As a couple, have you ever wondered, "Why does a relationship has to be so hard?" Do you feel sometimes like you're raising another child instead of having an equal partner? Are you exhausted from all the talking about change, yet nothing changes? Is your spouse expecting things you don't think are fair? Do you feel guilty when you take care of yourself because you "should" be...?
If you answered "yes" to even one of these questions, keep reading to get off of the cul-de-sac of human drama.
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Loving "for Better or for Worse"
When I mentor couples, they often wait too long to get support. Therefore, they've built up many hurts and grievances—sometimes for years! And each is clamoring to tell their side of the story to ease their pain. After talking about their challenges and helping them feel heard, I sometimes ask, "How would your relationship be different if it was fun and filled with ease?"
Of course, they retort, "That's how it used to be!"
Unfortunately, we ask this question thinking that we've done something wrong. Somehow we've blown our opportunity at "happily ever after." We compare ourselves with seemingly happy couples and feel like we've failed.
However, couples ask the wrong questions. We've been trained by familial and social conditioning that no one is supposed to be disrespectful, unloving, or indifferent—those are descriptions for other people, but certainly not for those who love each other, right?
We are imperfect human beings. We're still evolving, healing past childhood wounds, and integrating experiences that have caused us to protect ourselves. We need each other to support us on that journey.
Related reading: "Do We Need to Experience Love to Be Loving?"
How Expectations of Our Partner Set Us Up for Disappointment
One of the most profound insights I had early in my marriage was that I was expecting my husband to be "perfect" when I wasn't (nor is that even possible!) I expected him to be fully present to me when I wasn't present to him or his feelings. I expected him to apologize first... ha! ... but I was holding him emotionally hostage. I expected him to be loving and affectionate even when tired when I wasn't.
This one realization changed my life and transformed my marriage. We cannot expect something we are unwilling to give. In each aspect, we must first give what we want from our partner. Unfortunately, an Olympian competition often happens within a relationship.
Instead, what I learned and acted on that changed the quality of my relationship was:
If I wanted to be heard, I sought to become a great listener.
If I wanted to have acceptance, I released judgment and became more compassionate.
If I wanted to feel like a top priority, it was up to me to make my husband a priority, too.
If I wanted him to support my goals and pursuits, it was a two-way street.
Expectations set us up for disappointment. Of course, in marriage, we've committed to "for better or for worse," but we really don't think that the worse is coming for us. We haven't wrestled with what that "worse" might look like because we have never experienced it before. So how can we know that our partner is until we do?
- messy or a neatnik?
- selfish or selfless?
- an extravagant spender or an ardent saver?
- a workaholic or passionately following their dream?
- depressed or an energizing bunny?
- a people-pleaser or someone who leans into conflict?
- adventure junkie or a Netflix binger?
The list goes on.
Aww... the honeymoon feelings that cloak all our human foibles! We adore the person and bask in the light of their ideal self as we see them.
Until we don't. Until life greets us with day-to-day challenges and "for better or for worse."
Love isn't convenient much of the time.
Love requires us to look beyond our partner's idiosyncrasies and shortcomings.
Love is sometimes fierce and sometimes tender.
Love must set healthy boundaries to develop a healthy relationship.
Love means self-care as much as partner care.
Love is a choice moment by moment.
Related reading: "If You Want a Successful Marriage, Increase Self-Mastery"
Celebrate Imperfect Love as You Grow Together
Ease and light-heartedness accompany a relationship when we exchange judgment for curiosity, blame for vulnerable compassion, and expectations (or entitlement) for intentional loving.
Relationship and marriage take intentional love and attention to keep the honeymoon feelings going.
Take it from me after decades of a happy, thriving marriage:
- Don't sweat the small stuff!
- Keep your eye on what you love about your partner.
- Nurture each other.
- Make date night a priority to rekindle the fires of love.
- Mix it up when life gets too routine.
Become everything you say you want in your partner.
Set your focus on increasing love and understanding. Whatever you hear yourself desiring from your partner, work at growing in yourself! Whether that quality is attentiveness, fun, compassion, humility, a good listener, appreciative, a responsible financial manager, kind, or honest.
Relationships take work. Roll up your sleeves and have fun with the journey ahead!
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