“Every man’s way is right in his own eyes.” (Proverbs 21:2)
It began right at 5:00 am this morning. “Can we put the stuff we are moving in the living room?” (Esther) “I want to put it in the closet. I don’t want all that out there clogging up the area.” (Allen) “But if we put it in the living room, we will separate what is going and what is staying.” (Esther) Allen gives in. Half-hour later, another conversation goes like this. “You keep everything.” (Esther) “What do you mean by that?” (Allen) “You have every box for what you own and every imaginable bag that you bought stuff in. I don’t do that. But you know what? Sometimes, it’s good. Now I have all your dry cleaning plastic bags to put over your hanging clothes.” Esther gives in. If you are confused as to what is going on, I am here in Pittsburgh helping Allen move from the suburbs to a cute, trendy apartment in the Strip District. We are packing up his stuff. Fun times (insert sarcastic tone of voice here). We both had a “FORECAST”, a what’s-it-gonna-be-like mindset (there’s my fifth “F” in this WTF series – see first four at these links: FOO, Fidelity, Fallibility, and Faithful) for how it would play out. We came into this packing thing with a load of expectations.
When we got married almost 27 years ago, I imagined it all completely different. I envisioned romance, adventure, emotional closeness, spontaneity, laughter, someone to take care of me, and the embracing of differences. I believed in and expected the “happily-ever-after marriage.” After all, isn’t that the point of getting married? (I can hear some of you chuckling to yourself knowing how silly it all was.) I certainly didn’t envision to be bickering over how to pack up an apartment. After all, this apartment is part of a new adventure for us. It should be magical. (Yes, you are still chuckling.)
Allen’s vision for our marriage so long ago had very different hopes and expectations. He thought it would be filled with peace, physical and emotional closeness, lots of quality time together doing simple things, care for him, stability and harmony. He also believed in the “happily-ever-after marriage.” After all, isn’t that the point of getting married? (At this point, you need to stop chuckling so loud I can even hear you from here.) He certainly didn’t envision us bickering over how to pack up an apartment. After all, this apartment is part of the plan for us to have lots of quality time together getting to know his simple home city of Pittsburgh. It should be easy.
Every marriage is confronted with a vast assortment of expectations from both parties about what marriage and life should look like. We have been forming these for years before we are married, even from childhood. We come to believe that certain things are right and good and therefore want and expect them from our marriage partner. There is nothing wrong with this. It breaks down when we assume that we both have an identical picture of marriage and life itself. However, saying “I do” brings with it a host of conscious and unconscious expectations that aren’t always fulfilled. We see it play out day in and day out: simple things like how to pack an apartment and much more complicated things like how to discipline a teenager. When we have these sharp contrasts, they lead to unexpected arguments and stresses. When this happens on a regular basis, we find ourselves with a vast emotional chasm between us, something neither of us want or thought would happen.
This sounds like all bad news. As you think on your own marriage or marriage-to-be, it could seem overwhelming. “We fight all the time. We are so different. We want such contrary things from each other and from life.” Yes. It’s difficult. Yes. It takes a lot of work. But I am here to tell you that there is also really good news. And all the hard work is worth it.
As many of you know, Allen and I are the marriage mentoring coordinators at our church and we meet with and counsel engaged couples as they prepare for their upcoming marriage. Allen has a very favorite exercise (developed by our friend Glenn Murphy…BIG SHOUT OUT TO HIM!) that these couples do as part of the curriculum. Each couple writes a list of his/her own “Ten Commandments” (the unspoken expectations, the “roles and rules” that he or she brings into marriage). No matter where you are right now on your marriage journey, this might be super helpful to you. And it can be about any aspect of your life or marriage. Just this week, I spoke with our daughter, Sarah, as she and her husband are beginning to navigate raising a child and both working, and they sat down and wrote about what they both expect and want to happen in the next few months as it relates to their adorable son, Broden. And as I am thinking further about it, I need to seriously practice what I preach here and Allen and I need to sit down before we go about the rest of our day and do this about even something as simple as our expectations of the moving weekend before more bickering ensues and we feel disconnected and upset.
Anyhow, here is some “How To Do It” guidelines:
- Make intimacy (being fully-known and fully-loved) your over-arching goal. This will help create an environment of transparency and safety.
- Do this exercise separately without your partner’s input. Be careful not to write what you think your partner would expect or want. Be as honest as you can and don’t be afraid to have your voice be heard! (This comment is not for people like me who speak their voice loud and often.)
- Compare answers with your partner. Notice what you have in common and where you differ. You might just be surprised at both!!
- Provide a safe environment to discuss them and question each other with the goal of mutual agreement. This takes each person believing that expectations are not right or wrong, but different.
- Create a new, mutual list that where you both feel heard and what matters most is there. This is a huge opportunity to move from “ME” versus “YOU” to “US.”
Sometimes, there are things we cannot comfortably reach agreement with or compromise about. Here are some more thoughts for that scenario, which I promise will happen at some point in your journey of future expectations and decisions.
- Possibly discuss them with someone you trust who will not take sides. Look for feedback and input from them. This could be a mentor couple, a friend or even a professional counselor.
- Take a moment to pray together and ask God for wisdom as you navigate the conflict. Ask Him for unity of spirit and heart.
- Face the reality that some sacrifices are necessary for the sake of a loving, mutually satisfying marriage. This means that there are some things that are important to you but you will be choosing to give up , hopefully without any residual resentment or hostility.
- Realize that letting those things go might be painful depending on how important it is to you. It may hurt and cause some emotional distress. You may have to grieve what isn’t going to happen.
- Understand that there will be losses and there will be many gains. What IS going to happen may even be better than what isn’t going to happen.
- Trust the process. There is great hope and true intimacy (being fully-known and fully-loved) may just be the outcome, especially if you’ve made that your goal from the beginning. That’s what we all want anyway.
What’s it gonna be like for your marriage? What’s your FORECAST for the future? No matter where you are on your journey, there is always hope for greater healing and wholeness! I pray that your FORECAST would be bright!