Well, on Sunday, we mark 5 years since saying, "I do" to the list of items we vowed to be together through. Not simply together, though; not simply by each other's side...but, to grow together - to become one through good and bad, rich and poor, sickness and health. As we close in on 5 years, I finally think I have some advice to offer. (Maybe.)
Some time after getting married, I read someone's blog post about marriage advice. She is a Christian woman whose opinion I respect, who'd been married for about 16 years at that time. She had been given this advice and she thought it quite apt: "Have no expectations."
I read that at a point where I was having some type of a struggle with this whole marriage-thing. Don't get me wrong - marriage is the best thing that has happened to me...but, there were times during our first 4 years that it also felt like the worst. Sometimes more of "the worst" than the best, to be honest. It seems so overused to say marriage is "the best hard thing" because sometimes the hard feels SO. HARD.
When I read that post, my first - and pervasive question was, "BUT HOW?" HOW do you have NO expectations? Isn't that the natural thing? To have expectations? To expect something? I just didn't get it. If you don't have expectations, why are you getting married? Don't you want to get something out of it?
...and that, is why the first four years were hard. Because I was way too focused on myself - and what I was getting out of this whole deal. How is this love?
Regarding expectations, I think the first thing a couple should do is examine the role their in-law plays in marriage. As a wife, what role does your mother-in-law take? That is going to be your husband's unspoken expectation of his wife. As a husband, what role does your father-in-law have? That is going to be your wife's unspoken expectation of you. ...and those unspoken expectations are some things that you, as a couple, will have to discuss and address, in your becoming one.
For us, our budget/bookkeeping brought this to light. We were on our honeymoon when our differing expectations started to come to light. After paying for our dinner, Dan handed me the receipt. I balked. What was I supposed to do with this? Why did I need this? He said, "Well, don't you want it, so you can keep track of it? For the budget?" Oh. I didn't realize that was going to be my job. I thought it would be his job!
The other area of expectations that you have to deal with is comparison to others' relationships. I struggled for a long time comparing Dan to my friends' husbands. It certainly wasn't helpful for my relationship with him. Who wants to feel like they don't measure up? In what way is this fair? Moreover, though, in what way is that love?
For me, the greatest lesson I have learned in marriage is how to love. Regarding expectations, I would advise that you currently have no idea how much you don't know how to love. You will be stretched. You will be tried. If you're doing it right, you will be broken. And, really, it's not you who will be broken - it's your expectations. It's your idea of love - and how you thought you were able to - maybe even good at - loving.
The greatest gift I have been given is an immensely patient, gentle, humble man, who is willing to stick with me through life. He isn't perfect; no. But, he has born my inadequacies, infirmities, insults. He loves me through them. He loves me. The greatest gift I have been given is the real experience of living the Sacrament. Marriage is a Sacrament because it's a revelation to the world of who Jesus is; how he loves us, and we love in return. When Dan has born my shortcomings and sins, and loves me anyway, that is a picture of how Jesus loves me. He tells me that I am more than what I do (or don't); I am more.
A lot of people mention the trial of this past year for us. To be honest, this was the best thing for us. I needed something major to snap me out of my self-serving spiral. Spiritually, I was out of touch with the love of God; keeping him at arm's length; afraid of getting too close; afraid of being changed too much; afraid of yielding control. God has saved me through this trial because he showed me how to LOVE Dan.
It's taken 5 years, but I am finally learning how to respect the man that Dan is, to love what he brings to the table - and together we figure out how to overcome our faults. It's taken this life-altering event for us to recognize the gift that each day is, and the gift that each day we have together. Marriage is one of the greatest gifts that we are given - if you are ready to be emptied of yourself and to love another as more than yourself.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When
I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I
reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
[1 Corinthians 13]