Falling in love and getting married…..it seems so happy. Planning the party, imagining living together, hoping to get every type of happiness is pretty normal for most couples. The expectations might be normal, but the reality is that people are complex. For many couples, the journey to wedded bliss is full of ups and downs. I was twenty five when I met my husband. What I know about marriage today, both as a woman and as a therapist, is far from how I understood marriage as a twenty something. With all good intentions, we journeyed together with a reasonable understanding of marriage. After all, our parents did it, so that meant we could do it even better, right?
People choose to get married for different reasons. What’s normal and common is feeling like your partner changed over time. “We used to be able to talk about so many things.” I hear this a lot during couples sessions. “I don’t know what happened or why he or she is acting this way.” Some couples are shocked to learn that they don’t know their partner as well as they thought they did. This is normal, but your partner is a complex person with a past, their own expectations and needs, and some defense mechanisms. Now that isn’t all we are, but these are some of the parts of us that are part of the marriage. We bring our entire being into the marital relationship. Not just our best self. Marriage is about losing yourself in a relationship and hopefully finding your way back to yourself. No longer feeling “in love” with your partner or feeling like you don’t know your partner is part of the journey. These are the parts that remain elusive to us as we imagine how life will be when we choose to be together.
This is where couples struggle…in the world of expectations and control. I often hear this, “I was so different before I got married.” Yes, you were different before you got married. Marriage requires much more of you than what was required before getting married. How you make choices and how you see yourself changes. The truth is we can’t control our needs not getting met. You should be asking yourself, “So how much we do not control and how much don’t I know?” That is healthier and more honest than, “I need to stop what’s happening or manipulate our situation so I can get what I want.” When expectations don’t match up to reality, it doesn’t mean the relationship or the people are doomed to have a miserable marriage. The truth is, these are the parts of life and people that we cannot know and cannot see. We can only know what we have in our minds and our hearts, which is a limited understanding. We make decisions based on our own needs. Not the needs of others. No matter how hard you try, you cannot know and be omnipotent about another person. Nor is that your role.
So what do we do? Being able to accept the difference between expectation and reality is part of the journey. That doesn’t mean we have to like it. But, acceptance doesn’t mean approval. Seeking discernment is much more important and beneficial. Rather than wishing a marriage to be something it’s not, discernment gives a person the opportunity to realize that they never had control over another person in the first place or even the marriage. Since that’s not your role, you can take a step back to say, “Hmmmm, I think I can try to learn rather than control.” Then, the reality can match up to more informed decision making about what is really possible and what isn’t. Courtship is about getting to know someone, but marriage allows the truth of who we are to be revealed.