A good marriage is one of the most fulfilling experiences life can offer, but it does not come easily. Unrealistic expectations are one of the toughest obstacles to a good marriage. Due to unrealistic expectations, newly married couples may face unexpected adjustments and struggle to adjust.1
As a parent, it is your responsibility to help your children prepare so they have the best possible chance of creating a strong marriage. An important element of this preparation is helping them understand the marital myths that can harm their chances for a strong and enduring marriage. Four of these marital myths include:2
- My marriage will be easy
- My marriage will change things
- My mate will be perfect5
- Marriage will make my problems go away5
Below are ideas to help you teach your children to resist these four myths.
Debunking Myth 1 - My Marriage Will Be Easy
Many newlyweds, and even some older couples, believe that if everything in their relationship does not run smoothly then something is seriously wrong with their marriage. When small disagreements come up—such as how to load the dishwasher, which position the toilet seat should be in, and what a "normal" time is for dinner—some begin to doubt they married the right person. Helping children to understand that marriage will challenge partners’ ideals and opinions will prepare them to compromise and problem-solve with their future spouses.
The following ideas will help you teach your children the reality that marriages are not easy and require work.
- Teach your children the general principle that it takes work to achieve something that matters. Help them set goals about something important to them that is not easy. Guide them through the process of hard work to reach their goal, then help them recognize the rewarding feeling of accomplishment.
- Teach your children about responsibility. Put them in charge of a weekly chore. Talk to them about the work that it takes to finish the chore, and then explain how their work contributes to the well-being of the family.
- Teach your children about commitment. Show them that being committed to an end goal, even when it takes work, is worth the effort. Enroll them in an activity such as a sports team or an art project that requires commitment. After they have followed through on their commitment, such as after a recital or sports event, talk to them about how good it feels to see their hard work pay off.
- As your children experience the work it takes to achieve a goal, fulfill responsibility, and develop commitment, show them how these principles apply to marriage in general and to your marriage in particular.
- As a family, plan an elaborate meal together. Have the children participate in cooking and cleaning up afterwards. After the meal, discuss how the food preparation took effort but was worth it. Discuss with them how marriage and family relationships take hard work too, but that by combining efforts the work can be fun and the outcome satisfying. Make activities like this one regular.
Debunking Myth 2 - My Marriage Will Change Things
Many couples believe that the words "I now pronounce you man and wife" have magical powers over their spouses' annoying traits. They think relationship flaws will suddenly resolve themselves after "I do." The Broadway musical "Guys and Dolls" spoofs this myth in the character Adelaide. After a frustrating 14-year engagement, Adelaide decides to rely on the magical power of marriage to change her fiancé, a lifelong gambler, into the respectable businessman and father she wants him to be. "Marry the man today and change his ways tomorrow," she sings.
However, most parents know a thirty-minute marriage ceremony cannot erase years of habits. Change takes time—if it happens at all; who you marry is who you get. If a person enters marriage expecting his or her spouse to change, serious disappointment awaits.7 Although an individual may choose to change some of their own behaviors, much of this change does not occur because the other person wishes for it, and usually is a lifelong process.3
One woman, Marguerite, is 74 and has been married to her husband for 42 years. In response to the idea of expecting that one’s spouse will change, she says, “We all try to change the guys we are with, once we get with him. Like, 'Oh, this bothers me and that bothers me, but I know once we're together, I'll change it.' But you can't change somebody. If something bothers you a little bit when you're dating, 20 years later you're going to hate that thing about them. Say the way he eats potato chips really loud. Or there's dirt on the table, and instead of getting a rag and wiping it up, he'll push it onto the floor. Either you're going to have to be able to live with that, or not. It's acceptance, not changing the other person.”3
The following ideas will help you teach your children the reality that marriage does not instantly change the two people involved.
- Teach your children that significant change in human beings takes time. Show them concrete examples in people they know, such as you, your spouse, and relatives.
- Teach your children that they cannot change others, but they can change themselves.7 Have your children pick one bad habit they would like to change. Encourage them to replace their bad habit with a good one. When they find they cannot change overnight, help them see the implications for marriage.
