We all enter marriage with expectations about what marriage is like and what our spouse is like and how our spouse should treat us. Often our expectations are not realistic or achievable. When I married my husband, I had expectations that quickly led me to become disillusioned. I expected him to meet my needs, I expected him to make me happy, I expected our marriage to be wonderful and easy. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I know I am not alone in having such lofty, yet unrealistic, expectations of marriage.
My husband and I recently watched the television show “Married at First Sight.” As we watched the couples adjust to each other and try to live out their vows, we frequently talked about their expectations.
“It shouldn’t be this hard.”
“I want to be happy.”
“I don’t want to get hurt.”
Marriage is by no means easy. It takes work and commitment. It requires that you put aside your feelings and desires and think about the other person. It requires that you make sacrifices. However, marriage is also immensely rewarding and fulfilling, as long as you keep the proper perspective.
Happiness. That’s a common one. Desiring to be happy is not a bad thing in and of itself, but far too many people make being happy a priority. But what if your idea of happiness is not the same as the person’s you are married to? What if having children is part of what would make your spouse happy but not something that would necessarily make you happy? Happiness is relative to the individual. What do you do when the ideas of happiness clash? Who gets to choose? That’s the problem. If more people would go into marriage understanding that the person they are marrying cannot always make them happy and they will not always make the other person happy, perhaps more people would find marriage more satisfying. I have learned in the sixteen years of being married that being content and having peace, feeling comfortable and safe, living life with my best friend by my side, is more valuable than being happy. Those are actually forms of happiness, in some ways. I have had many times in my marriage when I certainly was anything but happy (obviously).
I also understand people not wanting to get hurt. No one desires to be hurt, but you and your spouse will hurt each other. You will disappoint each other. You will anger each other. The only way to avoid getting hurt is to avoid people, which makes marriage an impossibility. The key is learning how to handle the hurt, how to talk about the disappointments, how to express the anger in healthy and positive ways that will strengthen the relationship. And being willing to say “I’m sorry” when you hurt someone.
My husband and I exchanged traditional wedding vows at our wedding, and we meant what we said, and we also gave some thought to the implications of what we were saying. I think for a lot of people vows are just words that go along with the ceremony, and they never stop to carefully consider the extent of the vows.
In sickness or in health: We’ve had more sickness than health. My husband was diagnosed with chronic severe migraines several years ago. There are days when he cannot get out of bed because of the migraines. There are times when the migraines keep him from interacting with me and the children as much as he would like. He has had to give up some hobbies, and he had to retire from a job he loved and had done most of his adult life because it was so physically demanding, and too much physical exertion is a trigger for his migraines. We have to be flexible regarding appointments and activities. We cannot make commitments to definitely do something or be somewhere. It’s hard and wearisome, but it is our life. I’ve learned to try to go with the flow, but its not the ideal situation. None of this is what either of us expected.
For richer or poorer: There was a time during the last couple of years my husband was able to work that we had a high income. We built a house and each of us had new vehicles. After my husband’s health got worse, and he could no longer work, our income was drastically cut. We lost the house we had waited years to build; we lost our vehicles. We lost our land, land that had been in the family for decades. Our life became more complicated, and it certainly was not fun, nor did it make us happy. Again, this is nothing either of us anticipated or expected.
For better or for worse: We’ve had some extremely difficult times. At times, things have seemed to go from bad, to worse, to worst. Adultery is the worse part. Health problems are the worse part. Losing almost everything is the worse part. Despite all the worse parts, though, there is always a silver lining, a glimmer of hope. All the situations, pains, and struggles my husband and I have endured, at times barely hanging on, have made each of us stronger, and in turn has made our marriage better and stronger. Our faith has also been deepened, and we have experienced God in a myriad of wonderful, miraculous ways. We wouldn’t have chosen any of the things that have happened, but instead of letting these situations make us angry and bitter, we have allowed them to make us better and stronger.
Here’s a piece of wisdom I wish more people would realize before they say “I do.” The wedding will last only a while, but the marriage is supposed to last a lifetime. Therefore, put more of your energy and time into preparing for the marriage than preparing for the wedding. Because once the stars are out of your eyes and reality hits, you learn quickly that marriage is not all you thought it would be. That person gets on your nerves. That person makes you so angry you can’t see straight. That person has annoying habits. And so do you. Instead of focusing on the negative, focus on the good things. How your spouse makes you laugh. How hard he works. How diligently she cares for the house and children. It all comes down to perspective.
So in those times when your spouse and your marriage are not meeting your expectations, reflect on your vows and continue to honor them as best you know how. Extend grace and mercy, forgive quickly and often, apologize quickly and often, be kind, be respectful, be compassionate and gentle. You won’t hit the target every time, but never stop trying. You have a lifetime to love and learn.
On a final note, there is a song by Steven Curtis Chapman that made me cry the first time I heard it. It’s called “Go There With You.” When my husband and I married, I had the chorus to that song printed on our napkins. I meant those words sixteen years ago, and I still mean them today. I’ve posted the video for you.