One of the biggest energy draining experiences most adults stumble through is a strained marriage. I think back over the number of times Norma and I have been bent out of shape. It's amazing how the tone of our relationship could get so dark so fast. One hour, things would be great, and then instantly we'd be locked in an angry argument over some earth-shaking situations like "Oh, no, you didn't say that! You said you wanted to stop and eat there, so my mouth has been watering to taste their specialty. How dare you change your mind!"
We were in our camper driving out of Prescott, Arizona, one morning. I wanted breakfast at this certain restaurant where Norma had agreed to stop, but as we got close, she remembered this other place and asked if we could eat there instead. We quickly found ourselves locked in a three-hour battle, and all kinds of things came out that had nothing to do with eating breakfast. The "discussion" created a gap between our marital expectations and reality, to say the least. After we ate at some restaurant neither of us liked, we got back in the camper and decided to reexamine the marriage area of our respective "gardens."
I was wiped out, feeling like a failure and as if all our progress at being a loving couple had been washed away in one three-hour torrential downpour. We were never going to make it. In the middle of this type of crisis, my personality tends to see only the negatives. But Norma tends to put things in a more realistic perspective. I remember her saying, "Just look at all the things that go great between us, and this is only one speck in the scope of all the years we've been married." That knack of pulling our expectations and reality closer together gives me more energy to continue the discussion.
We took a closer look at expectations and reality. Were expectations unrealistic? Was reality as bad as it seemed? As for reality, Norma helped clarify that our whole relationship had not flooded away. She helped me take some of my own advice: Avoid extreme thoughts. Chicken Little, the sky is not falling.
As for expectations, we decided that some of my expectations about our marriage—that we would always be at peace—were just not practical or realistic. No couple can live each day without some disagreements or even major conflicts. Conflicts are inevitable and can even by healthy. Even if a couple can't work things out for a few days, that's OK. So I had to develop new expectations, ones that were more pragmatic.
Here's what happened to Norma and me.
Driving down the highway, we both evaluated our marriage and began making a list of things we expected to receive and what we believed would be acceptable for a mutually satisfying relationship. It's amazing how just talking and agreeing on those marital basics has increased our levels of energy and love for life and each other.
Are you willing to sit down and share your expectations with your spouse? Are you open to listening and relearning new, more pragmatic expectations for each other?
It's the gap between what we expect and what we get that drains our energy. When our experience is close to what we anticipated, we're stronger and more content. That bolsters our ability to keep on loving. But unless we talk about those things and bring our expectations to the surface, our mate may not know our wishes, and we may find ourselves facing an energy-sapping gap between our desires and our reality.
God does have an expectation for your marriage relationship. It's called "forever-love" or as we see it described in the Bible—agape—or unconditional, accepting love. Read 1 Corinthians 13 to find out more about this kind of love.
As you beginning to understand God's expectation of your marriage and for you, his Spirit will reveal and convict you of areas that require change. Remember, you cannot change your spouse. But, God gives you the power to change. God also works in the lives of others in ways you cannot to grow and change them.
(c) 2005 Smalley Relationship Center.