- Teach your children the "80-20 rule", which says couples can choose to focus on and appreciate the 80% of another person that is good and tolerable, while showing grace towards the remaining 20% of traits that may bother them. Help them understand that as they do this, they may see that the 20% becomes less and less important.4 Help your children apply this rule to all relationships - family members, peers, and people they date.
- Family Activity Idea: As a family, plant a garden together and watch it grow. Discuss with your children how the seeds change into vegetables or fruits. Emphasize the time and effort it takes to produce good fruit.
Debunking Myth #3 - My Mate Will Be Perfect And Will Satisfy All My Needs
Many people envision a husband or wife who is perfect. They imagine their spouse will intuitively know what they want and need to be happy and will fulfill all these expectations;1,5 they think their dreams, goals, feelings, and understanding of work and roles will be the same as their spouse's.
The reality, says Dr. Brent Barlow of Brigham Young University, is that any individual is lucky to find a mate who can meet even 80% of their needs.6 That means that at least 20% -- and probably much more -- of a person's needs will be unmet in marriage. The key to coping with this reality is discovering the needs most important to you and helping your spouse understand them. No one can read minds.
The following ideas will help you teach your children the reality that they cannot expect a spouse to be perfect or to satisfy all their needs.
- Teach your children to focus on the important values they want in a spouse. Have them make a list of things they would like in a mate, then rate which items are most important and which are less important. Also teach them to strive to develop the same traits that they want in a future spouse.
- Teach your children to focus on the positive. Explain that nobody is perfect, but by choosing to focus on a person's good qualities, they can have a more satisfying relationship with that person.4 Have your child list things they like about their siblings.
- Family Activity Idea: Bake a cake together. Discuss how each ingredient is not very tasty by itself. But when mixed together, the ingredients produce a wonderful creation. Discuss how in a family each member contributes his or her unique traits to make the family complete. Explain how this principle applies in marriage. Each spouse contributes different strengths to the relationship, and although neither is perfect, together they are better than either alone.
Debunking Myth #4 - Marriage Will Make My Problems Go Away
Some people believe that marriage is a cure-all for personal problems. They think marriage will satisfy all their needs, leaving them feeling complete, whole, and happy.5 But marriage does not result in automatic happiness. The Cinderella story that poverty will turn to wealth, chores will disappear, and family life will become perfect is a fairy-tale, not reality.
The stresses that accompany work, finances, school, and other outside pressures exist whether one is married or single. Personal problems like low self-esteem, poor communication skills, and inability to handle conflict do not suddenly resolve with marriage. No one, including a spouse, can make someone else completely happy all the time. People have to learn to be happy and choose to be happy themselves.1,7
The following ideas will help you teach your children not to expect marriage will make all their problems go away.
- Teach your children that they are in charge of their own happiness. Life will always include problems, disappointments, and defeats. The key is learning to handle these challenges well. Tell them a personal story about a time when things did not work out the way you wanted. Emphasize that it was your choice to be unhappy or happy despite your disappointment.7
- As your children form friendships and begin dating, help them recognize when they are blaming their unhappiness on others. Show them they have the power to change their attitude. Take these opportunities to discuss the principle that even in marriage, their spouse will not have the power to make them happy.7
- Family Activity Idea: Share the story of Viktor Frankl's hopeful outlook despite being a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. Explain that we each can determine how we will react to difficult circumstances. Point out that in a marriage relationship, no one is automatically happy. Spouses still struggle, but if they are happy to begin with, the relationship is more likely to be successful.7
Written by Anna-Mae Ridley and Cari Bacon, revised by Natalie Burgess, and edited by Stephen F. Duncan, Professor, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University. April 16, 2021.
