This post is the product of one discussion question which was asked at one small group marriage study we attended last night. Question: “Why do you think marriages are more at risk today?” The other couples, all old enough to be my parents, shared their similar theories: financial stress, priorities, business, selfishness, etc. But all I could think was, “Those are the same marriage stressors that have been around for generations, so what is it that is uniquely challenging for marriages now?” As I’ve mulled over this question throughout the day, several heart-breaking stories have come to mind, all with different circumstances, but all brought down by a common invisible enemy, leading me to this theory, which is worth what you paid for it.
Compare and Contrast…
Remember that skill that was such an asset in all those English classes? Apparently its not nearly as useful in marriage. Comparing our own life to another’s is nothing new. The phrase “keeping up with the Jones’” was coined long before the advent of social media. But here’s the difference I see with the way we compare today. Before social media, you could only compare so much with your friends and neighbors. Sure, you could compare your car, how well your grass was edged, or the clothes you wore to play dates, but you had to actually leave your house and be physically near someone else in order to compare your life to theirs. Or you had to pick up the phone (cord and all) and wedge it against your shoulder to gossip about someone else’s new purchase while you cooked dinner. If you wanted to be nosy, you had to work harder at it, and you could only find out so much about the inner workings of someone else’s marriage without being a creep in the bushes.
Fast forward to today… Yes, we can still compare our cars, clothes, and yards, but the comparison game literally never ends now! Social media bombards us with opportunities to compare our every move throughout our day. Now, with just the flick of my thumb and a few idle moments alone in the bathroom, I can see what all my friends and acquaintances are eating for breakfast, what personal revelation God gave them in their own quiet time (#blessed), what cute shoes they just found on sale at Target, how many calories they burned on their morning run, how many errands they accomplished before preschool pickup, and what kind of Pinterest-perfect project they completed at nap time. I wish my phone would just pop up a warning before opening any social media app that says, “30 Ways to feel like a failure before 3:00” so I could at least mentally prepare before scrolling. Wondering what to make for dinner? Open your phone and you’ll be delighted to see your perfect friend is making Chilean Sea Bass, and its Paleo! And thanks to the selfie she posted at her stove, you can also compare her cute shirt and perfect makeup to your yoga pants, and spit-up covered tank top while you pray to the pantry for one last hidden box of Mac & Cheese to appear on the shelf. And without even realizing it or refuting it, that little voice in the back of your mind whispers, “Why can’t I get it together and get anything done? If she can do it all, why can’t I? Is her life just easier or am I just a slacker? If I had her life, I’d be happier.”
But the endless opportunities for comparison aren’t limited to the daily play by play. We also get a front row seat for everyone’s personal mountain top moments. Those priceless and formerly private exchanges between a husband and a wife are now constantly displayed in the name of public praise and appreciation. Have an awesome husband and want to shout it from the rooftops? Great! Social media is your venue! Awww… look at that sweet note by the coffee maker! He’s a keeper! Candlelight anniversary dinner with a panoramic view of the city from the hotel roof? Wow. He’s so thoughtful! A beautiful sunset pic behind your two wine glasses from your cruise ship balcony? That looks so relaxing and romantic! But that subtle little voice chimes in again, “Why aren’t we that happy? Why isn’t my husband more romantic, or thoughtful, or creative? My husband doesn’t love me the way hers does. If I had another man, I’d be happier.”
In my circle of friends, many of us are intentional when it comes to teaching our girls that fairy tales are not reality, and that real marriage is not like Hollywood. What we ought to be telling them is, “Social media is a fairy tale! Real-life marriage is a highly classified secret that no one ever leaks online!” There’s nothing wrong with sharing accomplishments and celebrating our joys and victories with one another. I’m genuinely happy for my friends when I see good things come their way. I’m pretty darn proud of my kids and husband too, and of course I brag on them like everyone else!
Here’s the trap though: Without even realizing it, we subliminally compare our day-to-day real life struggles to everyone’s highlight reels and find ourselves chronically discontent, wondering how we always wind up with the short end of the stick.
