What If Your Negative Beliefs About Marriage Are the Problem?

This article was originally published at the Washington Examiner.

What if all you need to be successfully married is a change of attitude? Sound too good to be true?

It isn’t. You’d be surprised what a simple shift in thinking can do.

Your attitude is the single most important determinant of your success in life. Life will throw you a thousand curve balls. So will marriage. But it isn’t the curve balls that matter, it’s what you do with those curve balls. What you do stems from how you think.

Here’s what I mean. In a 2010 interview with Barbara Walters, the actress Sandra Bullock said, “I always had this feeling that if you got married, it was like the end of who you were.”

In the January 2019 issue of Elle, the twice-divorced Jennifer Aniston insists she doesn’t need marriage and kids to be happy. “I’m sure, because I was from a divorced-parent home, that was another reason I wasn’t like, ‘Well, that looks like a great institution.’”

No one is born with these thoughts, they are learned. Children of divorce have, understandably, had their belief in marriage shattered, and they tend to carry this negative belief with them throughout their lives.

But beliefs aren’t facts, they’re learned assumptions based on observing something that didn’t work. Yet countless women today enter marriage with this same self-defeating mindset.

To make matters worse, our culture teaches that marriage is supposed to make women happy, and that if it doesn’t, a wife should leave her marriage and find happiness with someone else.

Here’s a paragraph from a typical article about marriage today, entitled “Confessions of a Semi- Happy Wife”:

Beneath the thumpingly ordinary nature of our marriage — every marriage — runs the silent chyron of divorce. … Thank God for divorce, which may be the last-standing woman’s right to choose. One eloquent swing of the ax and happiness is thrust firmly back into our own hands.

It is impossible to overstate the significance of messages like this one. It means that when a woman hits a wall in her marriage, as she inevitably will, she cannot rely on the support she needs to climb over it.

Instead, this is what she gets: If you’re not happy, leave.

Talk about sabotage! Who’s never unhappy? Why should becoming a wife, or a husband, for that matter, guarantee one’s happiness? Yet, this directive, “life’s too short; move on if you’re unhappy,” is pervasive, and it’s tailored specifically to women.

Anyone who’s a product of divorce is going to struggle with marriage. For women, the challenge is especially hard since the culture sells them a self-defeating narrative about men and marriage. Until or unless women reject this narrative, as well as let go of whatever their parents taught them about love if it was of a negative nature, they will never be successfully married.

The attitude and beliefs we carry with us determine which direction something will go. It’s no different with marriage. Change your mind, and you’ll change your life.

What if, for instance, you can depend on a man? What if divorce isn’t the answer? What if your mother’s story doesn’t have to be yours?

Keep thinking. The possibilities are endless.

Suzanne Venker

Suzanne is an author, a coach, and a podcast host committed to helping women let go of cultural beliefs that undermine their happiness in life and in love.