Marriage Advice From A Christian Perspective

People -- We Can't Control Them

  • Gary Smalley The Smalley Relationship Center
  • 2004 20 Mar
People -- We Can't Control Them

For the first thirty-five years of my life I thought people were supposed to make me happy. My wife, children, friends, relatives, boss, fellow employees-all were part of a group I felt should charge my battery. This belief contributed to my problem with Bill. I enjoyed our friendship so much that I began to expect it to continue unchanged forever. In a subtle way, I shifted from following Bill's leadership to expecting him to cooperate with my goal of enjoying our unique friendship. I became more interested in our meetings than in the goals of the ministry. Preparing material and planning new strategies, while at first utilized as a means to help more people, became ends in themselves-ways to spend time with Bill.

I had similar expectations of my family. I wanted them to appreciate the great movement I was privileged to be part of and to serve me by submitting their desires to the goals of this great work. I had no problem expecting my wife and children to wait an hour outside in the cold until I finished a meeting. After all, I was helping to bring a spiritual and physical revival to our country. What could possibly be more important than that?

It was years before I realized, with grief and embarrassment, that I'd selfishly expected my wife and kids to serve my ambition. No wonder Norma and I weren't receiving much joy in our lopsided relationship.

I see this attitude frequently among young couples. Take, for example, a woman who dreams for years about finding "Mr. Wonderful." She believes this man will fulfill her deepest longing for intimacy. She pictures him sitting next to her on an overstuffed love seat in front of a warm fire, his arm around her, talking for hours. She sees them discussing their plans for the future, their next vacation, and how they'll redecorate the living room. She knows he will diligently fix things around the house, keep her car running smoothly, and be there to support and encourage her when she is discouraged. She often thinks of her husband-to-be as a waterfall cascading into her life, a never-ending source of fulfillment that will make her life overflow with meaning.

This woman doesn't know she's setting herself up for the very heartache she's trying to escape. It doesn't take long-usually no more than a few weeks into the marriage-and she begins to realize that her husband, in many ways, can't or won't cooperate with her expectations. The relationship she expected to bring her security may actually make her more insecure. Her husband may be the type who notices every attractive girl who walks by. He may be so wrapped up in his work that he shows little interest in her work or activities. He may be too tired to fix her car or make necessary household repairs. Even his interest in touching her may seem to have only sexual motivations.

Before long this woman, who once had so many dreams, begins to feel used and taken for granted, almost as if he had hired her as a maid. Not only is he not charging her battery, but his insensitivity has started to drain her emotional resources. If not corrected, she will eventually lose whatever amount of love, happiness, and peace she had when she entered the marriage.

When her husband fails to meet her needs, she may think of an alternative: "If my husband isn't going to meet my needs," she reasons, "I'll have a family. Children running around the house are just what I need to be fulfilled!" Too late she discovers that children, rather than charging her battery, have an amazing capacity to short-circuit her power cord.

A man also enters marriage with many expectations. He pictures how his wife will respond to him. Each day she will comment on how gifted he is as a lover, husband, and father. Without question, she will prepare delicious meals every night and always respond warmly to his sexual desires.

Soon he, too, discovers that not only is she unable to charge his battery, but being around her produces a brownout. Like her, his insecurity increases, and he may begin to think he married the wrong person. He may even begin to look around for another woman he thinks will better meet his needs and become his ultimate "battery charger." An affair for either spouse may well produce a momentary charge-but it doesn't take long before there's a major power shortage as the spouse attempts to keep the affair a secret. Affairs are a lot easier to start than finish. Repairing the damage from an affair is like trying to rewire an entire house after it's been hit by lightning, blowing all the circuits.

Husbands and wives are by no means unique here. Most everyone experiences frustration because they look to people to fulfill their expectations. Children may long for greater love from and better communication with their parents. Parents may feel "taken advantage of " by their children. Employees often feel that employers do not care about them as people. Employers may feel that employees have no sense of loyalty or gratitude. And many Christians feel betrayed when certain "super-Christians" succumb to temptation and turn out to be just as human and just as prone to failure as anyone else.

In the book of Proverbs we read, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick" (13:12). Many husbands, wives, children, employees, employers, and friends put their hope for fulfillment in other people, which eventually leaves them empty and frustrated inside. Researchers like Albert Bandura and other sociologists believe this looking to other people to supply our happiness is a major cause of many social problems. Their research on anger and acts of violence related to anger shows that a key contributing factor is "frustrated expectations," the same thing that leads to divorce, runaway youth, suicide, battered mates, kidnapping, and drug and alcohol abuse.

I am grateful I finally began to see this principle, because my unrealistic expectations of others kept me from gaining the fulfillment I was desperately seeking. No matter how "perfect" they might be, people would never be able to charge my life battery.

But if that is true, where then can we turn?

© Copyright 2003 Smalley Relationship Ceneter