You thought that you and your knight’s marriage will never be the same as your parents’ marriage. There will be fireworks, you will not be able to leave each other alone in public and he will make you happy. But today there are sparks. And he doesn’t keep his promises.
Litah had planned her life in great detail. She didn’t expect much, she often told herself, only that she would meet her dream man (about 1,88m tall, honey-blond hair and blue-green eyes). He would own a Volvo or a Jaguar, love Labradors and art films. They would have three children (first a boy and then two girls) who are all balanced and whose names would be Luca, Rene and Lisa. Every December they would go on holiday to the coast or somewhere in the Lowveld, and they would live on a golf estate where she could live out her passion for interior design. In the evenings, when the children were in bed, Jano (yes, that would be her dream man’s name) would sweep her into his arms, carry her up the stairs, run her a bath and talk to her for hours before they had sex in front of the fireplace, and then they would fall asleep in each other’s arms there on the blanket.
But, as we all know by this time, love is unpredictable. Litah did get married. He is Spanish. He is not blond and missed the 1,8m mark. He is allergic to dogs and enjoys action films as much as the next guy. They have twins (both boys, named after his grandfathers Andrea and Eduardo). They have a Landrover and don’t have time to go on holiday, seeing as Rafael (yes, this is his name!) owns his own restaurant and that keeps them both busy every weekend. Their house does not have stairs or a fireplace, and at night they are too tired for sex. Litah is quite unhappy. Yes, he did burst her fantasy bubble!
What do you expect from your partner?
One of the biggest causes of unhappy marriages is the fact that people’s expectations of marriage and reality differs. “There is a myth that getting a life partner secures you with some assumed privileges. We expect our partners to fill all the missing areas and empty holes in ourselves, these that we gathered even before the wedding ceremony,” says writer Joe Mansfield on the website www.beachpsych.com. “Marriage is an institution that promises the most advantages, but delivers the least,” he explains. You and your partner collect your own containers full of hurts through life, and for some reason couples think that when they hear wedding bells it’s payback time! It’s their partner’s first chance to make all these hurts magically disappear, but as soon as the blinkers come off, reality begins coming through, because . . . you never become the wonder woman he believed you were going to be (even though you sometimes come very close). And he’s not necessarily the cowboy that comes galloping in on his horse and fills your empty feelings (even if he believes he can).
When the “in love” veil lifts, you will see your wonderful (but in no way perfect) partner in a realistic light. It’s a natural light. You discover that your partner doesn’t make you happy. But guess what? It’s not his job to make you happy! It’s especially not his job to fill that emptiness that you have built up over the years.
“Of course marriage has its advantages,” explains Joe. “A life partner can be a strong anchor in times of fear and anxiety. The task that we have to master is not to see our partner as an opponent. Men and women must learn to accept their own as well as their partners’ shortcomings. It’s not our life partners that are wrong. It’s our expectations of them that are unrealistic. There’s a great relief in a marriage when a man and woman move past their focus on their differences and move to their joint similarities of broken dreams and grasp this potential.”
Marriage has seasons
Well-known writer Gary Chapman identified four seasons in a marriage. Every season has its own phases and emotions.
Winter is a negative season, and the season where Litah and Rafael are. During winter couples expect the worst from each other. In spring a marriage is full of hope, active and positive, and there are signs of many changes. Couples are not afraid to take on challenges and they put all their energy into the relationship. In summer a couple is settled, but they realize a marriage needs work and water. These relationships are comfortable friendships. When autumn arrives, a couple experiences phases of sadness and a feeling that things are not right. Both know that something must change, but what it is they don’t know!
When burning issues are not sorted out, the marriage is neglected and it can put a relationship in a very dangerous place – this can be a breeding ground for extra-marital affairs. Seasons in a marriage are unavoidable: It can’t be spring indefinitely, even if you believe your marriage can be so.
“The marriage that you desire takes time,” says Cindy Sigler Dagnan in her book “Chocolate Kisses for Couples”. Author and marriage counsellor, Kevin Leman, explains that it takes a couple at least ten years to break away from their “families” and to start a new family. It takes many adjustments and releasing some romantic expectations. Cindy says that we must realise that men can’t read our minds.
