It is amusing to watch the reaction of many people when they learn that Barbara and I have been married for 48 years. They look at us with wonderment as if they were observing the last of a virtually extinct species. We aren’t nearly as impressed with ourselves. We realize we are not perfect and have discovered that marriage takes a lot of work. We are thankful for God’s grace and each other’s grace in our lives and marriage.
My parents had been married for 65 years when my mother was the first to die. We know other couples who have been married for more years than that. People do have lifelong marriages! While we never presume upon life, we eagerly look forward to celebrating our Golden Anniversary.
When we recited those marriage vows that included “til death do us part,” we did not do so flippantly. There was going to be no looking back. Our lives would be cemented together as one from that day forward, not because we were obligated to do so but because our vows were rooted in our souls, founded on love, intertwined with love for and commitment to God – not to be later doubted or fretted over in fear we made a mistake. No, we were all in. And we still are. No looking back with regret. Only looking forward with anticipation.
So what is the key to establishing a marriage for life? Never having a disagreement or argument! Hopefully, when you read that sentence you immediately recognized it as facetious. Barbara and I chuckle and roll our eyes about a “big” argument we had when we were newly married. I angered her, and she threw the Hostess Ding Dong that was in her hand at me. In anger, I retaliated by throwing one back at her. We both missed. As one plastered Ding Dong slid down the wall leaving a squiggly chocolate trail and the other did the same on a kitchen cabinet, we began laughing at the silliness of what we had just done (as well as the financial cost of assassinating two Ding Dongs!). I am happy to report we have not repeated that food fight.
No, two individuals cannot dare to unite their lives as one without some friction between entirely different personalities and backgrounds. Dying to self does not come easily. In honor preferring one another (Romans 12:10) runs counter to our base natures if they are not redemptively renewed each day. Differences and arguments are going to happen, and we need to be able to keep them in perspective, offering grace to each other instead of allowing the disagreements to escalate with long-term ramifications.
I believe prospects for long and blessed marriages are profoundly influenced by expectations. There are some expectations of a marriage that are foundational and appropriate and if not honored will undermine or destroy a marriage.
- FAITHFULNESS. No excuses about this one. Fidelity is foundational and indispensable to trust, and when one or both people in a marriage do not trust each other it is like sepsis, a toxic blood infection that seeks to conquer the entire body. It is a realistic expectation that your spouse will be faithful to you.
- LOVE. A marriage without love is but a living arrangement. Here today and gone tomorrow and on to the next arrangement. However, love must be understood as being much more and much deeper than emotion. Emotion depends on the day. (“She loves me, she loves me not.”) Love involves resolve that transcends feelings.
- TRUTHFULNESS. A marriage cannot thrive when there is doubt about a spouse’s integrity and believability. A lack of truthfulness undermines trust and willingness to stand with each other in difficult times and situations. “Do I believe him/her?” should never be part of a marriage. Lack of truthfulness corrodes marriage at its core.
- COMMITMENT. “Come what may, including tragedies, disappointments, failures, or wealth, I am with you. You can count on me. I will be there with you and for you, in the best and worst of times.” Commitment means not looking elsewhere for relational or sexual fulfillment. Commitment represents backbone in following through.
- GOD-CENTERED SPOUSE. When God is at the center of a marriage, it means both the husband and wife are devoted to the Lord and make relationship with Him priority one, even before their spouse. This priority enriches and deepens the relationship with your spouse! There is no substitute for asking and allowing God to be part of a marriage. Passionately activating and applying truths and principles from God’s Word provides a firm foundation for a meaningful and mutually fulfilling marriage.
When one of those realistic expectations is violated, it tears at or destroys the others. Each realistic expectation leans upon the others. Can marriages survive a breakdown in realistic expectations? Yes, when repentance, forgiveness, and demonstration of faithful commitment to those expectations are clear, convincing, and lasting. Without those steps, however, a marriage cannot withstand having its foundation of realistic expectations violated and destroyed.
Unrealistic marital expectations chip away at a marriage’s foundation. They siphon energy, love, and joy by imposing demands that are unlikely to be met. Unrealistic expectations skew and confuse perspective, the ability to evaluate frustrations in the context of a big picture. There are probably many unrealistic expectations that negatively impact marriages. I will just focus on three.
- He/she will change into the person I desire. This unrealistic expectation has killed many marriages. Although both spouses should grow and mature, the personality traits you see at the beginning are imprinted. I knew one of Barbara’s characteristics was a healthy enjoyment of interactive attention. In contrast, I do not desire attention and can become uncomfortable with very much of it. For years I thought my trait was mature and hers was immature, and I hoped she would grow out of her need for attention. It was at an eye-opening marriage weekend event that I learned about the individual needs every spouse has and that those needs should be celebrated instead of interpreted as something to change. It was as if a blindfold dropped from my eyes! Now Barbara’s natural need for attention is something I love and enjoy about her. It is part of what makes her delightful to me, and I love looking for ways to fulfill her need. She did not need to change who she is; I needed to embrace who she is! Instead of trying to change your spouse, work at loving and understanding him or her. You might even see some change as a result!
- He/she will meet all my needs. All spouses should dedicate themselves to meeting needs of their spouses, but few will be completely successful. If you focus on the ten percent of your needs that your spouse fails to meet, you will never appreciate and love the ninety percent they succeed in meeting. No human, including your spouse, can meet all your needs. Remember, though, that God can minister to your deepest needs. A central mission of marriage is changing the usual human focus from meeting my needs first to meeting my spouse’s needs first. Understanding and dedicating yourself to that mission will revolutionize a marriage.
- He/she will be a perfect parent. Are you? I have never understood how a small child knows how to recognize differences between parents and will work to exploit those differences. If parents do not counter this type of behavior, they will encourage the child to become even more skilled in exploitation. Most parents start out parenting like they were parented, for good or bad, and have to learn about good parenting. That is vitally important homework! Share in that resolve and joy of discovery together.
What a splendid idea God had when He created marriage! Men and women are innately attracted to each other. This is true in every culture around the world. However, there is something ennobling, health-producing, uplifting, and holy when a man and woman consecrate themselves to God and each other in marriage. In the natural, marriage is a ridiculous proposition: two entirely different personalities constantly living together in commitment to each other, sacrificing together, raising a family together, tackling life together, and growing old together, all held together by the bond of heaven-blessed love. That is a journey! Barbara and I signed up for the ridiculous proposition and are so happy we did. We are determined to make it work by completing each other as we enjoy the journey. Thank you, Lord, for giving us this privilege!