After staring out the window at our car buried in snow, I kissed my two feverish toddlers curled up on the couch and collapsed into a heap at my desk. I felt beyond frustrated with the crazy snowstorm, the kids’ epic illness, my own never-ending pregnancy nausea, and, most especially, the United States Army for taking my spouse to Afghanistan. Because he was in a war zone, I couldn’t even call to complain about how horribly life was treating his family back home.
I realize this doesn’t paint the best picture of a patriotic Army spouse, shouldering the burdens of the home front while the soldier defends hearth and home from enemies abroad, but the reality was, that particular month of the deployment was crushing me, body and soul.
Then I made it worse. I went on Facebook. My feed seemed full of the charming status updates of happily married couples doing happily married things for each other during what would be one of the biggest blizzards in ten years. “Husband just handed me a cup of coffee and headed out to shovel our walk!” “Bob took the kids outside to build a snow fort, while I curl up and read!” “Drinking wine with my hubby as the snow falls and feeling grateful.”
Where is my shoveled walk and glass of wine? Why isn’t my husband here? Why is my marriage so hard right now?
Feelings of self-pity for my seemingly bleak circumstances and completely undeserved resentment for my husband filled my head. I’ll be the first to admit that this was not my finest moment. My better self wanted to celebrate all these happy displays of marital bliss, but with my husband on the other side of the world, I made myself vulnerable to making the ultimate marriage mistake: comparison.
Mark Twain once wrote that “comparison is the death of joy,” and I don’t think this is ever more true than in marriage. And if my own experience is any proof, ingesting too much social media when your relationship is already vulnerable can suck the joy out of your marriage faster than you can say #blessed.
Thankfully, a good cry, a good pep talk from a fellow military spouse, and a great reunion with my husband a couple months later helped shake those feelings of resentment. At the end of the day, I know I’m not the only woman who has let her Facebook feed get in the way of marital bliss—it can get to all of us in our weaker moments. But that deployment taught me three important lessons about maintaining a strong and healthy marriage.
Focus on what makes your marriage uniquely wonderful.
Caralee Frederic, a Gottman Institute certified therapist and licensed clinical social worker, assures me that it’s not uncommon for couples to fall prey to comparisons. “People don’t always realize that when we compare our partner or our marriage, it’s a form of betrayal,” she says.
“Comparisons seek to magnify the negative and hinder our ability to focus on our spouse’s and our marriage’s positives,” Frederic points out. “If we spend time comparing, we devalue rather than cherish what is unique about our own marriage.”
Though Anna Karenina might be one of my favorite novels about marriage, I disagree with Tolstoy that “all happy families are alike, while each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” A couple must focus on what makes their own marriage great. For example, military couples endure long separations, but those prolonged absences help the spouses avoid taking each other for granted—absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that—and no joy compares with a soldier’s homecoming and the ensuing honeymoon-like euphoria that occurs after a long deployment.
If we spend too much time comparing ourselves to other relationships or even an ideal we have in our head, we can miss opportunities to foster gratitude for our own marriage.
Be smart about social media.
It’s no secret that social media can take a toll on relationships; one British study linked Facebook to as many as one-third of all divorce filings. While Facebook can be a catalyst for extramarital affairs and a consequent divorce, more commonly, overuse of social media can instigate that subtler betrayal of comparison that Frederic describes. “The betrayal begins when we compare other people’s outside to our own insides,” she explains. “On social media, we post and celebrate the good things and minimize the negatives. Social media becomes this year-round—daily—Christmas letter.”
If a marriage is going through a particularly rough patch, a bombardment of happy, sappy status updates can invite unfair comparisons. At the very least, Frederic warns, social media becomes a distraction from our relationship and can dampen our ability to see the positives in our spouse and in our marriage.
For my particular marriage, I realized deployments and other long separations thanks to work obligations are particularly vulnerable times for me to peruse social media, so I try to limit or give it up altogether. While this may not be necessary for everyone, I recently reaped the benefits of unplugging while my husband was traveling for five weeks. I focused on my work, our kids, and fostering gratitude for my hardworking husband instead of wasting time thinking about what I or we didn’t have.
Not everyone is susceptible to comparisons, so the important thing is to know and be honest with yourself. If too much social media is pitting you against your marriage and stealing your joy, have the courage to say no. Simple measures such as deleting an app or setting a limit on how many times a week you scroll through your Instagram account can free your heart and mind to focus on the flesh-and-blood partner right in front of your face.
Our screen time, whether we are making comparisons or not, distracts us from those opportunities to connect in our relationship. Over the years, I’ve learned that each marriage has both its own distinctive set of challenges and strengths and is therefore incomparable to the rest on some level. No relationship is perfect, but less time contrasting your marriage against someone else’s means that a couple has more time to focus on the positive and foster joy and gratitude for one another.
Photo Credit: Manchik Photography