I believe movies, TV shows, magazines, and romance novels of the past half-century have done much to create the seriously flawed expectations couples take into marriage today. I am convinced that these unrealistic expectations are a major cause of the ballooning number of failed marriages in America. Studies show that most Americans (70 percent) believe the purpose of marriage is to find a mate who will make them happy. By "happy" they mean that marriage should sustain consistently romantic feelings between soul mates whose sexual ecstasy lasts a lifetime. Of course, this is not the reality of day-to-day married life. Yet many newlyweds cling to these unrealistic expectations. Therefore, the first argument creates a crisis rather than being just a normal event through which great marriages grow. Unrealistic expectations are toxic in marriage. Stable marriages require both partners to take a hard look at mutual goals, compatibility on practical matters, and deep commitment to shared values, religion, and moral principles.
Resetting Your Expectations
If your marriage relationship is cooling because of unmet expectations, ask yourself this: Just what were you in love with--a fantasy of your own creation or a real person possessing the same fallen tendencies as every son of Adam and daughter of Eve? Did you fall in love with a person or with a feeling? As a golden oldie song put it, were you merely "falling in love with love"?
Since the romantic soul-mate model for marriage creates false expectations that lead to disappointment, what are the right expectations that bind couples together in an enduring, satisfying, and happy marriage? The traditional view of marriage held by most Americans until the end of the twentieth century was this: "raising a family together, offering mutual aid to one another in tough times, and becoming engaged in larger networks of kin and community." If you are clinging to the soul-mate model, the traditional model of marriage may seem overly practical and unromantic. But the bottom line is that it worked. Those marriages-- built on a foundation of family, mutual aid, and community--tended to last a lifetime. The traditional model may seem to be a letdown from the romantic ecstasy promised by the soul-mate model. But that is only because both models have been misunderstood. In suggesting you embrace the traditional model of marriage, I am not asking you to lower your expectations; I'm actually asking you to raise them. Marriage can be so much better than the soul-mate model has led you to expect. Marriage is not one-dimensional, focused solely on romance and sexual ecstasy. In reality, marriage is multidimensional, consisting of a series of seasons from the honeymoon to the empty nest during which the couple progresses from biological fireworks to deep, sustaining, romantic love and fruitful lives of shared experiences and relationships. A marriage built on the traditional model embraces the big picture of all that marriage can be. If you want a strong marriage, stop clinging to unrealistic expectations of perpetual candlelight dinners and unending fireworks in the bedroom. Replace that expectation with the higher model of making your marriage the crowning achievement of a lifetime.
The Reward of Realistic Expectations
Does focus on achieving the higher and more satisfying expectations of a full, blessed, lifelong relationship mean that you should dismiss romance as unimportant? Absolutely not! Take this higher, harder road to marital bliss and you are in for a happy surprise. It's hard for young people to imagine, but a silver-haired grandmother is likely to have a far stronger love for her balding, overweight husband stretched out in his recliner than she could possibly have imagined in their courting days. Those feelings are the result of a life built together through thick and thin, ups and downs, joy and tears. It's a much higher, broader, deeper, and more satisfying and tightly bound love than one based solely on romantic sensations and orgasmic intensity.
A strong marriage takes work, but the rewards are profound and abundant. Expect constant romance and you kill it, just as too much sugar makes you sick. But when you stop focusing only on romantic feelings and start being willing to iron out the wrinkles and smooth out the bumps, you'll find that you get lasting romance thrown in as a bonus. Remember this truth from Proverbs 10:28: "The hopes of the godly result in happiness, but the expectations of the wicked come to nothing." Be sure your expectations of marriage are based in truth. Grieve the loss of the fantasy marriage so you can accept the reality of what you have. Seek God to fulfill you and heal you rather than expect your spouse to do what only God can do.
Excerpted from The Seven Minute Marriage Solution by Stephen Arterburn 2013. Published by Worthy Publishing, a division of Worthy Media, Inc., Brentwood, TN. www.worthypublishing.com. Used by permission. Tell us what you thought of this excerpt on Twitter: #7MinuteMarriage @WorthyPub