THE MARRIAGE ABCS
Copyright © Ufuomaee
Unrealistic expectations in marriage have been called the “Silent Marriage Killer”. This dishonourable title is actually well earned, because our expectations pave the way for disappointment, bitterness and resentment, which steal our joy from enjoying whatever is good in our marriage. So it is important that as we guard our hearts with all diligence, we must also guard our expectations in marriage (Prov 4:23)!
Some people say that if you have no expectations, you will not be disappointed, but I would disagree. Having some reasonable expectations is good and needed. There are some basic things one should expect in marriage, and one should reject. Expectations are a type of hope, and without hope, there is no sustenance of life and joy. You are as the living dead. And you can also destroy the hope and joy of your spouse, if you act like you care about nothing and nothing moves you. They will stop making efforts to please you or to change, or even to recognise you in the marriage. And your low or no expectations for a blissfully unhappy marriage will still be dashed!
Yes, it is safe to assume that it can only get worse. You can expect to be disappointed, whatever the expectations you have for your marriage. So, if your expectations are pitifully low, expect worse! But if your expectations are better than average, you might get average and still be content. However, if your expectations are the thing of fairy tales, then expect even less than average, because nothing demotivates someone more than trying to live up to an unattainable standard! They will give up the farce, and you will be sorely disappointed.
So, have expectations, but let them to realistic, reasonable, moderate and attainable. But most importantly, lay them at the right place…at the feet of Jesus, and not at your spouse’s feet. The truth is Jesus is the only one we can trust with our expectations. We are to lay all our hope in Him, and cast all our burdens at His feet (Psa 55:22). With men, you can bet on being disappointed, but with God, you can bet on being pleasantly surprised! Humans let you down, but God shows you a better way.
The other thing to remember is to expect the unexpected. Life is not predictable. The only constant is change, and in change we have security. Your spouse may disappoint you, and they may yet surprise you. Expect the unexpected. Life may favour you, or you may be knocked down constantly. Expect the unexpected. Marriage is for better or for worse, richer or poorer. Though you may start off one way, you way enter into the bitter end, and struggle to get out. But you must get out together, because you are in it together. Expect your faith and love to be tested in every way.
But whatever life throws at you, whatever your spouse does to you, whatever temptations you face along the way…remember that you have an Anchor (Heb 6:19), who will establish you and ground you, so that you will not be utterly destroyed, and can rise again! If you are rooted in Him, if you abide in Him, despite the storms of life, you will still have joy and hope, and you will grow in love, because He is Love, and bear much fruit (John 15:1-5). You can expect Him to deliver you out of all your troubles… (Psa 34:17) You can expect Him to stay with you and comfort you in your loneliest and darkest moments… (Isa 41:10) You can expect Him to bring to completion the good work He has begun in you (Phil 1:6)!
Let us now look at five reasonable expectations we can have for our marriage, and then look at some unreasonable expectations we may carry into marriage.
Five reasonable expectations:
- Companionship. The first reason for marriage is companionship. God saw that it was not good for man to be alone, and so He made him a companion in woman (Gen 2:18). It is therefore reasonable to expect companionship from your marriage. Your spouse should be your first and best friend, but least of all…they should be a friend! They should be someone you can trust, someone you love and someone you like. And you should be the same to them. You will spend your marriage building on this basic foundation of friendship, and God’s work in your marriage is to make you MORE than friends, but ONE and the same. He does the binding, while you do the cleaving (Gen 2:24).
- Respect. This is the basic unit of love. You can’t love someone you do not first respect. In fact, if you disrespect them, you act as one who hates the person, by belittling them, thinking little of them, hindering them, and altogether opposing their rights to joy, love and peace. Every human being deserves to be respected, and have their rights protected and upheld. Love doesn’t thrive in putting down others or overpowering the weak, but in showing compassion and hope for them to overcome every hindrance to their success. In marriage, you need to show greater honor (or respect) to your spouse than you would any other human being. If you fail to respect your spouse, you are disrespecting (and hating) yourself (Eph 5:28-29) and sabotaging your marriage! Give and expect respect in your marriage.
