Disney World seems to be a rite of passage for every family with young kids. Earlier this year, we completed the mission to Mickey's house – a Christmas gift we gave our kids last year. A lot has changed there since I visited in my childhood. There are more attractions, more restaurants, more shows, and yes, more people. When we weren’t waiting in lines to meet Disney princesses and characters, we had a blast.
One thing hasn't changed all that much about that place – the classic love stories you see echoed in the Disney tales. From Beauty and the Beast to Cinderella, Snow White to The Little Mermaid, they all seem to have a “happily ever after” portrayal of perfection when it comes to love and marriage.
We’ve heard these stories from our youth so much we have them memorized. Are they harmless, or do they lead us on a fruitless path to chasing the impossible? Do they give a glimpse of what finding true love is like, or do they set us up for failure?
The Myth of a Perfect Marriage
According to PsychCentral.com, perfect marriage is a myth, and it’s largely attributed to the unrealistic expectations we place on our spouse. Mary Laner, a professor of sociology at Arizona State University, has concluded that we simply expect too much. When our spouse doesn’t live up to our expectations, we blame him or her instead of recognizing our own irrationality.
“We think that our partner can meet all our needs, know what we’re thinking, and love us even when we’re not terribly lovable. When those things don’t happen, then we blame our partner,” she says. “We think that maybe if we had a different spouse, it would be better.”
These aren’t just Laner’s perceptions. They are grounded in research. She studied the marital expectations of unmarried college students and compared them with those of people who have been married for about 10 years. The significantly higher expectations held by the students, she says, come straight out of the “happily ever after” fantasy.
“It’s our common lot in this kind of society to place very high expectations on those primary relationships to fulfill all of our needs, to match our dreams, to do everything for us that the seemingly cold outer society doesn’t do,” she says. As a result, we expect our husband or wife to meet all of our needs… and that’s just not possible.
Unmet Expectations of Marriage
My wife and I have very differing views on our first year of marriage. For me, everything seemed to be going great. I recall some disagreements, but I was just happy to have her companionship. But, now as we look back on our more than 13 years of marriage, my wife doesn’t remember that first year the same way I do. For her, it was way more challenging. For me, it was probably easy because I didn’t do anything! I was acted like getting married was the ultimate goal. After that, I could just relax.
She had expectations of marriage, and her husband, that I didn’t even know about. I’m not a very observant person, as it turns out. Marriage was not what she thought it was going to be. But, instead of hightailing it out – which never even crossed her mind, but could have – she worked on our marriage. We grew together, both closer to God and closer to each other as a result.
This “high expectation” game can have devastating consequences. We've all heard the troubling statistics. Nowadays, marriage seems just as likely to end in divorce as it does to stand the test of time. The bottom line is this: as long as there are two imperfect people involved in a marriage, there’s no chance of having a perfect one.
But, this is not reason to despair. A perfect marriage shouldn’t be our goal, since we know it is unattainable. Our goal should be that we become a better version of ourselves, which will naturally lead to a better relationship with our spouse. In other words, if I want to have a better marriage, I need to be a better me.
The Real Reason God Designed Marriage
Gary Thomas, trusted marriage and family expert and author of The Five Love Languages, wrote on this topic in his book Sacred Marriage. According to Thomas, marriage isn't as much about you and your spouse as it is about you and God.
“We have to stop asking of marriage what God never designed it to give — perfect happiness, conflict-free living, and idolatrous obsession," he explains. Instead, we need to recognize and understand why God designed marriage: to provide partnership and intimacy, sure. But, more importantly the ability to grow closer to God together.
The biggest misconception we have about marriage according to Thomas is “finding a ‘soul mate’ — someone who will complete us. The problem with looking to another human to complete us is that, spiritually speaking, it’s idolatry. We are to find our fulfillment and purpose in God... and if we expect our spouse to be ‘God’ to us, he or she will fail every day. No person can live up to such expectations.”
God didn’t design marriage to make us happy, even though it does often bring us happiness. He designed marriage to help us become holy and more like Jesus. The marriage relationship keeps us humble. It forces us into an others mindset. It requires selflessness, grace, mercy, and true love. It is designed to produce in us the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
What We Should Actually be Aiming For
A perfect marriage is no more attainable to us than a perfect life. But, does the fact that perfection is out of reach mean that we shouldn’t strive for it? The Bible says in 1 Peter 1:16: “Be holy, for I am holy.” No doubt, we all make mistakes, but God helps us along the way, molding us into the shape of His Son. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). We strive for perfection in our Christian walk because God is worth it.
In the same way, shouldn’t we strive for more in our marriage, even if perfection isn’t possible? Of course, we should. Marriage is worth it. Your spouse deserves the effort. But, priority one shouldn’t be pursuing a perfect marriage. It should be pursuing a perfect God. He desperately wants to have a relationship with us, and in the process, He wants to make us better people. Better people yield better marriages.
I can say this with absolutely certainty: if God helps me become the man He wants me to be, I’m sure to become the husband my wife wants me to be in the process.
Brent Rinehart is a public relations practitioner and freelance writer. He blogs about the amazing things parenting teaches us about life, work, faith and more at www.apparentstuff.com. You can also follow him on Twitter.
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