Unreal Expectations: Three Things Your Spouse Cannot Do For You
Just a little heads up before you read this article: you’re likely going to be offended. If you fancy yourself to be a bit of a romantic, you will definitely be offended.
One other note: I fancy myself to be a bit of a romantic. I moved halfway across the country for a girl, whom I had dreamed about dating for several years, whom I then married. I’m a romantic. So…if I offend you, please know that I offend myself as well.
Some sociologists today are arguing that our society has experienced a great shift in the way that we understand romantic relationships. In the middle of the last century, most young men and young women were looking for what sociologists call “companionate” marriages. In regular people terms, young co-eds were looking for another young co-ed with similar values who they sensed would be a good companion in life. Sometimes, feelings of romantic love would also be present. Often, the romantic love would blossom later, through the experience of going through life together as a married couple.
Today, most of us wouldn’t ever consider getting married without strong feelings of romantic love. We’re not looking for a “companion,” we’re looking for a “soul mate.”
There is, obviously, nothing wrong with desiring (and seeking) romantic love. I have a deep romantic love for my wife. There is, however, a potential pitfall to this mentality. Stated much more eloquently than I could express it:
Marriage was an economic institution in which you were given a partnership for life in terms of children and social status and succession and companionship. But now we want our partner to still give us all these things, but in addition, I want you to be my best friend and my trusted confidant and my passionate lover to boot, and we live twice as long. So we come to one person, and we basically are asking them to give us what once an entire village used to provide: Give me novelty, give me familiarity. Give me predictability, give me surprise.” - Ester Perel
See the problem? I love my wife and I want her to love me, but I’m not sure that I’m up for meeting all of those expectations. Frankly, if she’s expecting me to do all of those things, all of the time, she’s going to be disappointed.
When we come to one person with the expectation that they be our everything, we fail to take into account one very simple reality:
A Spouse Can Only Do What a Spouse Can Do.
Your spouse can do a lot, but your spouse cannot do everything. Specifically, here are three things that a spouse cannot do (BTW, this is where you’re likely to get offended):
Your Spouse Cannot Fix You: I know, all of you know this. But lots of us don’t live like we know this. We’ve got problems before we get married. We get married and have the same problems. We get frustrated with our spouse because of our problems. Subconsciously, we expect our spouse (our soulmate) to fix us. That’s a tall order. I’m not marrying anyone who wants me to fix them (or anyone else, for that matter, given that I’m already married).
Your Spouse Cannot Complete You: Uh oh, now you’re offended. Let’s take this argument to its logical conclusion, however. What makes you think that before you met him you were only half a person? No one thinks that. There’s nothing in psychology or biology or theology to suggest that until you find your “soul mate” you’re walking around as half a person! She makes you feel nice, and that’s great, so say that instead: “You make me feel nice.”
Your Spouse Cannot Make You a Better Person: And…now I’ve lost all of you. There’s a nuance here…an important one. Yes, people can help you become better; but no, no one can make you become better (or worse, for that matter). That’s a 'you thing' and a God thing.
After more than eight years of marriage, I love my bride more today than the day we got married. Again, I’m a romantic. I’m pretty sure she still loves me too. But check this out: if she had been expecting me to do those three things these past eight years, she’d be pretty disappointed in me and our marriage by now. I’ve loved her well, but I haven’t done those three things – because I can’t do those three things.
A spouse can only do what a spouse can do.
So what can a spouse do? I really think there is only one thing that only a spouse can provide (everything else friends can also provide). The one thing only your spouse can do: create with you a unique quality of intimacy. Only a spouse can work with you to have the unique level of intimacy that healthy married couples achieve.
With that in mind, I believe there are three things that characterize a healthy marriage:
Healthy marriages work to create and recreate intimacy. If intimacy is the only thing that your spouse can exclusively provide for you, then this ought to be one of the most important things that you are working on with your spouse. I don’t mean intimacy just in the physical sense, ladies. Your men also need emotional intimacy and vulnerability. This type of intimacy is something you have to work at constantly.
Healthy marriages are surrounded by a network of other relationships. If you can’t be everything for your spouse, this implies that you cannot live on a relational island with your spouse. Your spouse can be your best friend, but he or she cannot be your only friend.
Healthy marriages provoke each individual towards love for God and others. Hebrews 10:24 is printed inside my wedding ring. It says, “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.” While we can’t make our spouse a better person, but we can provoke our spouse towards love and good deeds. We can provoke them towards a relationship with Christ.
Here’s one final bolded sentence: Only God can do what only God can do.
Your spouse cannot fix you, complete you, or make you a better person - only God can do these things. When our needs are met by Christ, we find that we are freed up to truly love and enjoy the people around us. Healthy dating, engaged, and married couples are rooted in two things: 1) they are rooted in realistic expectations for one another, and 2) they are rooted in a relationship with Christ, who is able to meet all of the deep needs of our souls.