- Tribulation. Trials will come (1 Pet 4:12-13)! It is a promise of life in a fallen world. You will be tempted! The Bible says that there is no temptation that is uncommon to man (1 Cor 10:13). There is really nothing new under the Sun (Eccl 1:9)! Apart from natural trials and normal temptations, you will also face evil persecution because of your faith and the state of the world (John 15:20; Matt 10:22). You will come across those who seek to destroy your marriage, through the spreading of lies, laying down of traps and other forms of attack. It can be spiritually motivated, and it can also simply be natural coincidence. But expect tribulation. Expect to be tried and tested. But “consider it pure joy, brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (Jam 1:2-4).
- Maturity. God uses trials to build up our spiritual man (1 Pet 1:6-7). Through trials, we learn to trust in God, to be dependent on Him, to submit to His wisdom, to imitate Him in love, knowing that love conquers all (1 Cor 13:8). We progress from a place of entitlement to a place of servitude, just as Christ left the glorious riches of Heaven to serve the lowliest in the world (Phil 2:6-8). Even as we bear fruit by abiding in Jesus, we must be pruned so that we can bear more. So we keep learning and growing into the image of Christ. Marriage, with all its challenges, is the greatest place to learn what love means! Expect to grow up in marriage. Many enter thinking they know what love is or means. They don’t have a clue! It is in the serving, being broken, forgiving, depending, submitting, building up, trusting and long-suffering that we learn what love is and what it demands, and are able to mature in love and bear fruit! Appreciate and submit to the process of growth.
- Victory. Expect to be victorious in marriage! Yes, you can! Don’t look at the statistics, because the statistics tell of those who didn’t believe, not of those who through faith, made it to the promise land. This is a reasonable expectation, because as we already established YOU ARE BLESSED. And your marriage is blessed. And the Lord is looking to use your marriage to grow your character, strengthen your faith, build up your spouse, train up your children and teach the world about His enduring love. He is with you, and He wants you to succeed. All you have to do is trust and obey, and abide in Him. For without Him, you can do nothing (John 15:5). Victory is not dependent on the amount of trials, or the nature of trials, but on the might and glory of your God. His word cannot return to Him void (Isa 55:11). Believe in it, and fight for your marriage!
Five unreasonable expectations:
- Soul Mate. I will not tell you it is impossible, but it is HIGHLY unlikely that you have a soul mate, and that you will meet your soul mate in your lifetime, and that you will even marry such a person! You will probably lose out on finding a GOOD partner, because they didn’t meet up to this great expectation for a match made in heaven. It is better to look for someone who is mature, who shares the same faith and vision for life and marriage as you, and someone who is attractive to you and who you love to be around, than to look for your perfect match. And even if you think you found your perfect match in your spouse, please expect to be disappointed, because as long as they are still human, they have flaws, and you will soon find them! It is better not to hold anyone to such unrealistic standards.
- Worship. It is one thing to expect honour in marriage. It is quite another to expect worship. This is an abuse of love and respect. Only God is worthy of worship, and is entitled to demand worship. You are not God, and neither is your spouse. Do not place them on a pedestal to worship, nor let yourself be placed on a pedestal to be worshiped. It is normal to want to be adored, admired and respected, but we have to be careful because in this fallen world, even our normal desires are easily corrupted with pride. It has been said that with great power comes great responsibility, and none of us is able to handle the responsibility that is laid on us, when we are exalted in worship! We must learn to think humbly of ourselves and be content with receiving pure love and respect. If you will not humble yourself, expect to be humbled (Matt 23:12)!
- Ease and Luxury. No matter how much we are warned that marriage is not easy, that we will be tried…there is no shortage of those who get the wake-up call after saying “I do!” and are ‘shocked’ by the reality and simplicity of marriage, compared to their glamourous imaginations. This is especially hard, because in romance and courtship, you may have been promised provision, protection, security, stability by a well-meaning fellow or by someone who was enjoying such a lifestyle before they married you. But SHIT HAPPENS. If you do not expect the unexpected, you won’t be able to survive when an outcome you never expected or planned for happens. Your pampered personality will take a beating! Your spouse will be shocked by your naivety and your fickleness, when you start complaining and accusing and reacting badly to a situation you may have dealt with better, if you had been more realistic in your expectations. So, expect to be shocked by life!
