A marriage requires work. It's what our parents tell us. It's what Hollywood would have us believe too. But is it really true?
There are many flaws in the phrase. There's a reason we call our jobs "work": we have to get paid to do them. We wouldn't do them for free. They are difficult and time consuming and frustrating and boring. Every now and again, they'll be kind of fun. But that's not the norm – most people are just doing the grind and waiting to get back to their "real" life.
Nobody gets paid to be married (unless you're literally only marrying for money). Marriage can be difficult, frustrating, and feel time consuming. But in a good marriage these feelings are acute, not chronic. They're not work. And as for boredom? If your marriage is boring, well, you probably aren't a natural fit for each other – or aren't a natural fit anymore. Even the quiet times – the Netflix binges, the reading in bed, the going for walks together – they're at least somewhat fun, aren't they?
Marriage isn't a fairytale. There are certainly unrealistic expectations out there for it. You don't walk around the house in beaming love with each other 24/7. But to call it work insinuates you'd rather not do it. And if so, why are you married at all? You certainly don't have to be.
I believe that telling yourself "marriage is work" will make you appreciate the good things in it less. It focuses your energy on the negative things in a relationship, and allows you take the positive things for granted.
The notion that a marriage is work insinuates that relationships are supposed to be static. That is, the situation you marry into is what you're purportedly supposed to have for life. But marriages aren't static. They are continuously evolving. They can be challenging, they can be hard. They require you to actually do something, say something, change something, fix something, improve something. But is that really "work"?
The idea that it's possible to just sit back, make no effort, and coast along in a marriage is one of those unrealistic expectations we're stuck with. Maybe this is because we often look at our friends and families around us, and their marriages often seem to be easy. If they don't bicker in public and seem to genuinely like each other, they just make marriage look like a breeze, right?
I will admit, I am part of one of these couples that make it appear really simple. My marriage looks peachy to anyone who encounters us. We're jovial and silly with each other, we express our love in public, we're always pretty calm and collected.
While we're not exactly fire-breathing dragons on the inside and behind closed doors it's all hell, my marriage can still be challenging. Added onto all the regular relationship stressors, I'm a military spouse, for god's sake – something that adds much tension behind the scenes but you'd never know it. That's all because nobody has any idea what's happening in a marriage except for the two people in it.
Some would say that the idea of going to couples therapy would also consist of "work". Having actually done this – my husband and I once sorted through some issues over about six weeks with a relationship counsellor – I can again say therapy is challenging, but it's not work. It can be unpleasant, but that's not work either.
In accepting that a marriage is a living organism that needs taking care of, you get to a point where marriage "maintenance" is something you take pride in. In the same way your house's exterior paint needs it, your physique needs it, and your pet's needs need it too. Maintenance is part of the deal you signed up for when you bought a house, joined a gym, got a dog, and, naturally, decided to get married.
I like to think of marriages as needing care and attention. They must be looked after, like a plant, a car, or anything else you enjoy. Yet calling them "work" would be to say everything in your life doesn't need effort put in to it. And that's a disservice both to your marriage, and to the rest of of life.