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Set the Right Expectations for Marriage

  • Whitney Hopler Contributing Writer
  • Updated Sep 15, 2011
Set the Right Expectations for Marriage

Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Margaret Kim Peterson and Dwight N. Peterson's book, Are You Waiting for “The One”?: Cultivating Realistic, Positive Expectations for Christian Marriage, (IVP Books, 2011).

Too often, people approach marriage expecting that God has a perfect spouse in mind for them, and if they can only find that perfect person to marry, they’ll enjoy a marriage as perfect as a romantic fairy tale.

The problem is that such expectations simply aren’t realistic. Even worse, those who marry expecting perfect romantic love to result can get so disappointed that they give up on their marriages – missing out on the real love with which God wants to bless them.

Here’s how you can avoid chasing fairy tales and discover real love by setting the right expectations for marriage:

Ask God to help you view your marriage the way He does. Pray for the wisdom you need to see your marriage from God’s perspective: as a tool for learning how to love more deeply. Reject the mistaken notion that your marriage is about the love that you receive; embrace the truth that your marriage is about the love you give. Be alert constantly to the many ways in which God may use your marriage to teach you to rely on Him and choose loving attitudes and actions toward your spouse. In the process, you’ll grow in your ability to love God and other people – and that love will return to bless you.

Give up searching for the perfect spouse so you can find the best spouse. Accept the reality that no one is perfect in this fallen world, so you won’t be finding a perfect spouse or be able to be one yourself. However, if you decide to become the best person you can be – which includes relying on God’s grace to overcome your imperfections and loving others even though they’re not perfect – you can find the best spouse for you: a real person who’s willing to partner with you to deal with life’s limitations and challenges together.

Cultivate the fruit of the Spirit. While a fairy tale tells you that you need your marriage to be exciting to be successful, God tells you that your marriage can be fulfilling all the time (even when it’s not particularly exciting) if both you and your spouse are develop a close relationship with the Holy Spirit, who will help you grow in important qualities: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. So make it a high priority to cultivate these fruit of the Spirit.

Place your confidence in the transforming power of God’s grace rather than in the goodness of your family. Don’t worry about trying to achieve the perfect family life with your spouse that a fairy tale approach to marriage pressures you to achieve. Realize that a good family isn’t an end in itself; it’s a means to growing closer to God. Simply aim to build a family with your spouse that: welcomes others in hospitality, acts compassionately to help hurting people, works for more justice in the world, tells the truth, and works out problems to reconcile broken relationships. As you do, God’s grace will work in your family to help you and your spouse grow into the people He wants you to become.

Make peace. It’s not realistic to expect a conflict-free marriage in this fallen world. But when you and your spouse do encounter conflict, try your best to resolve it peacefully. Let what you learn about living peacefully within marriage help you become a peacemaker in your relationships with other people. Expose violence and stand up to it. Help abused people you know get the help they need to live healthier lives. Encourage the people around you to resolve their conflicts peacefully, and teach them how to do so.

Build a strong friendship with your spouse. Even though a fairy tale view of marriage emphasizes the romantic part of marriage, realistically, the romantic attraction between you and your spouse will come and go as your circumstances change. However, the friendship between you two will remain constant, no matter what circumstances you go through together. So focus on building a strong bond of friendship between you. If you’re too busy to spend time to spend together regularly (which is essential for building a strong friendship), then intentionally slow down and make time with your spouse a high priority.

Make informed decisions about sex. An overly romantic notion of sex ignores important facts that you need to be aware of to enjoy a healthy marriage. Instead of pressuring your spouse to fulfill your romantic fantasies and trying to live up to your spouse’s fantasies, get real about all the issues that sex can bring into your marriage. Openly and honestly discuss issues such as contraception choices, fighting threats to your relationship like pornography and affairs, and how to deal with sexual changes brought on by aging and illness.

Be realistic about children. While fairy tales may picture husbands and wives with just the right number of healthy children right when they want to have them, realize that you can’t count on experiencing that in your actual marriage. Be prepared to deal with surprises that this fallen world may bring you, such as infertility, unexpected pregnancies, miscarriages, or children who are born with illnesses or disabilities. Commit with your spouse to rely on God together as you deal with issues involving children.

Build a household together wisely. A fairy tale perspective on marriage ignores the reality that spouses must figure out how best to divide the workload that running a household requires, from chores to errands. Be sure to work the details out with your spouse according to each other’s skills and time and energy levels. Also, learn how to manage your shared finances wisely, including living below your means, staying out of debt, giving generously, saving, and investing. When making career decisions, aim to choose more time together over more money, since time together is ultimately more valuable.

Look forward to growing old together. When you approach marriage like a fairy tale, you usually focus on today’s pleasures rather than thinking ahead. But God may give you and your spouse the opportunity to grow old together. Plan for that time, in case you get to experience it. Build traditions together around holidays and other special times. Encourage and support each other as you each work toward creating a positive legacy to leave behind after you die. Thank God regularly for the time you have together – even when it’s marked by loss or sorrow – and make the most of it.

Adapted from Are You Waiting for “The One”?: Cultivating Realistic, Positive Expectations for Christian Marriage, copyright 2011 by Margaret Kim Peterson and Dwight N. Peterson. Published by IVP Books, a division of InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill.,

Margaret Kim Peterson (Ph.D. Duke University, Durham, North Carolina and M.Div. Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, Massachusetts) serves as associate professor of theology at Eastern University, St. Davids, Pennsylvania. She is the author of Sing Me to Heaven(Brazos, 2003) and Keeping House(Jossey Bass, 2007) as well as several articles and contributing chapters to books. She wrote a chapter for Women, Ministry and the Gospel(InterVarsity Press, 2007) as well as a section titled "Marriage" in The IVP Women's Bible Commentary(InterVarsity Press, 2002). Peterson has given numerous lectures and offered courses at conferences, churches and universities on a wide range of topics including healing, hospitality, AIDS awareness and support, Trinitarian doctrine and marriage.

Dwight N. Peterson (Ph.D. Duke University, Durham, North Carolina and M.Div. Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, Massachusetts) currently serves as professor of New Testament at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He is the author of The Origins of Mark (2000, Brill). Peterson has also written articles for several scholarly and popular publications including Bulletin for Biblical Research, Ex Auditu, Christianity and Theatre and Prism. He and his wife, Margaret Kim Peterson, have delivered talks together on marriage at Eastern University and North Park University in Chicago.

Whitney Hopler is a freelance writer and editor who serves as both a contributing writer and the editor of’s site on angels and miracles ( Contact Whitney at: send in a true story of an angelic encounter or a miraculous experience like an answered prayer.