they fit in? Is it possible to be happy in a marriage where there is love and commitment but not a lot of bells and whistles? Yes, if we can keep our expectations realistic!
Here is a fairy tale that I think is closer to the truth:
Once upon a time in a far away kingdom, Prince Charming married Cinderella. After the wedding, Cinderella moved into the castle and immediately wanted to re-decorate it. However, Prince Charming’s mother was insulted and offended by her desire and let her know it. Cinderella complained to Prince Charming that his mother was overbearing and controlling. The prince started spending most of his days on royal hunts because the tension in the castle was too much to bear. But this made Cinderella angry and frustrated because she felt he was ignoring her and she wanted him home more. Prince Charming was tired of all the fighting between his parents and his wife so he eventually decided to move with Cinderella to an estate several miles from the castle. They soon had three children of their own. Cinderella was not content because she gained 10 lbs. with every pregnancy and her royal garments no longer fit. She called on her fairy Godmother but she was too busy to come and help. Soon after, a great famine came over the land and the royal treasury was soon empty. Because of this, the prince had to get a real job and Cinderella had to learn to make her own clothes. Most nights everyone fell into bed exhausted…..and they lived happily most days and some days not so happily ever after.
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Can you laugh at yourself? I mean really laugh at yourself when you make a mistake or do or say something silly? What about when your spouse or friends tease you in a good-natured way? Are you able to laugh then?
When it comes to marriage, free speech is essential. You should be able to be honest with your spouse, to express your opinions without constantly filtering them. That freedom allows us to really connect with one another. It’s part of the trust that we need to feel safe and secure in our relationships.
Most of us are spending more time than ever with our kids and spouses and tensions are rising. As therapists and coaches, we are seeing your struggles. We are also dealing with the same stressors in our own homes. The people we live with are getting on our nerves and we don’t always handle it the way we should. Many of us are apologizing almost daily for the things we’ve said or the ways in which we’ve said them.