Women often have high expectations for their marriages - dreams of soul-stirring romance that blocks out life's burdens of exhaustion, tension, and pain. Wouldn't it be great if household chores didn't pile up? Wouldn't it be great if family members never irritated each other? Wouldn't it be great if wives always felt like princesses, lavishly loved and brimming over with joy to share with others? These are noble hopes, to be sure, but often unrealistic in our fallen world.

Rather than striving to fit their image of a perfect wife, women should acknowledge their imperfections and look to the only one who is perfect - God - for the grace they need in their marriages, says Terri Camp, author of the new book If It Weren't for Eve, I'd Be a Perfect Wife. Camp, the mother of eight children, candidly shares many of her struggles with sin in the book in the hope that her story will encourage other wives to discover more about God's grace.

"The world at large generally thinks of Christians as hypocritical," Camp says. "Perhaps that is because we try to appear to have it all together. In my early walk I found it difficult to find anyone who was sinful. No one seemed to have husbands that irritated them, children who disobeyed or houses in a constant disarray. I felt completely isolated in the Christian community. I struggled so much with thinking I had to be perfect in order to be a Christian, that I almost gave up, turning back to the world. If I'm willing to share what I did, and sometimes continue to do wrong, then perhaps others who are seeking Christ will see His perfect redemptive power in my life. And they will hopefully get a great grasp of the concept of grace."

Judging a Book by its Cover ...

Women, especially, are prone to looking at "externals" in people's lives - such as how many children someone has, or what talents she has, or her personal appearance, Camp writes. Then, she writes, they judge themselves and other women by those external factors too often. But God doesn't care about externals; what matters to Him is the condition of people's hearts. And He offers a way out of those destructive comparison games so wives can achieve personal contentment and treat others with respect and love.

"I think the first step is for women to see how destructive it is, not only to themselves, but to their ministry," says Camp. "I believe that every woman who is a child of Christ has a personal ministry. If we get so caught up in trying to be like others, or trying to look a certain way, our focus has been taken off of our savior and onto ourselves. ... I still struggle with this whole area of not being able to be everyone. I find myself looking around at my group of peers and think, oh, if I could only sew like Susan, or if I could just be diligent like Jill, and the list goes on. When those thoughts creep in, I have found that I must dump all that garbage at the feet of Jesus.  ... He always reminds me what He has called me to do."

Just as wives need to accept themselves as they are, they need to also accept their husbands without trying to change them, writes Camp. That's challenging for women who wish for a knight in shining armor, but in reality face a knight with armor that's full of chinks and tarnish. But God calls spouses to offer each other unconditional love and forgiveness as a way of life.

Looking back at the courtship she and her husband Steve shared helps Camp renew her love for him, she says. "In Revelation there is an admonishment for the church that has lost her first love of Jesus. If the church can lose their first love for a perfect savior, then obviously I could lose the first love of my husband who is imperfect. There was a point when I had to realize that I had an incredible responsibility to keep my mind and heart pure, even after marriage

"Women are often motivated by their thoughts. Whenever my thoughts stray away from my husband, I have had to learn to hold every thought captive, to not let it take hold of me. When my husband does something that really irritates me, I have to not dwell on it. I could easily hold onto something he said to me for days, weeks, or even months. Again, it's still a process, and I am far from perfect at it. I've also learned that I cannot expect perfection from my husband. That was a huge hurdle to get over in my own life."

Control Freaks

Women are often plagued by a stubborn desire for control - in their marriages, and other aspects of their lives, writes Camp. That urge to control "is the very foundation of the curse God placed on Eve and one that is not easily overcome," she says. "I can quickly take charge of every situation in our home. I'm not advocating that women sit back and do nothing in their homes, but often we are usurping our husband's authority simply because we don't think he'll do something that we think is important or that he'll make a decision we don't like." 

If wives pursue patience and discipline themselves not to forge ahead before their husbands, Camp says, they can discover how to work out better and more peaceful solutions.

When God says no to a request or asks people to wait, He has a good reason for doing so, says Camp. "I think a lot of times we get confused between God being faithful, and God granting our every wish. What I have found in my own life is when God was not answering my prayers as quickly as I was hoping, He was actually working a far greater thing in me than if He had simply granted my requests."

Camp also emphasizes how important it is for wives to help their husbands however they can. She encourages wives who feel they're shouldering too much of the burden for household chores to seek positive solutions rather than harboring resentment. "For one thing, open communication is vital," says Camp. "Often, though, a man is demanding because he's not getting some basic needs met in his life. When I feel that Steve is being demanding of my time and attentions, I will often discover that I have been more distant, busy, or unavailable for him. I also find it a good idea to research about personality types, love languages, etc.  Some of those tools when put in the hands of a loving wife will reap marvelous rewards for both the husband and wife. If we put forth the effort to truly help our husbands, we will see rewards beyond what we could have even imagined."

If wives can work on accepting the gifts of grace and unconditional love that God offers them, they'll discover something even better than the world's image of perfection, Camp says. "I used to think that one day I would arrive at a point that I would not have many struggles. Now, I see that as the lie from Satan that it was. I no longer long to be perfect.  I am now looking forward to the future as a place of greater love and joy and fellowship with the Holy Spirit. The future looks even brighter than ever when I see that there is no limit to the love that I can feel or exhibit."