The Myth of Happily Ever After

By: Melanie Szucs, LLMFT, LLPC

One of my favorite movie quotes come from the movie Ever After, a re-telling of the Cinderella story with Drew Barrymore and Dougray Scott. Danielle, aka Cinderella, is forced to work as a servant by her cruel stepmother after her father dies, but eventually meets the Prince. Unlike the female lead in many fairy tales, Danielle is strong and capable, fighting for herself and her friends, which is what draws the Prince’s eye to her. After many struggles, Danielle and the Prince marry. As the movie comes to a close, the narrator proclaims, “And while Cinderella and her prince did live happily ever after, the point... was that they lived.” 

As a society, we love the idea of finding the one person who will “complete us” and in whom we can find our “happily ever after.” But if the divorce rate is any indication, this idea really is just a fairy tale. Or is it? What the narrator of Ever After got, that I think so many couples miss, is that “happily ever after” doesn’t just come because the wedding day was perfect, or because you found your soulmate. It comes from living, in the day-to-day mess of dirty laundry and electric bills, or making breakfast together and taking the dog for a walk. It comes from choosing your partner every day, even when it’s hard, even when it hurts. 

So how do you choose your partner every day? 

  • Give your partner the benefit of the doubt. We have a tendency to assume the worst in someone’s actions, but often our partners do not set out to intentionally hurt us. 
  • Show fondness and admiration. Look for little ways to appreciate your partner throughout the day, or show them you care. Make their morning coffee. Send them an encouraging text. 
  • Practice good listening. Ask them open-ended questions. Try to listen without thinking about what your response will be. 
  • Engage in regular self-care. It is hard to do the dishes after a long day. It’s even harder when you’re overwhelmed and exhausted. Loving yourself will allow you to love your partner better. 
  • Remember when you first met. Instead of focusing on what you don’t like about your partner, try to remember what drew you to them in the first place. What draws you to them now?

I don’t believe in soulmates. My husband is not the “perfect match” for me and he doesn’t fulfill my every need or desire. But he is my best friend, who makes me laugh and motivates me to be more than I sometimes believe is possible. He is my best friend who quietly cleans up after a meal, or texts me how much he loves me just because. Every day I choose him and he chooses me. Not in a big “end-of-the-movie” kind of way, but in a mundane, routine, steady kind of way. To quote one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Ben Rector, “Life is not the mountaintops. It’s the walking in between and I like you walking next to me.”