When you're single, you experience a range of contentment from low to high. When you marry, that range has the potential to become even wider in both directions. Greater contentment—or discontentment—can take place than in your single years.
If you and your loved one were unhappy as singles and expected marriage to fulfill your lives, you probably were greatly disappointed as your level of contentment dropped even lower. But if you sensed meaning and purpose in your lives individually and wanted to share them in a lifetime commitment, you likely experienced an increase in contentment. You might call this the Mine Theory of Mate Selection. You either find the "land mine" or the "gold mine" in marriage.
If you entered marriage hoping to finally find happiness in your mate, you probably didn't find it. Like a carpenter who may first have to remove the floorboards in order to shore up the joists underneath, you may first need to find contentment individually.
During courtship, people are often sure they've found the "gold mine." Both spouses-to-be tend to get excited about this wonderful, new relationship. The fireworks of romance help them act kinder, more selflessly, and more empathetically than they might when the fire fades.
We tend to fill in the gaps regarding the person we love. We assume during courtship that since he's willing to sit and listen to our feelings about life, he'll show the same concern after marriage when we want to talk about our frustrations. When he doesn't, we assume we married the wrong person.
In reality, he probably was not as wonderful as you thought he was before you married. On the other hand, he's probably not as terrible as you might now be thinking.
In his classic work, The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm declares, "To love somebody is not just a strong feeling—it is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise. If love were just a feeling, there would be no basis for the promise to love each other forever."
Dr. James Dobson conveys a similar message in his book Romantic Love: "You see, [a couple's] love is not defined by the highs and lows, but is dependent on a commitment of their will. Stability comes from this irrepressible determination to make a success of marriage and to keep the flame aglow regardless of the circumstances."
When the two of you walked down the aisle, each of you became the right person for the other. Yes, you may look back and second-guess your reasons. But you entered an arena in which learning to truly love someone takes a lifetime.
Is your spouse perfect? Not a chance. Welcome to the human race.
She/He is Not the Person I Thought I Knew
By now you may have noticed certain "flaws" in your spouse. Before you married, you saw shadows of irritating behaviors, but figured you'd get used to them over time—or you'd get your spouse to change.
Well, you haven't.
There are primarily two reasons why you might want to change your spouse.
- You want to see your spouse replicate your actions. If you squeeze the toothpaste from the bottom of the tube, or put the toilet seat cover down, you probably want your spouse to do so, too. It's easy to approach differences with the attitude that your way is the right way.
- You want your spouse to meet your needs. The more needy you are, the more likely you have a detailed agenda of what you want those changes to look like.
Maybe you want your spouse to be like you. But consider the truth that many factors account for the differences between mates—family background, gender, cultural variations, temperament. God could have created clones if He wanted spouses to be carbon copies of each other. Instead, He wants you and your unique qualities to work with your spouse's unique characteristics.
It's a bit like vision. Close one eye; what happens? You lose depth perception cues. That's because you're viewing things from only one angle. When you look with two eyes, the slightly different vantage points of each eye turn your vision into a 3-D experience.
Instead of trying to make your mate "see things your way," you can benefit from having different perspectives. If you and your spouse view a situation from slightly different vantage points, you can blend those views and see things more accurately than either of you could individually.
Do you want your spouse to change in order to meet your needs? It's not unreasonable to want your needs met. But it is unreasonable to see your spouse as your private genie.
In Philippians 2:4 Paul says, "Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." Are you as concerned about responding to your spouse's interests as you are with how your interests can be served?
There's nothing wrong with wanting to see your spouse change and grow. People are like trees; if we're not growing, we're probably dead. But you can only change you!
That doesn't mean there are no limits to what's appropriate in a marriage. You don't need to accept abusive behavior. Physical aggression toward a spouse is never right. Name-calling and belittling words also violate the God-given value to be reflected toward a mate.
What if you want change for reasons that aren't selfish?
In an effort to coax constructive change in a spouse, many resort to manipulation. They leave pamphlets or books around in the hope that the spouse will get the hint. Don’t take that route.
If you have a concern, take ownership of your feelings. Voice them honestly and respectfully. Sometimes expressing them in a note can reduce defensiveness and cut through communication difficulties.
Consider the case of Bill and Sue. For the first few years of their marriage, Bill saw their differences as a threat to his "headship." He tried unsuccessfully to "get her in line."
Finally Bill realized that his job was not to change Sue. He tried voicing his concerns constructively to her: "I know that there's been a lot going on for you lately, but I feel frustrated when clothes are left lying around the apartment. Is it something I can help you with?"
When Bill gave Sue the freedom to see issues from her viewpoint, he found that in the areas that mattered most she was willing to make adjustments. He also realized that many changes he'd thought necessary were not.
From Focus on the Family's Complete Guide to the First Five Years of Marriage, published by Tyndale. Copyright © 2006, Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.