Is my relationship normal?

As a child or teenager, did you ever picture what your marriage would be like?

- Did you envision running into your ideal mate at a party, then falling madly in love, like they do in the movies?

- Did you imagine you and your partner wallowing in a blissful dream?

- Did you have visions of walking down the street, hand in hand with your loved one, or perhaps sharing a beautiful sunset by the beach?

Most of us had a naïve, whimsical expectation of what a married relationship should be like. However, when the “magic” of wedded bliss slowly fades away, we’re faced with the reality that marriage isn’t the perfect deal that we once assumed it was.

When we run into conflicts and issues, we’re slowly opened to the fact that a relationship is not always fun and games. For some of us, the frequency of good moments in the relationship are overshadowed by bitter disappointment.

When the sour taste of reality becomes unbearable, some resort to comparing their ailing relationships to that of their friends or neighbors. What they don’t realize is that doing so will only create bigger problems for them in the long run. It keeps them occupied with a false idea of perfection, something that no one can ever have.

No marriage is ever perfect, so that means that you shouldn’t start comparing your own to someone else’s.

Nothing good will come from holding your unique circumstances to a standard based on the situation of other couples. “Keeping up with the Joneses” is an unhealthy way of judging your relationship. Who says you have to be as “perfect” as others just to feel good about yourself? Any couple has their own issues to struggle with, so it’s better to FOCUS on your own problems rather than obsess about how good other people have it.

The only way to stop comparing what you have with others is to CLARIFY and GROUND your marital expectations in reality. Only then will you be able to stop assuming that everyone else’s marriages are better than yours.

Understand that looking at other people’s relationships with envy is caused by skewed expectation of your own marriage.

Ask yourself: do the things I expect from my marriage (and spouse) seem do-able or impossible?

Based on that single question, do an honest evaluation of the standards you hold your relationship to. A sample list of expectations might look something like this:

1. My marriage should be the envy of our friends and family.
2. My spouse should be willing to change who he/she is for my sake.
3. We should never fight about anything; disagreements have no place in our relationship
4. My marriage should be at least as good as ___________.

In writing, this list seems highly impractical or downright unrealistic. Yet, ask yourself if you’re yearning for the impossible in the back of your own mind.

Do you unconsciously expect implausible scenarios in your marriage? Are your expectations driving your relationship to the ground?

The best way to discover that is to dig deep down and make a list of your own. Take some time to drag out all those unspoken thoughts in your mind and write them down. Only then can you come face to face with any unrealistic standards.

Better yet, get your spouse involved as well. It wouldn’t be surprising to find out how different your expectations are from his/hers! Getting them out in the open and discussing them NOW does a lot towards realigning your marital goals and clearing up misunderstandings.

Once you’ve made your list, see if you can revise them in a way that is CLEAR, REALISTIC, and FEASIBLE. We suggest for you to filter your original expectations through some general guidelines.

First, whatever expectations any of you have should never, in any way, compromise the key elements that support the framework of your marriage. These include trusting each other, respecting one another, making the other’s happiness a must, and so on.

Through this soul-searching activity, you can better tailor your marriage to fit into a realistic context, instead of expecting it to be a flawless relationship devoid of any conflict. There’s nothing wrong with having lofty visions of a wonderful marriage when you were younger. Those dreams inspired you to be the best person and spouse possible. Now that you’ve had a taste of the challenges of married life, it’s time to make those desires cross over into a more realistic light – and this exercise can help you do that.

While you’re at it, focus on the positive aspects of your marriage which may have been buried under your previous expectations.

Try to remember what brought you together as a couple in the first place and reminisce on the highlights of your past. Sure, your relationship isn’t spotless, but that doesn’t mean you should take the best parts for granted.

Create opportunities for you to reconnect with each other and rediscover what exactly you LOVE about being together. Think of exercises (like the one above) where you can share things about your partner that turn you on, or some quirky trait that you find endearing.

As a suggestion, each of you can make a list in advance and read it to one another during a date. Imagine how romantic and moving it would be to hear your partner tell the things he/she loves the most about you (and vice-versa) over a candlelit dinner, or perhaps with sunset in full view.

The point is to make an effort to spend private time apart from the kids, work and all other responsibilities which have driven a wedge between you two. Take a time-out and go back to that place where it seemed like time stood still and there were only the two of you in the world.

Recapture that lost feeling so that you don’t forget that what you have is beyond comparison to other relationships. The simple habit of making small reminders to each other (in the form of affection, dates, etc) as well as grounding your expectations in reality both go a long way in keeping you focused on the relationship.

The more focused you are on each other (in terms of positive traits and realistic expectations), the less likely you’ll find yourselves comparing your marriage to others.

I would love to hear your experiences and opinions in the comments below!

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