As little girls, we’re told fairytales of handsome princes, daring rescues and a happiness that lasts forever after. We see women older than us dressed in their perfect, white wedding gowns and start envisioning our own special day. We search for the perfect ‘one’ and, when we find them, can’t help but plan our lives together, imagining every day of our very own, happily ever after.

The reality of this is a little bit different. Sometimes it isn’t about kissing frogs, it’s about battling a minefield of late-night booty calls to find ‘the one’. When you do, it isn’t always smooth sailing. Rather than a daring rescue from a tower up high, you may find yourself having one of those hushed-tone fights in the canned vegetable section of the supermarket. There will be times you’re both angry for no reason, tired of the other person’s stupid habits or just sick of them leaving their clothes on the floor (me).

Truth is, I grew up thinking there was such a thing as a perfect relationship and, because of this, it took me a while to properly adjust to married life.

It’s hard out there, you know. People like to put their best foot forward on Facebook and Instagram, so you’re seeing all these loved-up shots of boo-boo and binky-bear having another magical date-night and sharing how they’re the love of each other’s lives. Then there’s ‘relationship goals,’ set by supermodels and ex-boy band members who have been perfectly airbrushed and styled in magazine shoots. There are songs describing endless love and movies where a small-town gal meets the hottest man alive and after a forgivable disagreement, they get back together and, yep, live happily ever after.

I've realised my marriage isn't perfect...
Here’s a photo of the happy couple

You see, the fairytales never really stop, they just change the way they’re presented to us. Instead of storybooks with snow-white and her seven dwarfs, we’re shown movies, songs, Facebook status updates and glossy magazines portraying the same thing; perfection is out there.

Now, look, I realise there’s a chance this may sound depressing. Like, “Hey, Phoebe, what are you saying? You don’t think your husband is perfect? You don’t think your marriage is perfect? Well, it sounds to me like you just settled and now you’re miserable!” An excellent observation, my astute friend, but that’s not it at all. I think the problem has been, for me, that I was trying to make my life live up to an expectation that isn’t real.

Love doesn’t have to be a daring rescue from a tower up high. It doesn’t need to be waking up every day next to Zayn Malik, performing an aerial handstand manoeuvre above him to greet him with a perfect morning kiss (if you need a reference for this ridiculous image, click here). Love doesn’t have to be happily ever after for everybody because happiness is such a subjective term.

Happiness, to me, is being with someone who loves me unconditionally, supports me endlessly and really, truly loves me no matter what. While those things may be true for others, they may have more important things on their happiness roster, like being a great parent to their children or making them feel safe and secure. Those things matter too. Whatever it is you value, matters. And those things are what form your happily ever after.

It’s crazy to think there could ever be a perfectionist ideal of what a happy marriage is or should be. Like anything in life, relationships are constantly growing, changing and evolving.

I've realised my marriage isn't perfect...

I’ve learned a few really important things about marriage and relationships this year and one of those most important has been that everyone struggles. Matt and I have had some challenging times in our marriage and I’ve felt I’ve had to hide those because they were shameful and I was a failure for not having a perfect marriage. I hid them for a long time and it wasn’t until I opened up to friends and family, that I realised I wasn’t alone. Each person who I had perceived had a ‘perfect’ relationship, told me how they’d had their own challenges and had made it through them.

Some had taken time apart, others had worked through their problems pretty easily and other couples had come to the brink of separation but finally found a way to get through it.  Each couple had their own, unique struggles but had worked through them in their own way. Some couples had problems regularly, others had them infrequently. But the one thing we all had in common, we’d all had challenges.

Knowing all this made me angry. I felt frustrated for feeling like I was a failure for having a challenge in my relationship. It was crazy, too, because I have challenges in every single other aspect of my life (work, money, health, fitness, friendships etc) and it feels totally normal to have challenges in those, yet, it somehow felt like I was a massive failure and had something to be embarrassed about to have challenges in my marriage.

It made me think of all the other people out there, looking at celebrity, fictional and other people’s relationships and thinking, “I wish I had that. My relationship is a mess and I’m so embarrassed about it.” It is totally and completely normal to have ups and downs in any relationship and nobody should judge you if you do. You should expect to have ups and downs. You should anticipate challenges, know that they will come your way at some point because you are just two people who will, inevitably, grow and change and there’s no way all that growth and change won’t impact who you are in your relationship.

I've realised my marriage isn't perfect...

Relationships aren’t easy, but they’re worth every ounce of time and effort that goes into them. If you ever find yourself in a tough spot in your relationship, don’t be afraid to talk to people about it and remember that you aren’t alone, you aren’t a failure and you haven’t done anything wrong by finding yourself in a tough spot.

I recently met a beautiful girl who loved a boy very much but felt, maybe, their relationship couldn’t work because they’d split up early on and now we’re back together. Her friends felt it was a ‘bad sign’ and made her feel her relationship was doomed. Look, if every married person I knew gave up on their relationship when they ‘decided to split’ I would no longer know any married couples. Break-ups happen, people fight, they get back together, sometimes they don’t. If you love someone, there isn’t much of a ‘right or wrong,’ there’s only love. If you love someone and they love you and you’re happy… that’s your very own fairytale, bumps and all!

Hey, if it makes you feel any better, my sister-in-law (who is HILARIOUS and exactly like Elaine from Seinfeld) recently said the best thing ever about relationship troubles; “Sometimes you have to take it to the brink [of breaking up]. I like to go to the brink at least once every two years. It’s great. You really just get it all out of your system… you find yourself pulling out of the driveway, screaming at each other ‘F**K YOU!'” This just makes me laugh so much and makes me feel like there is no ‘normal’ and completely abolishes any guilt or shame. Being crazy and taking it to the brink = totally fine!

I honestly think it’s really important for people to open up and share the truth about relationships and what they are really like. It breaks my heart to think, for so long, I had this fairytale story in my mind and felt like a failure when my own marriage didn’t perfectly reflect what I’d read in a children’s book as a little girl. I was so blinded by the magical tale on the pages of a book, I nearly missed the importance of the love right in front of me.

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