- Hall, S. S., & Adams, R. (2011). Newlyweds’ unexpected adjustments to marriage. Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal, 39(4), 375–387. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1552-3934.2011.02076.x
2. Eyre, L., Eyre, R. (2019). Marriage myth: We have to be perfectly matched to be happy. Latter-Day Saint Mag. https://latterdaysaintmag.com/marriage-myth-we-have-to-be-perfectly-matched-to-be-happy/
3. Pillemer, K. (2014). What can you change about your partner? Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/lessons-loving/201412/what-can-you-change-about-your-
4. Trenda. (2020). Choosing to see the good -The 80/20 marriage rule-. Steadfast Hearts. http://steadfasthearts.org/2020/09/09/choosing-to-see-the-good-80-20-marriage-rule/
5. Campbell, K., Wright, D., & Flores, C. (2012). Newlywed women’s marital expectations: Lifelong monogamy? Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 53(2), 108–125. https://doi.org/10.1080/10502556.2012.651966
6. Barlow, B. (1993). Dealing with differences in marriage. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book.
7. Neff, L. A., & Geers, A. L. (2013). Optimistic expectations in early marriage: A resource or vulnerability for adaptive relationship functioning? Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 105(1), 38–60. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0032600
One of the prevalent reasons for divorce today comes from unrealistic expectations about marriage.7 From a young age, some children develop beliefs in marital myths that influence their expectations for how a happy marriage should function. Parents have the duty to help their children understand truths about marriage. Fortunately, the prophets, apostles, and other general authorities have given us much counsel on this topic. You may find the following quotes helpful to you as you discuss this subject with your children. You might also consider having a family home evening on the subject.
Family researchers have noted four common myths about marriage in existence today: first, that marriage is easy; second, that marriage changes people and relationships; third, that our future spouses will be perfect; and fourth, that marriage makes problems in our lives go away. All of these will be addressed below.
Myth 1: My marriage will be easy.
President Spencer W. Kimball once said:
Two individuals approaching the marriage altar must realize that to attain the happy marriage which they hope for they must know that marriage is not a legal coverall, but it means sacrifice, sharing, and even a reduction of some personal liberties. It means long, hard economizing. It means children who bring with them financial burdens, service burdens, care and worry burdens; but also it means the deepest and sweetest emotions of all.9
While marriage is a wonderful experience that brings the deepest joys and sense of fulfillment, these things do not come magically on their own. President James E. Faust has reminded us that marriage is "is a relationship that must be rebuilt every day".2 In a recent talk given by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf to the young adults of the Church, he counseled:
There are those who do not marry because they feel a lack of "magic" in the relationship. By "magic" I assume they mean sparks of attraction. Falling in love is a wonderful feeling, and I would never counsel you to marry someone you do not love. Nevertheless|and here is another thing that is sometimes hard to accept|that magic sparkle needs continuous polishing. When the magic endures in a relationship, it's because the couple made it happen, not because it mystically appeared due to some cosmic force. Frankly, it takes work.14
Myth 2: My marriage will change things.
Sometimes someone enters in a marriage with someone who does not possess the choicest of characteristics, believing that marriage will immediately change their partner or their relationship for the better. This is not so. A psychologist and former bishop once counseled "People do change; however, the most accurate prediction of the kind of companion your spouse will be in the future is the kind of companion he is right now. Those who marry a person with the intention of overhauling her personality or of converting him usually face serious disappointments".5 With this in mind, it is important to teach our children to really come to know a potential mate before they commit to them for eternity. Elder Dallin H. Oaks has counseled:12
The best way to avoid divorce from an unfaithful, abusive, or unsupportive spouse is to avoidmarriage to such a person. If you wish to marry well, inquire well. Associations through "hanging out" or exchanging information on the Internet are not a sufficient basis for marriage. There should be dating, followed by careful and thoughtful and thorough courtship. There should be ample opportunities to experience the prospective spouse's behavior in a variety of circumstances. Fiancés should learn everything they can about the families with whom they will soon be joined in marriage (original emphasis).
Myth 3: My mate will be perfect.