“I know we all dream of a man who will see when we feel ‘off’ and need to be pampered, who notices when the house is in a complete state and helps without being asked, who comes home and sweeps us off to a night out, a weekend away or a night in Paris. Our fantasies, at least mine, border on ridiculous. I have to regularly re-evaluate the current circumstances in our marriage. We have four young daughters, two antique cars and one income – many of my hidden expectations are just not possible.”
She also mentions that Dr James Dobson writes in his book “Love of a Lifetime”: “Your man is in no way more equipped to meet your entire emotional package as what you are able to be his sexual dream machine for 24 hours long. Both partners must make peace with human weaknesses, mistakes, tiredness, irritations and from time to time evening headaches. A good marriage is not one where perfection is celebrated – it’s a relationship where a healthy perspective and a huge amount of unsolvable problems are overlooked.”
When you have to let go of your expectations
Shania and Rico have been married for four years and she admits that the first 18 months were a huge adjustment. “I always heard that marriage was hard work, and I expected that, but I also looked forward to our lives together. We did not live together at all before the marriage, and when we returned from our honeymoon, it was nice, but difficult and a huge adjustment. With time we get to know each other in an intimate way and get past all the little things to make each other happy. I must say that we have grown a lot in the past four years and I am more grown up regarding especially two things: our finances and my husband’s work demands. After I read the book “A Wife after God’s Own Heart”, I changed my view about many things and how it works. We also use Intimacy4Us for ideas, and with God in our lives everything is possible and so much nicer.”
The financial restrictions that Shania talks about were mostly caused by her clothing accounts. She had certain expectations regarding finances in the marriage when she came in, but Rico’s were different. However, she respected him as head of the house and didn’t argue when he put his foot down. “If he didn’t do that, I would most likely have had even more debt. We settled one account and then closed it. My husband was very strict with me and that helped me a lot. I learnt a lot about finances from him.”
In the beginning Shania did not expect that Rico had to spend so much of his time at work. “It was a huge adjustment for me as he had to go to work late or go away for a case. I spent many evenings upset and did not even want to talk to him. Fortunately that has all changed now and I understand the bigger picture better.” Life also happened to them, and time and tiredness robbed them of their intimacy. They started making appointments with each other and the reality and realization that a marriage takes hard work and that you have to be focused on special occasions put them back on the right track. “I must regularly pull myself back to the reality of our relationship and make more time for my husband. We try to read books, Intimacy4Us and to attend discussions, so that we are up to date with what a marriage means.”
What expectations should you avoid?
EE Kane writes in the Internet article “The six slippery myths of marriage expectations . . . and the five marital expectations you should have”: “To have expectations of marriage, is like children opening their gifts on Christmas morning. Their heads are full of dreams and the anticipation is almost as much fun as opening the parcel. Not long after that the reality hits them. A few dreams are not completely satisfied and the gift that brought so much anticipation is almost forgotten. Take this illusion and multiply it by twenty, because you had so many years to create your ideals of the perfect life partner and how your marriage is going to be.”
Here are a few slippery myths that can quickly put you on the divorce path. Be careful for the following:
Myth number 1: My marriage is awful and I must just learn to live with it.
Maybe your marriage is not heavenly at the moment, but could you really have chosen so wrong? Every marriage can be improved. You don’t have to wait for your partner and it will sometimes mean that you have to give up some of your dreams of having the perfect marriage, but with open communication, loving gestures and creative ideas you can let your partner know that you need more from him.
Myth number 2: I can’t expect my partner to change.
Yes and no. This is slippery because it does contain some truth. You should most likely avoid friends that your mother warned you against with huge exclamation marks on her forehead, but if you have chosen somebody in the knowledge of who he truly is, then know: He is going to change. You are too. Your personalities should remain the same, but your behaviour will vary. Some days you will want to eat up your big bear of a man because he’s so adorable and other days you will feel neglected.
Myth number 3: My partner must meet all my needs.
