Do you want a sweet, peaceful marriage? No one could blame you for wanting your marriage to be full of love and easy companionship. Unfortunately, the more you believe in this fantasy of the “perfectly peaceful marriage” the more pain you will experience, because the fantasy runs counter to the cold, hard reality.
I have talked to many men in troubled marriages (or divorces) who were surprised that their conflict-free marriages suddenly blew up in their faces. Upon reflection, we often find a pattern: When their wives brought issues to them, the men blamed and resented them for disturbing their fantasy of the peaceful marriage. The men often say, “Why can’t she just leave it alone? Why is she always complaining and looking for trouble?” What these men don’t realize is if they listened to the criticisms they would have a lot more peace!
Another consequence of the peaceful marriage fantasy is the wish to not rocking the boat. Men or women may avoid conflict altogether, explaining differences away or leaving the room when arguments or criticisms break out. Belief in the peaceful marriage fantasy causes good people to believe that keeping the peace is more important than having an open and honest exchange with the people they love. When these folks look back at the history of their marriages they usually discover that they resented giving in so much and not getting what they wanted. They also learn that they were sending resentful, passive-aggressive signals to their mates, which helped prevent the serene feelings they were seeking.
Often, women’s criticism is a sign that they’ve bought into the peaceful marriage fantasy. They may over-criticize their husbands in the vain hope that “if only he’d change, then our marriage will be alright”. Unfortunately, too much criticism can destroy the possibility of the tranquility they seek, as it creates resentment and anger.
Some couples collude to create the peaceful marriage fantasy. They ignore or smooth over their differences. It’s as if they were putting on a show for everyone to see, while they enjoy the fantasy as much as their audiences! They get angry and feel cheated when they finally have to face marital conflicts. They think “that’s not the way it’s supposed to be! We’re supposed to be happy!”
Look, marriage is a messy proposition. Some conflict is inevitable and even healthy to the life of your marriage. When you fight with your spouse in the right way it can allow you to move through troubling issues, generate change and enliven a stale marriage. If you learn to resolve differences productively you will have a much greater chance to stay together. It’s not that you want to have constant disagreements; the idea is to clash with integrity, so you can move forward and grow. It takes courage and skill to listen to your mate when your emotions are on fire. You also have to speak your truth openly, with the intention to clarify and work out your differences. It’s hard work, but it’s much better than trying to live out a fantasy.