Marriage is going to have its share of disappointment.
You’d think the marriage vows “through thick and thin, through better or worse” would clue us in, yet somehow, we are surprised when it happens.
Now, it will also be satisfying and enjoyable, but it will have its share of disappointments.
It’s a fact of marriage.
And if you’re like the majority of people who get married, this fact is going to hit you somewhere in the early years of your marriage and especially once you have kids.
Now, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Get ready for it. It’s a shocker…
You are a part of the disappointment.
You see, you and me came into marriage with certain expectations. Whether you knew it or not, you did. And so did your husband. And you are both going to disappoint each other. Matter of fact, you are both going to fail each other.
You wanted a man who threw his socks in the laundry basket, put his empty soda can in the trash can rather than right beside it, and who woke up when the baby cried at night without being told to twenty times.
You wanted someone who was a good communicator of his feelings and took you on long-weekend, surprise, romantic getaways.
You wanted someone who did x, y, and z. Feel free to fill in the variables for yourself.
He wanted things, too.
He wanted his wife to stay the woman he married. Let’s all just pause and laugh here. We grow and change and for many of us we have children and this makes us into mothers.
As mothers, we become somewhat new women. That’s not to say that men don’t change as they turn into fathers, but I can only speak from a woman’s point of view and I know motherhood sure changed me a lot. It makes that list of expectations grow another page or two or three hundred.
Maybe he also wanted dinner homemade every night like his mother or to be able to leave his socks and shoes laying around without being told to put them away.
Okay, let me get real real with you.
He didn’t want a wife who screamed or threw things when she didn’t get her way. Or gave him the silent treatment and acted like everything was okay even though it wasn’t because she expected him to figure it out.
Someone who refused sex for weeks on end because she was too tired or would rather just be left alone.
Someone who criticized the way he said something or for not saying the right things.
Someone who gets mad when he’s too busy working or doesn’t make enough money.
Someone who wishes she had married a man who was more thoughtful, more compassionate, more romantic, more…more…more whatever it is that he isn’t.
Now, obviously, the examples used above can be replaced with any of a million examples, but you get the point? We come into marriage with expectations.
And I know right now, right this very minute as some of you read this, you are thinking, “Well, yes I do expect things. It’s not unreasonable to expect those things.”
And yes, you are right. Those aren’t unreasonable expectations. But the thing is, these unmet expectations become irritations. These irritations become breaking points. Breaking points that cause offense and division. In short, they end marriages.
Unfulfilled expectations become the catalyst for the ending of many marriages.
And I’m not talking about infidelity, emotional and physical abuse, or other inexcusable behaviors that end marriages. That’s not what I’m talking about.
I’m talking about the little things that we allow to become big things because disappointments sets in and we don’t know what to do with it. We don’t know how to handle the disappointment in our marriage.
How do we not fail our marriages when our husbands fail us? And we fail them?
How do we not let disappointments and unmet expectations become the bedrock of our marriage?
These are hard questions. But they are questions that all of us face. Because whether we like it or not – whether we are prepared for it or not – we will be met with disappointment in our marriages. And I have seen too many marriages, young marriages especially, end or suffer because of disappointment and unmet expectations.
In hopes of shedding some light and real truth on this subject, I’m going to lay out 3 pieces of advice that I have found very helpful.
Expect less, accept more, and let it go.
Now, this may not be the big, glittery piece of advice that we all want to hear, but it is the advice we all need to hear, if we want long, happy marriages.
Think about the people you know who’ve been married a really long time. I’m not talking about people who’ve been married a really long time and can’t stand each other. I’m talking about the ones who you think have a great marriage. Yes, them. Now, do you suppose they’ve managed to be married this long and have miraculously avoided disappointment? No, they haven’t. Ask them. They will tell you. So, how have they managed to do it?
Well answers may vary, but I think you will find that they have had to accept each other’s faults. Couples that have been married a long time have learned to accept the good with the bad, a.k.a unmet expectations, in their partner. To accept is to love someone in spite of. Basically, they’ve learned to let some expectations go.
At first, this can sound ridiculous. Especially in an age where we expect the best. But the thing is…we usually get what we give. And we hardly ever give our best. But we expect the best.
There’s a meme floating around that pretty much sums this up by saying If you can’t handle me at my worst, then you don’t deserve me at my best.
Sadly, this can be our attitude when it comes to how we expect to be treated. We expect to be treated likes queens, when…if we’re honest…we don’t act like queens. Ouch! That hurts a little doesn’t it? Truth hurts! Okay, maybe I’m not talking about you. Let’s just talk about me.
I don’t act like a queen. I’m more like a bull dozer. When I want my way, I’m going to bulldoze my way over yours so that I get it. There I said it. Not very royal, is it?
I’m sure he didn’t fully realize what he was getting until years into our marriage. I am a force to be reckoned with, I’ll admit it! I, too, didn’t fully know every aspect of his personality when we married. As the years have gone by, we have both showcased the different ways we think about things and go about doing things.
If we had made it more about expecting instead of accepting, then I don’t think we would have learned to understand, compromise, love through, and grow together.
