Marriage Isn't Picture-Perfect: Getting Rid Of The Perfection Expectation

by Holly Loftin
Originally Published: 
Christopher Futcher / iStock

I think the key to a happy marriage is to get rid of the picture in your head of what a happy marriage should look like. Just erase it — permanently. While you’re at it, I would also suggest that you let go of the image of what your marriage looked like before children, because that is also gone forever (much like your pre-pregnancy waistline). Marriage is hard enough on its own, without kids. Just when you think you have each other all figured out — BAM — you have kids, and it’s a whole new ball game.

Only this particular game comes without a coach, a referee, or a much-needed playbook.

Parenting is like marriage on steroids. The stakes are high. The love and level of emotions are unimaginable and indescribable. It’s beautiful and hard and consuming, all at the same time. And there is no break. There is not much time to tend to your marriage because you are never alone with your own thoughts unless it’s after-hours and your child is asleep. No one in their right mind wants to sit and “talk” after being on the clock all damn day. Many issues in your marriage end up getting swept under the rug instead of being dealt with in a timely manner. I know that things at my house are usually great until they aren’t. Most of the time, I can’t even pinpoint when the little things become big things because it happens so fast and out of the blue.

The truth is, as parents, you fight more about stupid things because you are mentally and physically drained. The smallest things will make you snap and then leave you wondering if you’ve lost your mind.

All of your energy now goes to the children — and let’s face it, you are barely surviving in less-than-desirable conditions. Calling a parent “sleep-deprived” is the understatement of the year. When people with kids tell you that you will not sleep for 18 years after you have a child, they are not lying. (And only slightly exaggerating.) They are firmly warning you.

My child is 4 and still wakes up three times a night needing something, mostly just to ensure I’m still tired the next day. At least, that’s what it feels like to me, and that’s just one kid. I think parents with multiple kids must be existing in a constant state of exhaustion.

To top it all off, you’re physically not up to par and you often feel as if your body has failed you. Our bodies are nothing like they used to be before kids. Or at least mine isn’t — my body has aged tremendously and my stamina has declined. You often don’t have the energy to make a healthy dinner, and then the one you’ve prepared for your child ends up on the floor (the one you’re now forced to eat so as to not waste yet another meal). And hitting the gym or a yoga class? Haha — I almost choked on my chicken nugget.

There just isn’t enough time in the damn day. Or enough healthy options at the drive-thru.

You simply aren’t at your best, plain and simple. In fact, your best has completely morphed into something else.

I think my point here is that marriage is harder after kids, and — newsflash — it’s supposed to be. I think the sooner we realize that, the sooner we can set ourselves free from all those unrealistic expectations. (Disclaimer: I’m no marriage expert, nor do I have a Ph.D. in parenting, but I do have a lot of very close girlfriends, which should probably be the equivalent of a professional degree in figuring it all out.)

The truth is, marriage is hard for everyone. Some people just hide it better than others. Those who appear to have picture-perfect lives are pulling the wool over your eyes, and then some, because no one is perfect — no relationship is perfect. We all fight with our spouses. We all play games. We all stand on our high moral ground sometimes. We have all gone to bed angry. We all struggle sometimes.

I wrote this as a release and a reassurance that it is perfectly okay to feel that it’s really freakin’ hard sometimes. I wrote this to feel a little bit better on the days that seem impossible. To remind me to be a better listener. To be a better communicator. To be a better wife. I know I can be, but I feel like sometimes it’s easy to get caught in the details of parenting and forget what brought you together in the beginning. It was love, and it’s what keeps you together every single day. You are in this together, forever. You made a life together and no one can ever take that away from you. Focus on that. Focus on the good. Don’t sweat the small stuff and don’t hold on to any negative energy.

Let that shit go.

Stop comparing your marriage to other relationships, and let go of those oppressive expectations of perfection. Figure out what the picture of your marriage looks like now, and learn to be okay with it. Come to terms with it; love it for what it is. Create a new image if you don’t like the one you have. Be an example for your kids; show them the marriage you hope they have one day.

In a moment of random motivation, I decided to make a mantra for my marriage. I’m going to put it on the fridge and read it everyday: “To strive to be better, everyday. And when we are struggling, to find the joy in the chaos. And to always try to put each other first, after God.”

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