Learning and Loving Our Spouse (Resetting Expectations)

The first years of our marriage were rocky, but God moved in a powerful way – I share the story in my post “Renewed Marriage.” I’d love to tell you that at the end of that story we rode off into the sunset and lived happily ever after, but real life doesn’t work like that. Instead, we moved forward with a strong-but-imperfect marriage of two committed-but-flawed people. In some ways this could be considered part two of our marriage testimony because its impact was equally radical. And while part one is a story of Allen’s heart change, part two is one about mine.

I grew up dreaming about my prince who would come sweep me off my feet and make my dreams come true. The dreams – combined with the stories and movies which fed them – seemed harmless enough at the time. And I’m not saying TV, books, and movies are bad, but they often are unrealistic, and therefore were dangerous to my young mind because they unknowingly set my expectations for future relationships. And they set those expectations in a way that wasn’t based in reality. I share more about why this is problematic in my post “The Impact of Expectations (How-to Manage Your Expectations).”

Fast forward a few decades and find me married to someone who is an amazing, godly man, but who hasn’t been around a lot of healthy relationships and who (having grown up in a physically abusive household) doesn’t really do physical affection (e.g. hand holding). Contrast that with me – parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles happily married to their first spouse for decades. And we’re a very physically affectionate family. 

For the first decade or more of my marriage I had an aching, unmet longing for my fairytale. Don’t get me wrong, since the original shift in our marriage we’ve had a strong friendship, deep respect, commitment, and love – but not the fairytale sappy love I’d always longed for. 

Finally, a little over a decade in, God checked me one day when I was whining over my disappointments in our marriage. He basically told me that my unmet expectations were crushing my husband, and that I could either continue in my disappointment for years or I could realign my expectations to what my husband was capable of giving me. 

In the same way you would not get mad at a fish for not flying or at a bird for not breathing underwater, so my expectations for my husband were equally unreasonable. And me wanting them increasingly intensely wasn’t making them any more likely to happen, it was simply causing more strain (not to mention feelings of failure for my husband). I made a conscious decision to lay down my expectations, and simply receive what he was capable of giving. Loving him where he was at. 

The most amazing thing happened. I began to see beautiful qualities he’d always had more clearly because my focus was no longer on perceived deficits. I could appreciate his strength of character, unconventional wisdom, and humility. And on top of that, I began to clearly see he’d long since laid down the expectations he’d had for me that I wasn’t meeting (because – spoiler alert – I’m not perfect either). 

Both of us being free from the disappointment of unmet expectations eased our relationship dramatically. And again, I’m not saying it was “bad,” I’m acknowledging that this made it “better.” Much better. It was a key turning point. Not that we fought often, but the rare ones even stopped with this shift.

As I write this we’re approaching our 18th anniversary, and I am so grateful for my wonderful husband. And while he still inherently shows me love in acts of service when I’m a touch and words of affirmation girl, and I tell him I love him constantly when he’d rather I ran the vacuum (or some other act of service), I can say unequivocally that we both feel blessed that the other is our spouse. We are still very imperfect, but we work well together now that we’ve managed our expectations appropriately and can see the blessing we have right in front of us.

Below is the video I share with my post The Impact of Expectations (How-to Manage Your Expectations), but since I share portions of this testimony in it as an example I wanted to include it here too.

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