Part of accepting my husband’s faults is understanding that I have faults too that need accepting. For every time he leaves that soda can by the trash and I’ve been the one to actually put it in the trash, he has had to deal with me stuffing the trash so far down with more trash that it’s nearly impossible for him to take it out and empty it. He’s asked me to stop doing that a hundred times, and for some reason I still end up doing it. I try to do better, but inevitably it happens again. The same goes for him and that soda can.
Of course, this little trashcan issue is just a small example and we certainly have larger, more important issues that we’ve had to come to accept in each other. But, the point is, we continue to love each other despite our irritating faults.
And can I tell you something? I love that he accepts me, faults and all.
There’s grace there.
There’s humility there.
Believe it or not, there’s actual mutual love and respect there as well, as we both know that change is slow going and there’s going to need to be some acceptance of that as we mature in our marriage.
In an odd way, it’s made our marriage stronger. It’s almost like we’ve graduated to another level of love. The sacrificial part. It’s the part that we don’t always talk about, but the truth is, marriage is sacrifice. There will be times that you have to sacrifice part of you for the good of us. Not in a “poor me” way, but in a “two became one” way. What I mean is there will be some expectations or attitudes that will have to be sacrificed for the good of your marriage…or it will be to the detriment.
Sometimes married couples start fantasizing of being with someone who doesn’t have the faults that their spouse does, but the thing is… everyone has faults! Ending one relationship and starting over with someone new is trading one problem in for another. Each relationship will have its own set of problems. You’re not going to find a faultless person or relationship. Part of marriage is learning to accept and love each other through the faults.
Focus on the good in each other.
Accepting each other’s faults leads right into this next piece of advice, which is focus on the good in each other.
Wherever you shine a spotlight, it will become your focus. If you keep spotlighting all the negative qualities in your spouse, then that will be your focus. It will shine brighter than any of the good qualities they have. But if you turn your focus on all the good that they do and are, then it will outshine any of the negative qualities you perceive.
And focusing on the good has an added benefit! It makes us grateful and gratitude leads to a happier attitude.
Let’s go back to that soda can for a minute. In the beginning of our marriage, that soda can really bothered me. That “soda can” can be code for numerous of things. I just didn’t understand why it couldn’t make it into the trash can. I mean, come on, it’s right there! It led to many snide remarks and arguments trying to resolve the issue. And I got tired. Tired of always bringing it up to no avail. Yes, there would be days when he would put it in the trash but after a few days, it would end up back on the counter (kind of like my stuffing the trashcan thing). He would try hard, but for whatever reason, this was a fault that was going to take longer to change or, GASP, may not ever change.
So, what am I to do?
Should I let this thing cause division? Let it build resentment? Make its way into the bedrock of our marriage?
Or, should I let it go?
It’s up to me.
Now, you might be thinking but it’s his issue, it’s a simple thing, he should change, etc.
Yes. You are right. But being right on an issue still doesn’t help when you’ve pledged to make a life with someone and you’ve been on the wrong side of many of your own issues.
So, I let it go. But I don’t stop there. I let it go and remember all the good about him. And I remember all the faults that he too has to overlook and let go.
And there is so much good!
I could go on and on about all of his wonderful qualities. That’s what I’m choosing to spotlight and that soda can is over there in the shadows. It can’t compare.
Now, somethings are in the shadows that are much bigger than that soda can. They are burdens that I have to bear. GASP! I know it’ shocking because we’ve been taught that we shouldn’t have to bear anything in our marriages, but we do. Things like knowing that I’m probably going to always be the bigger disciplinarian to our children. It’s just our personalities. I’m probably going to be the one planning those long, romantic getaways and date nights. I’m always going to want more communication on things than he will ever probably be able to give.
I can bear them begrudgingly or with acceptance. One will make my marriage weaker and one will make it stronger. One will make it unhappier and one will not.
Be careful who you talk to about your marriage.
This last point probably should’ve been the first point because it is extremely important.
Nothing makes you more vulnerable than when there are hard times or disappointments in your marriage. And talking about it makes you vulnerable to bad advice. Make sure that the person you share with is someone who is going to give you encouragement and wisdom. Someone who is a champion of your marriage and understands that there will be good times and bad.
Too many times we share our heartaches with others and we hear things like, I wouldn’t put up with that, you don’t need him, etc. I don’t think it’s out of malice, but maybe out of wanting to be supportive or not really thinking about the weight of our words.
I’m so glad that my older sister, who’s been married for twenty years, was the person I talked with when little irritations began poking their way through in those early years of marriage. She was quick to point out many of the thoughts I’ve shared with you in this post. One of my favorite things she would say is well, he’s no prince and you’re no princess. I don’t know about you, but I like it when someone gives me the truth and not just what I want to hear. It causes me to hold a mirror up and see both sides.
I once saw an interview of this elderly couple who were being asked what the secret of staying married was and the woman said, “You’ve got be ready to go through good years and bad years.” Years? I can hardly go through bad days let alone weeks. But years? There’s no doubt that’s a couple who has had to love each other through the faults and learn to let some things go, all the while seeing the good in each other.
Marriage is a journey. It is hard fought and self-sacrificing, on both sides, and those who endure it are left with something as beautiful and deep and sacred and mysterious and surprising and magnificent and vast as the ocean.