A healthy marriage begins with healthy expectations. There are few things in society we’ve imbued with quite as much expectation and meaning as marriage. We grow up thinking the hardest part will be finding the “right” person, who we assume will be the key to a happy life.
The more right a person is for us, we think, the less suffering we will experience. And, generally, people do pair up with other people they believe they’ll be happiest with (even if, in some cases, that happiness is more about security, status, or tradition than love).
But sometimes, people choose who they think they’ll be happiest with only to find out they are incorrect. This isn’t because they’ve committed to the “wrong” person. It’s because their expectations were an ideal, not a reality. These unrealistic expectations can wreck you if you let them.
The work of marriage is not about whether you find and keep your most ideal counterpart. Marriage is about what you do when you discover you can be with the most perfect person for you and still find yourself frustrated, exhausted, dragged down, and at your wit’s end.
We choose romantic partners through unconscious “love maps. “These are cues, ideas, and suggestions we pick up over time to piece together a concept of the right partner. We gather these through experiences: familiarity, family ties, failed relationships, trauma, other people’s beliefs, our own ideas about who we are and what we should do in life.
Then, of course, there’s sexual attraction, which people often confuse with compatibility. We attach ourselves to people who most significantly mirror our strengths and wounds. We do this because there’s comfort in the familiar, and because the essential purpose of long-term partnership is to assist us in growth.
If our lives are about becoming ourselves, then our closest partners can be our greatest teachers. But let me say this…. Marriage won’t do the work for you.