I’m going to be a part of a good friends wedding in a couple of days. It was almost 4 years ago that I was in his position. Like him I was full of hope and excitement about this new reality. I also thought it would be an easy transition. I’ve lived with three brothers and one sister so how is living with someone I’ve actually chosen to love be all that hard? Many people dispensed their wisdom to me ranging from how fun it would be to how difficult. Internally I didn’t really take to heart what they said because I had already decided that I would be the best husband.
If I were to give any thought or wisdom to anyone getting married here’s what I would say. You are NOT going to be the best spouse. In fact, lower your expectations. Don’t walk into it thinking that life is going to get better and more enjoyable simply because you’re sharing a life. Do you remember how you thought owning a car meant freedom? Do you remember how much you paid the mechanic when this vehicle of “freedom” broke down? Do you remember how everyone began to use you for your car? Or how awkward it was when you were out of gas and had to ask your friends to pitch in?
The thing I discovered was that we both walked in with what we each considered “reasonable” expectations about what marriage would be like. They weren’t astronomical by any means. They were the small things. But like a pile of laundry, it gets higher and more complex to wash when you add different fabrics and preferences.
As all these things began to accumulate, the stronger we both held onto our expectations. We found solace in our image of marriage. We clenched them with all our might because to let go meant that we were settling. Settling is a swear word in the realm of relationships. Over time we both came to realize that many of our expectations had died. We hadn’t noticed that we were carrying decaying corpses around. At first we attempted to revive them with shouts of anger, resentment, unforgiveness and ultimatums. The stench of their death only became stronger in our marriage and began to affect other areas of our lives.
What we didn’t notice amidst the pile of dead bones was the signs of new life. Through the soil of our relationship things had begun to germinate and grow that we hadn’t noticed before. We failed to see that new expectations were born. They were beautiful. They were freeing. They were us. Together we had discovered new templates and images to live up to. We stumbled onto a new story to live for. I don’t know how it all happened but I know that cadavers make good fertilizer.
Recognizing the sprouting life in our marriage made it easier to put to death the expectations we came with. Sometimes it’s necessary to kill them. If you can do this early you’re ahead of the game. Other times they just die. And when they die bury them. So here’s my advice: Learn to bury expectations that have died awhile ago. Smell the air in your relationship. If there is a recurring stench it just might mean there is a carcass. Let them go. This can be painful and scary, but almost always it gives way for new, organic, resilient buds of expectations to emerge.