When we experience disappointment in marriage and it’s no one’s fault (such as a miscarriage or loss of employment due to corporate downsizing), we generally grieve and figure out how to move on. It’s the disappointments that point back to our unrealistic expectations for each other that tend to be stickier. These hard-to-shake disappointments can sometimes be described as disordered attachments—misplaced desires that compete with God for our heart. By following the thread that runs through our disappointments and our persistent anger, we can uncover their origin.
Christopher and I have had our share of sticky disappointments; that’s part of what our year-ten crisis was all about. When I married him, naïve optimism overshadowed the reality that he is mercurial, does not like public displays of affection, hates flying on airplanes, and has time-deficiency disorder. (Don’t bother looking that up; I diagnosed him.) That same optimism obscured the reality that I struggle to need him, am too quick to judge, and prefer doing the talking.
These relational speed bumps were definitely not marked with fluorescent orange paint or signage of any sort. After we scraped our undercarriage and experienced whiplash more times than I care to admit, it began to dawn on us that perhaps we needed to find a more productive, less destructive path through our disappointments.
We took a similar approach to how we unpacked our gender expectations by asking probing questions such as, What if rather than blaming each other for our disappointments, we confessed our failures and owned our areas of weakness? What if we looked under the disappointments to discern if they revealed any egocentric expectations, disordered attachments, or misplaced hopes? Once we stopped avoiding these seemingly problematic feelings and started investigating them, something shifted.
Rather than continuing to blame Christopher for my disappointment, I started asking the Lord to help me do three things: repent of any unfair expectations, appreciate Christopher’s strengths, and develop reality-based expectations. Of these three objectives, developing reality-based expectations has been the most difficult. My unrealistic expectation of being romanced died an ugly, slow death because I stubbornly clung to it. Clinging is a form of denial that masquerades as hope. We persist in clinging because it gives us something to hold on to and allows us to sidestep the hard work of changing what we have control over: ourselves.
My prayers are finally paying off. I’m learning to let go of my unrealistic expectations by choosing an internal posture of holy resignation. Practically speaking, holy resignation means accepting and loving your spouse without demanding that he or she change, resisting the vortex of despair and blame, and standing in faith that God will complete a good work in the marriage—regardless of current circumstances.