One of my favorite parts of my job is doing pre-marital counseling. I’m so encouraged when a young crazy in love couple sits in my office and subjects themselves to God’s instruction for their upcoming marriage. I love it!
Inevitably, at some point in my first session with them I’ll ask, “Why do you want to marry each other?”
Although I get a ton of different answers, one or both of them usually say something like, “He / She makes me happy.”
In fact, I have yet to encounter an exception to some form of this answer. Most couples get engaged because of the feeling of happiness they experience when they’re with each other.
Most couples think they’ll never lose, “that lovin’ feeling”.
But then something happens.
Sometimes it happens before the wedding, sometimes after. Sometimes it happens in the first year of marriage, sometimes not until 5 or more years in. And sometimes, it lasts weeks, months, or even years. Some couples even divorce when it happens. But, it always happens at some point to one degree or another.
How do some couples go from the emotional high of standing across the altar passionately reciting their vows to each other to sitting on the couch watching TV, night after night, wishing they were somewhere else, with someone else, and doing something else?
In short…unmet expectations.
- Your husband says, “I’m going to be a little late tonight”…for the 100th time
- Your wife asks if you mind leftovers tonight…for the 4th night in a row
- Your husband promises, again, to finally start praying with you and leading your family spiritually
- After the hustle and bustle of the evening with dinner, cleaning, and getting kids to bed, instead of that “perfect ending” to the night, your wife is already underneath the covers dosing off
The harsh reality is, at one point or another, to one degree or another, your spouse will let you down. How you respond to your spouse letting you down is the key.
Typically, unmet expectations are met with distance, disappointment, frustration, or even anger.
But there is another response. It isn’t popular, but it will result in your happiness being restored and your intimacy revived.
Here’s what it looks like to respond when your spouse doesn’t do what you think they’re supposed to do or act they way you think they’re supposed to act:
- Be Committed – The best possible environment for happiness to be restored is one that is secure. Let your spouse know you will stay with them no matter what. Replace phrases like, “I’m not sure how long I can take this“, or “If you ever do that again, I’ll…,” with, “We’re going to work through this together.” or, “I’m in this with you…for the long haul.” By the way, the absence of expressing secure love is almost as bad as expressing insecure love. Don’t leave your spouse in the dark with where you stand. Let them know you meant what you said on your wedding day, “For better, or for worse, until death do us part.”
- Be Realistic – Marriage is hard. Two sinners living under the same roof, sleeping in the same room, in the same bed is a recipe for disaster! Throw a couple “little sinners” in the mix and it really gets interesting! It’s a wonder any of us are happy! Juxtapose this reality with the overly romanticized marriage posts from all your “closest” friends on Facebook, and its easy, and dangerous, to start having unrealistic expectations for what your marriage should look like. Happiness will not be a constant in your marriage. Some couples experience more of it than others, but every marriage goes through varying degrees of unhappiness in different seasons of their relationship. Happiness will ebb and flow. We shouldn’t freak out when the feeling of happiness subsides, but we shouldn’t ignore it either.
- Turn the mirror around – Whenever you aren’t experiencing happiness in marriage you will naturally, because of sin, try and “hold up a mirror” to help your spouse see how they are contributing to the problem. Although there is a place for this, you should always start by giving a good long look at how you might be contributing to the lack of happiness in your marriage. The quickest way to turn the tide of happiness around is to turn the mirror around…at yourself.
- Obey – God wants you to be happy in your marriage (Deuteronomy 24:5). What’s his method for experiencing happiness? Obedience. Look at John 15:10-11, “If you keep my commands…your joy may be complete.” God’s method for achieving happiness is obeying Christ’s commands. What’s the most significant command of Christ? Love your spouse when they’re not measuring up (Matthew 22:37-40, Matthew 5:46). As you obey Jesus and live like he lived, your joy will be complete in the midst of unmet expectations. Our greatest satisfaction, or happiness, comes as a result of obeying Christ by loving our spouse…even when they don’t deserve it.
- Don’t love to be loved. Love because you are loved – True happiness is not rooted in your spouse’s love for you, but rather in a realization of God’s love for you. Imagine a good friend gave you an undeserved gift of $10,000,000. Now, imagine how you would respond if the very next week that same friend asked you to take their son or daughter to the airport. How would you respond? You’d offer to drive them to Japan, right?! In the same way, God has given you an indescribable gift – the gift of Jesus to rescue you from the eternal punishment of your sins, to give you power to comfort and provide for you in your current struggle with sin, and to give you the promise of spending eternity with Him in complete freedom from sin forever in Heaven. This is the ultimate expression of love (and much more valuable than 10 million dollars)! Now, God is asking you to love your spouse, not for your sake, and not even primarily for spouse’s sake, but for Christ’s sake and for God’s Glory (Psalm 106:8, 1 Cor 10:31). When you are aware of God’s love for you in this way, you will love your spouse freely. And, your feeling of happiness, or joy, will be as unending as God’s supply of love is for you (1 John 4:19).
- Don’t Quit – Love as much as you can, as often as you can, as sacrificially as you can, regardless of how you are being loved by your spouse. And, don’t quit! Love your spouse in a way that is worthy of Christ’s ultimate demonstration of sacrificial love for you – His death. And, just when you think you don’t have any strength left, ask Christ for more help. Remember, that his Grace (power) is made perfect in your weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Don’t become weary in loving your spouse! God says that at the right time you will reap a harvest as a result (Galatians 6:9). This clip frequently comes to my mind and motivates me when I’m tempted to give up:
Remember, your spouse will disappoint. Don’t try and minimize, manage, or control the disappointment, but rather turn your focus to the One who will never disappoint. In light of that reality, love your spouse the way you would like to be loved.