I’ve been married twice and divorced twice, too. Both times unrealistic expectations played a part in the disintegration of the relationship, though in different ways.
My first marriage was to a young man I met in college. We could talk about anything. With him I tried new foods and ethnic restaurants and learned to hike and run. I thought we had a solid foundation for our marriage because we started out as friends who could talk with each other about anything before we became romantically involved.
Alas, that was not the case.
After we got married I assumed that things would work the same way my parents’ marriage did, even though my mom was a stay-at-home mom, and I was working. My views were very conventional, though I wasn't conscious of that at the time. I did the shopping and cooking and laundry, and he handled the cars. Although I handled most of the money, my then-husband made all the big decisions, just like my dad.
We quickly settled into a routine that, in hindsight, was dull, boring and probably better suited to old married couples than young newlyweds. I expected us to be happy and feel good about life and our relationship; instead I felt bored at home and stressed out about work.
My parents had a conflict-free marriage (seriously, no fights – even today after 55 years!), and they seemed happy. And the movies I watched and books I read all seemed to suggest that once you fell in love you lived happily ever after. I had no idea that I needed to work at the relationship, and I wouldn’t have known how even if I had known the need at the time.
I didn’t really know what the problem was, let alone how to talk to about it. My issues with eating (a mild eating disorder, I suspect) grew, and I eventually sought help. The therapist running the program suggested the two of us try some couples counseling, but after one session he decided it wasn't for him. That led to our eventual separation and divorce. He was (and is) a good man, and I sometimes wonder how things would have turned out had I had better communication skills and fewer expectations about what marriage should look like.
The Second Time Around:
I was determined not to make the same mistakes the second time around – and I didn’t. On the surface my second husband was the exact opposite of the first one. My first husband was a quiet businessman of Asian descent. He came from a small, upper middle class family, and his main hobbies were running and making money.
My second husband was outgoing and of the same religion and ethnic background as my family. He came from a large family like I did, and he directed the music group at the church I had started attending. I had been involved in church music as a teen, and I joined the group, so we had that in common as well. He had a large social circle and lots of friends. There were parties and activities and jam sessions, and a whole new world opened up for me.
I waited almost 3 years to marry the second time, determined it wouldn’t be a rebound marriage and wanting to make sure it would last. Our wedding was a wonderful celebration with none of the misgivings I’d felt before the first marriage. Just one small issue that I was sure would go away after marriage – alcohol.
Once again my expectations led me into a situation I wasn’t prepared for, and kept me there for far longer than was healthy. I thought that we would settle down once we were married and assume somewhat conventional roles. He said he didn’t want children, but I figured that would change, too.
After a few years of marriage, we had some issues, and I again sought professional help. This counselor was the first to introduce me to alcoholism and the fact that it might be contributing to our problems. Here again, my expectations interfered with hearing her accurately. I figured he could just cut down on his drinking and things would be okay. (For those of you who don’t know anything about alcoholism, this is absolutely unrealistic. Untreated alcoholism never gets better, only worse).
However, several incidents led my former husband to stop drinking (cold turkey), and I assumed things would be fine. Shortly thereafter I found out I was pregnant. I assumed having children would create a more “normal” (read “conventional”) family situation where he would be the primary breadwinner, and I would work part-time and raise the kids. We never really talked about this in advance, I just expected it to work out that way.
He lost his job about 4 months before our oldest child was born, and he started his own business. I worked part-time, but far more hours than I wanted to, for the money and benefits. I never could figure out the work-life balance thing because I had unrealistic expectations of myself both at home and at work.
The biggest assumption I made going into this marriage, though, was that because our backgrounds were similar, particularly in our religion, we would share the same values and approaches to raising children. Wrong again.
We had a lot of good times, and we both tried our best to create a good family life for our 3 kids. But the general progression of the marriage was toward more problems and less connection. I kept waiting for him to stop drinking (the abstinence didn't last), get in recovery, get a good-paying job, and assume the role of man of the house. Unfortunately, these expectations weren’t at all realistic, and he didn’t try to hide the fact that he didn’t share them.
After almost 20 years, I finally realized I was the one who was going to have to make the changes. Expecting him to change so I would be okay was unrealistic. It was time to let go of those dreams of happily ever after once again.
One of those changes was divorce, though that wasn't a decision I made lightly or rushed into as I describe in more detail here.
Today I know that marriage doesn't always have a Hollywood ending. "Happily ever after" may not look the way I thought it would, though today I know that it's possible to be happy after divorce.
Too bad I didn’t know all that 25 or 30 years ago. But then again, that might be an unrealistic expectation, too!