There is a seriously flawed cultural understanding of marriage in American society. There is this collective assumption that every marriage functions the same, and our media reinforces that. A giant wash of anything that doesn't look the same. For a country of freedom we do that a lot, alienation of people who look different, behave different, culturally different, etc. So much of this country really practices the 'freedom to be just like me' rather than 'freedom to be who you are in peace'.
But the things I have come up in through two marriages and...um...nearly 23 total years of being in a marriage (I'm pretty sure if I remember correctly I got divorced at around the five year mark, but had only actively lived in the marriage for nearly three so I get confused because the divorce was rather anticlimactic in the grand scheme of my life to be honest) that no one ever talked about or in any way socially or culturally prepared me is huge. From the giant ones like mental illness(violent/aggressive - ex husband, difficulty functioning like everyone else me, my son), transgenderism (current husband), trying to navigate a healthy addition of a husband with a child, to small things like handling opposing wants, germs, boredom, and the day to day stress of close quarters living with another human being. None of that really gets talked about. Or maybe I just lived in a weirdly sheltered bubble. But whenever my family, friends, coworkers, media, etc. talk about it they always play up all the 'pros', and gloss over or entirely omit the minutiae and human element of it all. They make you feel bad if you're not living a Disney fantasy 24/7, which is ridiculous considering no one does.
We live in a country with a HIGH failure rate of marriage. And I do have to wonder if a large part of that can be attributed to the 'don't ask, don't tell' mentality we have about a lot of things, not just alternate sexuality people in the military. There is so much talk about 'defense of marriage' out there in regards to treating homosexual couples equally, but they're not really defending anything. Really defending marriage would be to talk about it in much more realistic terms, not setting young people up with these insane expectations from it, and yes, discussing all the varied forms of marriage, including same sex, polyamory, polygamy, romantic marriage, lifestyle marriage, etc. etc. Telling them the truth that if you don't keep working at it, boredom does set in, not because you're partner or you are bad, but because that is how humans work. Teaching strategies for the curveballs instead of letting people flail around trying to figure out what to do, it seems like every time anyone in a marriage (including myself) gets tossed a huge curveball there is no coping mechanisms in place and a lot of flailing around 'I don't know what to do!"(and I mean a general sense of "oh, things happen, I feel this and have to figure out where I want to go from here' not a a precognitive ready for everything vs. this isn't ever supposed to happen I"m the only person in the world and I have no social concept what to do at all!). And the 'roles' and understanding of gender in marriages does more harm than good too, roles should be based on the individual personalities involved not the gender, and there should be freedom to talk honestly rather than expectation of people as a gender, example: when a guy cheats post new child because he's feeling neglected and unwelcome. Why doesn't he talk about it with his wife? Because he's been taught to never talk about weaknesses or feelings, and she's been taught to view any talk of such things negatively also. Stay at home fathers face a lot of nastiness, while stay at home mothers are praised. But not all women are suited for motherhood, and I think honestly most men ARE suited for fatherhood, they're just taught our weird almost hands off kinda cultural expectation of fatherhood. We as a society here are SO invested in wanting everyone else to validate our life choices by making the same ones that it gets really ugly for people who are different.
That 'defense of marriage' crap really bothers me. Because we're not defending or promoting stable marriages, we're socially actively engaged in over romanticizing and cultural deconstruction of marriage. The biggest threat to anyone's marriage is internal, not the gender of the married neighbors. No one's lifestyle is threatened by allowing others to live their lifestyles, just their sense of being able to force other to be like themselves through legislations, media presentation, and social pressure is slowly being eroded, and maybe one day when we break past the legendary amount of things we don't talk about then a real defense of lasting relationships in all their forms for all people in equality like we talk about can happen. And for the people who don't like a thing, they don't have to. They don't have to embrace anyone they don't like. But they DO have to treat those people with common civility, respect, and safety. You don't have to invite the gay/ethnic/trans/religious/atheist/man/woman/children over for dinner and board games, but you do have to allow them to live peacefully and unharassed emotionally, physically, financially, legally, and socially. It's what manners were invented for in the first place, so that people who don't like each other can go about their day to day live in peace around each other.
Yes, I came out okay, more or less on top. But how much better could I have done if married women before me talked about the realities of marriage to me growing up? If the only media shows that talked about issues like boredom, insecurity, jealousy, neglect, lifestyle erosion of affection, etc. etc. were the ones where someone ends up dead? If we didn't try to erase people who don't fit the mainstream culture and instead taught a calmer 'not my thing, thank you, but good luck!' response. Some people are exceptional and say early on "I have a potential dealbreaker, let's talk about this". There were three in my personal dating history, but most of them tried to hide them until serious investment figuring once the emotional/time investment was made they could force me into accepting it. One I took the out for, I couldn't romantically get engaged in it, but the other two I didn't and the relationships failed for the classic natural reasons, our personalities weren't right together. The ones that hid it assuming they could manipulate me into dealing, they were wrong, even Nikki. Nikki almost didn't come out of this okay because secrets and lying are a hotbutton for me, but I gave him a pass because of the realistic world fear of violence, not just fear of the relationship ending. But one more secret or lie I don't know about? We're absolutely done. But I think about how much craziness and marital strife could have been avoided over the years if there had just been an understanding that 'flaws' and 'dealbreakers' (of any kind, I'm not making a judgement on trans here, I know my audience here may be sensitive to my wording here so I want to be clear, by flaw i mean things like my temper and inability to get anywhere on time and general inability to organize at all) are as much of a HUGE determining factor of the day to day of marriages as the 'virtues' and 'dealmakers' are, and so are the basic wants and needs of each person, even if society deems those wants and needs undesirable. It doesn't make them go away.
The answer to how much better I could have done? A lot. I would have been a better person on the whole, and dealt better with my relationships in both a very real understanding of how to actually be IN them and deal with the things happening in them, to knowing when to say stop in a rational, positive manner, to realizing familial relationships are relationships and should be terminated if they aren't healthy way before things got as damaging as they are.
The past can't change, but maybe we can make the future change, and leave a better, more open, and more realistic expectation of marriages for those coming up behind us and less emotional trauma (and murder! Discovery channel certainly taught me how often marriage leads to murder) for them. And more equality and less alienation because that persons marriage doesn't look like mine.