- No Change. If there is one constant in life, it is change. Yet fools enter marriage thinking that they will never change, their spouses will never change, their circumstances will never change (at least only get better), and their feelings will never change. But life changes us daily. As we learn, we change. As we watch, we change. As we read, we change. We are constantly having to change our perspectives, ideologies and expectations. Consider the changes technology has made on our relationships….not simply our businesses! Change is not always visible, but like the Earth spins on its axis, it is happening, without our knowledge nor our assistance. You will change. Your spouse will change. Your circumstances will change. Your feelings will change. But God’s wisdom will not. It is His wisdom that will sustain you through all your changes, and make them have POSITIVE rather than negative effects on your life and on the world (Rom 8:28). Expect change!
- Failure. Only a fool starts a mission expecting failure (Luke 14:28-30). Yet, that is the attitude we are teaching people with the idea that divorce is okay, and in fact, they should plan ahead for divorce, so that it is more favourable to them when it happens! Like I already said, if you have such low expectations, expect to have crash landing sooner than expected! Those who enter marriage must be of the mind that it will and must work. They must envision every exit barred in a place where every tool for their success in buried for them to discover and utilise. Once they realise that there is no way out, they will learn by compulsion how to live in peace with one another. Once they begin to discover these hidden tools, they will begin to enjoy the adventure that is their marriage, and will soon forget about the barred exits. In fact, they won’t want to leave at all, even if the exit was to be opened, because they have allowed themselves time to mature in love and their attitudes towards each other have changed for the better. Like the song by Jimmy Cliff says: “You can get it if you REALLY want… But you must try, try and try, try and try… You’ll succeed at last!“
It is important to curb and finetune our expectations, even at the point of dating and courtship. Unfortunately, this a period when people who don’t really know who they are or what they are capable of market themselves to their potential spouse. They present a very good image, they go over and beyond themselves to win the other’s affections, they are in their best behaviour, intentionally or unintentionally deceiving and being deceived about what awaits them in marriage. So, by the time you enter marriage, the acts cease, the scales fall off, and you are faced with reality…a reality you were not expecting and were not prepared for! This can be heart-breaking, and if not rightly handled, the two people who just pledged eternal love to each other may be eagerly trying to get their marriage annulled!
It is therefore important to discuss your expectations for marriage before you enter marriage. You need to be brutally honest with yourself and your partner. This is the place for addressing what you just can’t stand and what you can’t live without, and the time where you will need to consider if your expectations are reasonable or not, and change them, before marriage forces you to change or drop them out of resentment. You need to also consider that your knowledge of yourself is not whole, and expect that not only will you surprise your spouse with who you really are…you will also shock yourself about what you are capable of when trials and temptations come! Remember, “let him who thinks he stands, take heed lest he falls” (1 Cor 10:12). Marriage counselling is very important for helping couples to honestly thrash out these issues, and assess their compatibility and chances of success in marriage.
Marriage is like an unexplored country…and you have to be ready to learn, adjust and keep learning from day one. Before marriage, you were presented with a brochure about all the good things that await you in this country. You saw the rivers, the beaches, the city life, the business prospects, the resorts and theme parks! You got really excited and couldn’t wait. You overlooked the fine print, which says that the land has several undiscovered landmines… You overlooked the fine print that says that there is a dormant volcano that may erupt during your stay there… You overlooked the fine print about some unresolved political conflicts in the land. Really, I can’t say this enough…expect the unexpected!
On a final note, expect to enjoy getting to know who you are as a person, a spouse and a parent! Expect to enjoy the journey of marriage, however turbulent. It will not be boring! Expect to be challenged emotionally, intellectually and even sexually. If you have been obedient to God to abstain from sex before marriage, you will soon discover that sex is not all you imagined it would be. It really isn’t as exotic as it appears in the movies. You will need to work at it, humbly and selflessly, so that you and your spouse are both fulfilled sexually in your marriage.
Don’t let your unrealistic expectations make you unhappy in a good marriage, and appreciate your marriage and your spouse for what it is and who they are. Lay your expectations before God, and focus on serving and blessing your spouse rather than being served or worrying about being happy. No one can make you happy or unhappy. Happiness is a choice, it is a matter of perspective.
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