We post the smiling Christmas card photo but leave out the huge fight we had on the way to the smiley photo shoot over the cost of pictures, or the way we screamed at our precious little ones when they couldn’t find their shoes for the smiley photo shoot. We threaten to beat our children if they don’t just smile and offer them their weight in Skittles if they do (or maybe that’s just me) but none of that will ever be in the post- just the perfect smiley photo of the perfect marriage and perfect children…#blessed.
If marriages today are going to survive babies, bills, stress, and social media, We have got to take every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5-6) and recognize those sneaky little comparisons for what they are- apples to oranges- before they invade our hearts, robbing us of all joy and peace with our current spouse, home, and circumstances. Just do the math- if you have 100 friends on Facebook, chances are that you are going to be seeing someone’s vacation pictures every week. But that does not mean that everyone is taking frequent and fabulous vacations except you. I know we all know this in our heads, but I bet I’m not the only one who has gotten a little jealous or grouchy after scrolling past one too many tropical beach pics in my newsfeed while I’m home wiping butts day. after. day. On the other hand, just because 25 of your Facebook friends posted something sweet and endearing about their hubby doesn’t mean that at least as many of your Facebook friends aren’t currently fighting with their husbands about stupid stuff either. In fact, see that pretty Christmas card pic of my family above? Perhaps I may have screamed at my daughter as we were getting out of the car at that park that if she didn’t just quit her whining and wear that dress for 10 minutes of pictures, I would make her sleep in it all night! But did I post that? Of course not! Who would ever admit to screaming at their kids like a crazy person for all of the internet to read? Certainly not me. But just imagine what would happen if we dared to go even one step off the mountain-top and actually post a few average, unimpressive, real updates to help balance the picture-perfect profile? Sure, post away about your 742 calories at spin class this morning, but maybe tomorrow when your sore butt is on the couch pressing play on Moana for the 3rd time, you could post that too? You might be surprised at how many likes you get from your fellow slacker moms out there who suddenly find you more approachable as both a Facebook friend and a real person.
And speaking of real people…
Its not enough to just be mindful of the perfectionism we are bombarded with on social media. Nor is it enough to just post a few “normal real-life posts” to try and counteract the myth. More now than ever, moms need real relationships with real friends. All of our social connectivity tends to fool us into thinking we have friends, but those online friendships are, in many cases, adding to the mom-guilt, the self-doubt, and the lie that “everyone else is doing this mom-thing better.” This is even more prevalent among moms of young children, who are overwhelmed, sleep-deprived, held hostage to nap schedules, and lacking adult interaction. Social media promises them a few moments of complete sentences with other adults but often leaves them feeling less competent and more isolated.
This is why moms of today need to seek out and connect to real, authentic, life-giving friendships with other transparent women who are willing to embrace imperfection. The kind of friendships where a mom can call another mom and shamelessly declare, “I really do not have it in me to parent today. We are coming over to play and I’m not packing any lunches.” The kind of friend who turns your apology for your messy house into a competition about whose house is the biggest disaster. The kind of friendships where a mom feels safe enough to admit she is struggling with no fear of being judged or lectured. You rarely find those friends through the impersonal, one-dimensional interactions of a Facebook group. Its even hard to develop these friendships making the mom circuit (library, park, playgroup, gym) where moms are still “on” and everyone is posting selfies and pretending to have their crap together. For me, those friendships have come largely through the church-based small group that I host in my home for moms of young children and from my local MOPS group, which stands for Mothers of Preschoolers. When you are constantly exposed to photoshop perfection, Pinterest glory, super-human productivity, and endless streams of accomplishment, you need at least one other real-life mom, or better yet a small tribe of brutally honest moms, who can help you put all those unhealthy comparisons back into perspective. You need those real friends who know you well enough to name those lies that have crept into your heart and refute them with the simple, yet seldom-heard truth:
You are a good mom.
There is no such thing as a perfect marriage.
Its exhausting to be everything to everyone all the time.
It will get easier some day.
- Legally Blind Mom of Three
- Childbirth Educator & Doula
- Former Special Ed Teacher