You naturally believed that you would fulfil each other on all levels. It’s nice to believe that the good will last forever and that your marriage will survive on that always, but unfortunately that is not reality. These first days make you dizzy from being in love, but to keep that level of euphoria is impossible. To keep your partner’s attention, takes time and hard work. Your expectations must be realistic. It’s unrealistic to expect your partner to understand all your emotions and to enjoy all your hobbies with you. That’s why you have other people in your life too – to see to all your other needs.
Myth number 4: My expectations boomerang – My partner is most likely not right for me.
You must naturally not be satisfied with second best, but you must also not expect the perfect partner – this person doesn’t exist. We all want a fantasy man. So, you get the “right one” and you put your best foot forward, you look over the small problems and you give to him qualities that do not really suit him. No wonder you wake up one day and ask: “Who are you?” You are going to be disappointed at some stage. Everyone gets disappointed, but this does not mean that there is somebody better for you somewhere else. It also doesn’t mean that your marriage doesn’t have potential.
Myth number 5: Our marriage must be like John and Michelle’s.
If you look at your friends or television characters and desire to have their marriages – or even worse, you want your best friend’s man – then you are making a huge mistake. Their problems could be much worse than yours and they most likely desire to have your marriage. Remember that you only see what is happening on the surface. Don’t ever be under the false impression that you will be happier with somebody else. If this is the case, review your expectations!
Myth number 6: To have expectations of my partner is wrong.
If you expect too little from your marriage, but it has the potential to be so much more, your marriage will then suffer from it. According to research marriages do the best when the expectations match the couple’s skills. People who enter a marriage with higher expectations than what they can do, get disappointed. A couple with low expectations (while they are capable of much more) get equally disappointed. (www.lifescript.com)
What expectations should you aim for?
There are some expectations that are not too much to ask for. Make sure that you don’t make too many compromises and claim the following things – you may.
• Loyalty: This is a given. You should also be a unit in front of the world. This means loyalty where you defend your partner’s honour and stand together in the open (even when you disagree – you can discuss it afterwards).
• Respect: If you regularly say bad things and belittle each other, you don’t stand much of a chance. It holds no good and has no place in the relationship.
• Friendship: Your partner must be your best friend, the person with who you can share all your deepest secrets.
• Romance: Sometimes it vanishes, but you have time and the ability to get it back in a fun way.
• Conflict: Learn skills to handle conflict effectively. Every argument takes energy from a marriage. Protect your love.
Remember that a marriage needs daily, continued work. Be open about everything – your expectations . . . and even how reality sometimes catches you from the side! If you and your partner understand your expectations of each other, misunderstandings can be avoided and it’s when expectations and reality come together that you find a good foothold – with the carpet still under your feet!
What every man wished his wife knew!
Cindy mentions that Greg, her husband, during the marriage seminars that they present often starts his part with a list of classes he would love to send her to. They are the following:
• Silence, the final divide (where no woman has ever desired to find themselves).
• Communication 101 (tears the last step, not the first).
• Communication 201 (the forming of an idea before it’s spoken).
• Telephone skills (how to put the telephone down).
• Do these jeans make me look fat? (Why men lie.)
• Fight the Imelda Marcos syndrome (you don’t need 50 pairs of shoes).
• Classic dress (wear things you already own).
• The side of banking that has not yet been invented (depositing).
Greg says that he would especially love to send his wife to the class listed last, because she believes that they must only change banks when the cheque book doesn’t balance! But before he gave her the list for the first time, he wrote down a course for himself: How to get the couch in the lounge to be a more comfortable bed . . .
Ask each other the following questions and listen to each other’s answers.
It is most likely a cliché for you already, but it’s the truth: Communication is the key to the problem. When you expect something from your partner and he doesn’t know what you expect, it can make you angry, while he innocently must take all the blows. Ask each other the following questions and answer them honestly:
1. What was the most difficult adjustment for you in our marriage?
2. What is it like for you to be married to me?
3. Are there any family boundaries that we must still put in place?
4. What was one expectation you had for our marriage that has been fulfilled?
5. What expectation did you have that was totally unrealistic?