We know the statistic: four out of 10 Canadian first marriages end in divorce (as per the 2006 census — in 2011, Statistics Canada announced they will no longer collect numbers on the country's annual divorce rates). Not only that, but there are also more unmarried Canadians than legally married people age 15 and over than ever.
As the divorce rate rises (it's down from its peak of about 41 per cent in the mid '80s but a bit higher than the rate of 37 per cent in the mid-'90s), relationship experts continue to try to figure out why so many marriages fail. And according to one social psychology professor, it might be as simple as expecting too much from our partner.
The Independent reports that Eli Finkel, a teacher at Northwestern University in Illinois, believes that we're too idealistic and that we should have realistic expectations of our partners if we want to feel fulfilled and happy.
Finkel spoke to The Atlantic about his new book, The All-Of-Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work, and explained that our perception of marriage has changed in recent years, making us demand more from our partners than we would have a couple of decades ago.
"The idea of the book is that the changing nature of our expectations of marriage have made more marriages fall short of expectations, and therefore disappoint us," Finkel said.
Although we already assume our spouses will love us through sickness and in health, modern day partners also assume that our spouses will help us grow as individuals, expecting them to be everything to us.
"The main change [in marriages] has been that we've added, on top of the expectation that we're going to love and cherish our spouse, the expectation that our spouse will help us grow, help us become a better version of ourselves, a more authentic version of ourselves," Finkel told the magazine.
The main change [in marriages] has been that we've added... the expectation that our spouse will help us grow, help us become a better version of ourselves, a more authentic version of ourselves.
And that's where it gets tricky.
As we rely on our partners to make us feel attractive, competent, successful, and fulfilled, we end up putting too much pressure on the relationship, which is where it can break down.
"I think most of us will be kind of shocked by how many expectations and needs we've piled on top of this one relationship," Finkel said. "I'm not saying that people need to lower their expectations, but it is probably a bad plan to throw all of these expectations on the one relationship and then try to do it on the cheap.
"That is, to treat time with your spouse as something you try to fit in after you've attended to the kids, and after you've just finished this one last thing for work. Real, attentive time for our spouse is something that we often don't schedule, or we schedule insufficient time for it."
I'm not saying that people need to lower their expectations, but it is probably a bad plan to throw all of these expectations on the one relationship and then try to do it on the cheap.
But rather than "settling," Finkel suggests spouses be more realistic in what they can get from their partner, and to work on making those specific qualities the best they can be.
"There's no shame at all in thinking of ways that you can ask less," he said. "That's not settling, and that's not making the marriage worse. It's saying, look, 'These are things I've been asking of the marriage that have been a little bit disappointing to me.
"These are things that I'm going to be able to get from the marriage but frankly, given what I understand about my partner, myself, and the way the two of us relate, it's just going to be a lot of work to be able to achieve those things through the marriage.'"
There's no shame at all in thinking of ways that you can ask less.
HuffPost blogger Cathy Reisenwitz agrees with this sentiment. Explaining that her marriage ended even though she thought of her then-husband as her best friend, she realized that spouses shouldn't "expect everything of anyone."
I may be unromantic, but you all are fucking insane. The height of your expectations is directly proportional to how disappointed you're going to feel.
"Marriage, to most people, means you expect one other person to meet all your practical, emotional, and sexual needs, both now and forever," she continues. "I may be unromantic, but you all are fucking insane. The height of your expectations is directly proportional to how disappointed you're going to feel."
Reisenwitz also explains that in order to salvage a marriage, both partners need to come into it with "reasonable expectations," and this includes not leaning on your partner for everything.
Make sure you have one or two close friends you can rely on for emotional support and intimacy; rely on outside sources for sexual pleasure, such as reading erotica, playing with new toys, or watching porn; spend time with family; and regularly see a counsellor or therapist for an outsider's perspective.
Never, ever, mistake your partner for anything other than a full and complete person who owns themselves and their parts.
"You don't own your partner's heart. You don't own your partner's genitals," Reisenwitz concludes. "Sure, they let you use them sometimes. But never, ever, mistake your partner for anything other than a full and complete person who owns themselves and their parts. What you do own jointly is your assets. And so for that reason you two need to work together on how to manage them."
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