What Marriage Isn’t


Conversations about marriage continue to reveal how our romantic myths set us up for disappointment.


In preparation for an article, I recently posed this question to readers over social media (and in off-the-cuff conversations): When did you figure out what marriage isn’t? While I did not receive very many answers, the ones I did get were fascinating. As I expected, some people took the opportunity to rant, to suggest new marriage laws, entirely new social mores, and others spewed transparent sociological theories. If we implemented what these (always anonymous) people advocate, they would finally get what they really want, always at the expense of someone else’s desires. Conversations about marriage seem to bring those people out of the woodwork.

I will summarize the complete findings of my inquiry in a future post. Today I’d like to share this response that came from someone whose identity I have personally chosen to hide. It came virtually at the moment I thought I had gathered enough answers to finally start composing my article. I think his answer is worth reading all on its own and requires no commentary.


Ben writes:

I’ve never been married. I’m twenty. Some might say that disqualifies me from commenting. But I do believe I have realized what marriage isn’t. All idealized images of love and romance we find in movies and books aren’t completely real, however desirable. I just realized there were many myths surrounding relationships and expectations. Here are some of myths I discovered.

If you find the ‘right person’, everything will work out

Well, no. This fosters a very egocentric view of a relationship where nothing can be your fault. Even if you are highly compatible with someone, there are going to be mistakes and imperfections you’ll need to navigate. The famous relationship psychologist Gottman talks about the golden ratio – that is, healthy and happy relationships and marriages have a ratio of 5 to 1 between positive and negative interactions. That should be sought after, but there is still the likelihood that you will have a less than golden ratio with your partner and you’ll have to learn to navigate through it with maturity.

If you get married, all your sexual desires will be fulfilled.

This myth is common among singles. I don’t know why.  I don’t know anyone who has been married for any prolonged amount of time who will tell you this honestly. I guess this myth is perpetuated by those who advocate for abstinence and sex only inside of marriage. Perhaps this myth helps people believe waiting is worth it. The truth is that married men still watch porn, and developing a satisfying sexual relationship isn’t as easy as most people think. Sexual intimacy is more complicated than we’d like to believe. Like Jeff Foxworthy said, “Getting married for sex is like buying a 747 for the free peanuts.”


Those are the two main myths that come to mind. I think people underestimate how hard marriage can be. Maybe people idealize it to make it easier to desire and fit in with society’s or their family’s expectations. 


Photo by slgckgc

About Gint Aras

Gint Aras (Karolis Gintaras Žukauskas) is the author of the cross-generational family epic, The Fugue, from The Chicago Center for Literature and Photography. He's a photographer and the author of the cult novel, Finding the Moon in Sugar. Learn more at his website, Liquid Ink. Follow him on Twitter, and like him on Facebook.


  1. Marriage isn’t worth it.

  2. wellokaythen says:

    You can probably guess what I’m going to say, because I’m like a broken record on this.

    There is no such thing as Marriage With a Capital M. It’s probably impossible to say something that applies to all marriages all around the world. There is really just an aggregate of individual marriages, loosely lumped together sometimes by the common ideas that some people have about what marriage should be and shouldn’t be. When you discover “what Marriage isn’t,” what you’re really discovering is “what your marriage isn’t.”

    The biggest misconception of marriage is the assumption that all good marriages are the same, and the corollary that all bad marriages are the same. A particular marriage works or doesn’t work based on the specific things that the spouses do within that marital relationship. If a marriage fails, it’s not the failure of all forms of marriage, it’s the failure of a particular kind of marriage that those two people tried in the way that they tried it. Maybe a different form of marriage would have worked better, or maybe if the two had the same approach to marriage it would have worked better.

    (Or perhaps the two people made a mistake marrying each other in the first place. Not everyone is happiest or most fulfilled being married, no matter how many different kinds of marriage there are.)

    For your marriage to work, you will have to write your own vows, even if you don’t literally write your own vows. I don’t mean write your own personalized vows for the wedding ceremony, I mean you and your spouse have to work out the ground rules for yourselves with each other in mind as you go along. I think importing vows that society tells you to take and then never talking about them again can be a recipe for disaster.

    • We didn’t write our own vows and have managed to stick with what we committed to 38 years ago. I honestly believe that it was to our benefit that we married young. We weren’t set in our ways and grew together and made the other part of who we became.

      @D-vision …It was totally worth it for me. Can’t see myself ever being single. My wife and I banter about who wants to go first because neither of us want to live without the other. Yeah, in my case, definitely worth it.

  3. Wow, what great insight from a 20-year-old male! I’d say he has a leg up on the ‘game’ by realizing these things so early on. I think these are conclusions that most people, men and women, come to eventually, but usually after having been burned – and then the conclusions might come tinged with bitterness.

  4. “When did you figure out what marriage isn’t?”

    That is a great question…

    We only got married after being together and LDR for 10 years…if you can get through grad school and career start-up years together (or sort of together), then you can get through anything….that kind of training tends to shatter all your illusions and helps you to get real and prioritize what is important in life…

    That said….our relationship has definitely not been perfect…and there have been many times I did not speak freely or as honestly as I should have because I was afraid of losing the relationship…actually, speaking up sooner would have been the thing to have made it stronger….

    Death of a parent, illness, layoffs, various health crises, and parenting issues all test you in real life…how you resolve conflict like mature adults and with respect and empathy to your partner is the key…

    Pent -up anger is best dissipated with close friends and a great psychotherapist…sometimes you need a person from outside the relationship to keep you in perspective and to bounce off stuff and be the pressure release….I think I have been holding in a lot of negative feelings for years and it is terrible when you think you have to hold it in or that no one is listening….always best to just let it out somehow, some way….

  5. First year of my marriage sucked. My wife had this fantasy as to what marriage would be like. She had the proverbial rose colored glasses on and when she took them off, it was completely different. We worked at it and 38 years later, I can’t see my life with anyone else.

    Let’s face it, people base what they expect in life on what they see in movies and TV. Just like people thought living in Manhattan with friends (the TV show Friends) was attainable when most of the time the friends were struggling financially and often times unemployed. How many people strived to live like the people on Friends?

    Marriage is no different. How it’s portrayed in movies and sitcoms isn’t realistic. I will admit that my expectations were somewhat more grounded in that I came from an intact family with a variety of issues. Being the youngest of 7, I was exposed to real life issues for many years that people don’t see in movies. The day to day doldrums, the generation gap between me and aging parents. These were all issues directly related to our household.

    Marriage is what we make it, it should never be what we see others have or what people may think it should be. It is what it is. It’s what we make it. To say that romance is as strong 38 years later, I would be telling a lie. Is there romance? Yes but 38 years later, romance isn’t as important as our just being together.


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