I watched a popular series the other night, streaming it as we do these days when I was stunned by a particular episode. To be fair, we watch these things for the drama, the ups and downs, last-minute saves and resolutions, and pretty people in awkward, funny or even painful situations. It is their stock in trade and is utterly predictable at times.
However, the drama is the smallest thing you want in your relationship or marriage. It can break apart the strongest love, ruin lives, finances, and futures and most of it is avoidable. You don’t have to have drama in your relationship to have romance. They should be two very different things.
In this episode, a couple has dated and known each other for years. They decide to have a child together, go through fertility counseling and make this huge commitment of bringing another human being into the world. Then, he discovers that she is not planning to raise the child in his faith, she discovers that her career is much more important to her than she expected, and the inevitable pendulum swings between these two who ultimately decide to marry and proceed, trusting that their love will see them through.
Yeah, let’s unpack that a bit, shall we? There is so much wrong with that picture.
They love each other enough to first buy a home together and then plan to have a child, but formal legal commitments that would protect them, their assets, and their child do not occur to them until the end of the dramatic arc. (Did I mention they are both lawyers??) This gives you the impression that the wedding is the end of the story. Not so fast, buckaroo. The wedding is just the beginning and the marriage is the story for the rest of your lives if you are lucky.
Would you jump into a pool without knowing how hot or cold it is or whether sharks are lurking below? Of course, you wouldn’t, but these characters left so much emotional communication in the closet that chum was inevitable. What do you talk about before entering into financial, and legal commitments with a partner?
How about expectations.
Here are some handy categories in case you need them and add to it at will; children, fidelity, finances, in-laws and parents, future plans and dreams for education or career, division of labor, religion (both its role in your family life and how it will affect children of your union), self-care, and commitment in the face of catastrophe (accident, illness, aging and senility). It doesn’t sound very romantic, does it? Yet these are areas that can result in an unexpected and often destructive drama if you two are not aware of each others’ thoughts and feelings about them.
Some couples are afraid to broach the subject of expectations. I learned about the destructive consequences through a friend’s marriage. They never talked about any of these important things and three years into the marriage, she found that he thought it was totally okay to hire sexual services or “date” when he was out of town for business but that he would “kill her if she ever did it.” She discovered his infidelity when her doctor told her she had an STD. She told me through tears that she had just assumed that he knew she expected him to be faithful even when they were apart. He had failed to live up to that assumption and now their marriage was over.
Granted, that was an extreme situation, but my point remains the same. Before you commit to each other in ways that are supposed to be long-lasting, make sure that your expectations are clear, expressed, and that both of you are on the same page about the really important stuff. It is so much better to know and avoid the pain that comes with drama.
After all, no screenwriter is going to save the day for us.