We all know that no one is perfect, but a prevalent myth exists that each of us has a perfect soul mate waiting for us somewhere in the world. Elder Richard G. Scott has counseled us "I suggest that you not ignore many possible candidates who are still developing these attributes, seeking the one who is perfected in them. You will likely not find that perfect person, and if you did, there would certainly be no interest in you. These attributes are best polished together as husband and wife".13
Although we should not look for someone who is perfect, there are some traits that are important to look for. Elder Robert D. Hales has said:6
As you go through your dating and courting relationships, I would hope that you will assess the spiritual inclinations of the individuals you're getting to know better. How is their testimony? How do they treat their parents? How do they treat their brothers and sisters? Do they respect authority? Do they love the Lord, His servants, and the scriptures? What plans do they have for their lives? It isn't enough if they are handsome or beautiful, if they are rich or poor, what kind of car they drive, what kind of clothes they wear, what kind of athletic ability they have, or what kind of intellect they are. You should be seeking to understand the gifts they have that will be eternal in nature.
Another myth related to that of the soul mate is the idea that we will immediately recognize our future spouse the first time we encounter him or her. We have probably all heard stories of couples who had it revealed to them very early on, sometimes after just meeting, that they would wed. While these stories are romantic, sometimes they give children and adolescents the wrong idea that we should wait until someone comes into our lives and we just know that we are meant to be together. Elder Lance B. Wickman of the Seventy has counseled us:15
Remember, like every other important decision, marriage is your choice. The Lord will expectyou to exercise your judgment. As He said to Oliver Cowdery, 'Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me' (D&C 9:7). Once you do your part through an appropriate courtship and make a tentative decision, have confidence that Heavenly Father will respond to your supplication.
Myth 4: Marriage will make my problems go away.
President James E. Faust once said, "marriage is the way provided by God for the fulfillment of the greatest of human needs, based upon mutual respect, maturity, selflessness, decency, commitment, and honesty. Happiness in marriage and parenthood can exceed a thousand times any other happiness".3
However, President Faust has also counseled: "Being married also carries challenges and responsibilities. Perhaps you have heard of the young bride who said, 'When I get married, it will be the end of my troubles.' Her wise mother replied, 'Yes, my dear, but which end?'".4
Marriage is not an instant cure to all of our problems. President Kimball once offered this counsel:9
Many of the TV screen shows and stories of fiction end with marriage: "They lived happily ever after." We have come to realize that the mere performance of a ceremony does not bring happiness and a successful marriage. Happiness does not come by pressing a button, as does the electric light; happiness is a state of mind and comes from within. It must be earned. It cannot be purchased with money; it cannot be taken for nothing.
Written by Shelece McAllister, Research Assistant, and edited by Stephen F. Duncan, professor in the School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.
- Barlow, B. (1992). Just for newlyweds. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book.
- Faust, J. E. (August, 2004). Fathers, mothers, marriage. Ensign, 2-7.
- Faust, J. E. (April, 2007). Enriching your marriage. Liahona, 2-6.
- Faust, J. E. (August, 2007). Welcoming every single one. Liahona, 2-6.
- Gilliland, S. F. (June, 1986). Marriage myths: Some things that just aren't so. Tambuli, 9.
- Hales, R. D. (February, 2002). Gifts of the spirit. Ensign, 19.
- Hawkins, A. J., & Fackrell, T. A. (2009). Should I keep trying to work it out?: A guidebook for individuals and couples at the crossroads of divorce (and before). Salt Lake City: Utah Commission on Marriage.
- Hinckley, G. B. (May, 1991). What God hath joined together. Ensign, 71.
- Kimball, S. W. (October, 2002). Oneness in marriage. Ensign, 36.
- Larson, J. H. (1998). The marriage quiz: College student's beliefs in selected myths about marriage. Family Relations, 37, 3-11.
- Larson, J. H. & Holman, T. B. (1994). Premarital predictors of marital quality and stability. Family Relations, 43,228-237.
- Oaks, D. H. (May, 2007). Divorce. Ensign, 70-73.
- Scott, R. G. (May, 1999). Receive the temple blessings. Ensign, 25.
- Uchtdorf, D. F. (November, 2009). The reflection in the water. CES Fireside for Young Adults.
- Wickman, L. B. (April, 2010). Confidence tests: From fear to faith in the marriage decision. Liahona, 23-24.