That word has confused, justified, liberated and chained me over the years.
It’s nearly destroyed me and my marriage.
At the beginning, my expectations seemed quite endearing.
There would be glorious breakfasts in bed. I would both serve and be served a perfect plate of hot scrambled eggs, chewy bacon, fluffy croissants and sweet, juicy fruit.
The strawberries would be sliced just to the top of each piece of sweet red succulence, then fanned ‘just so’ to accent the plate. Top it off with a champagne flute of orange juice, lots of pulp, because that’s how I like it.
I’m thinking Pretty Woman right now.
Of course each day would wind down with my high school sweetheart and I sipping hot tea from our matching blue hearts tea kettle, cups and saucers as we talked about our days, our dreams and how much we adored each other. All this, of course, while our 3-year-old slept sweetly in the other room.
Yeah, we were teenage parents, married at the mature age of 20.
Of course those expectations were all mine and never shared with my groom, just … expected.
So you can imagine my deep disappointment and despair when we returned home from the honeymoon and my high school sweetheart didn’t perform these tasks with me as imagined, as expected.
I can still remember the first night that I prepared our cups of hot tea. He was out helping his uncle with some kind of task, some guy thing, maybe it was a car repair.
At the time I expected him home (unbeknownst to him of course because I hadn’t communicated about it) I was sitting at our small newlywed kitchen table, perfectly set with our matching blue heart cups and saucers, spoons with the blue handles and the tea kettle had whistled its sweet tune.
I sat at my cute little table alone, an ache in my chest and a lump in my throat, tears spilling from my sad, sad eyes.
Where was this man? Did he not know what my plans were? Did he not know what I had done for him, for us, in preparing this tea and even more, planning this sweet, perfect amazing tea-drinking life?
Well, no. He didn’t.
Because I never mentioned it to him.
Come to think of it, over the years, I would develop countless expectations that I would never articulate to my husband or sometimes, myself.
There was the expectation that he’d be the perfect dad, like maybe Danny Tanner on Full House. He’d take our boys fishing every weekend and coach their baseball teams. He’d take our daughters on daddy-daughter dates and teach them to dance even though he didn’t really know how.
He’d always be patient, loving and kind and he’d let me do whatever I want.
He’d melt at my every request, my every desire and whim, no matter how silly, and would prove his love in doing so. He’d never get angry and he’d never raise his voice, ever.
He’d make enough money to support us, take us on vacations and surprise us with gifts but his job would never interfere with my plans and my fantasy life of the superhusband.
We’d be the very best of friends and do everything together. We would share hobbies and interests and talk politics and go shopping and hiking and traveling and to church on Sundays. We would be inseparable.
Oh, and we’d visit my family all the time and they’d visit us all the time. We’d be one giant, happy family. And he would love them as much as I did.
Basically, I had no boundaries and didn’t think he should either.
As you can imagine, the years went by and my plans were ruined one at a time. Chipped away, bit by bit, chunk by chunk and blow by blow. Or sometimes, giant wrecking ball by giant wrecking ball.
The fairy tale wasn’t quite as sweet as I’d anticipated, expected. You see, we both brought this stuff into the marriage called baggage. You know that stuff from the past that you store up and take everywhere you go until you learn to unload it?
I didn’t know it, but my expectations were setting me, him and us up for hurt, frustration, heartache, anger and failure from the beginning. Rather than communicate my dreams, wishes, longings and visions, I tried to force feed them to him. Ever try to pry open the mouth of a baby who didn’t want to eat his mushy green beans?
Just do it was my motto – do it my way, when I want and how I want and without question or complaint.
It never occurred to me that he had his own plans or that mine weren’t the only way to go or that GOD might have something entirely different and far better planned!
It’s quite embarrassing how self-centered I was. Am. Can be.
Looking back, in my immaturity, I was like a toddler when my expectations weren’t met and I didn’t get my way. I’d throw a tantrum – cry, yell, sulk, even throw things and, oh sweet heavens, even hit.
At least I didn’t bite? (errr … right, honey?)
You see, the story behind the story is I came in to the marriage swinging. I thought you solved problems by force. Yell louder, hit hardest, make the most noise and you’ll get your way. Basically, bully your way through.
Thankfully, God showed me early on that this wasn’t who I wanted to be or the marriage that I wanted.
So I committed to change.
But for some reason it just wasn’t that simple.
And I couldn’t ever be who I wanted to be. I would get better and better and mature more and more, but I couldn’t be that perfect wife I wanted to be. And my husband would do the same, but somehow it was never enough. He never could live up to my expectations because the bar kept getting higher and higher.
Fast forward 19 years and here we are, dare I to say on the ‘other side,’ of the great and deadly terrain of ‘Mount Expectations.’
I’ve done the Respect Dare multiple times, each time coming out healthier, Godlier and more mature. I’ve gone to Boot Camp twice, each time leaving radically different. I’ve completed 3 1/2 years of Celebrate Recovery and just finished my third step study. I’ve been in personal counseling for nearly four years.
Wow, you say? Why so many times? Why so much?
Let’s just say I’m obviously hard-headed.
Like Eve, I’m a rebel at heart. So I have to learn the hard way that the fire is hot. I have to touch it for myself before I believe.
The last time I started the Respect Dare, it was at one of our lowest points in our marriage. The book says to write down three expectations of your husband that you will release. I wrote three PAGES of expectations, feeling woefully sorry for myself at the content and the things that I was now releasing. Oh poor me, I lamented, to have to let go of these ‘basic entitlements’ and expectations that my girl heart longed to be fulfilled in my Christian marriage by my Christian husband.
I hope you note my tongue in cheek.
You see God showed me, with the help of many wise advisers, that my expectations for myself, my husband and our marriage were just plain unreasonable.
I was setting myself up for despair and deep hurt and rejection and setting my husband up for the same. He said over and over to me that he felt like he could never live up to my expectations, and he was right. No one could. They were unrealistic.
I was worshiping the idol of a perfect marriage. A perfect husband. And a perfect me. And it broke me. It broke us. Time and time again.
Thoughts of escape creeped in and out over the years, ebbing and flowing. My mind went to escape via suicidal ideations, and my body went to escape via harmful self-medicating habits, all the result of the devastation I heaped on myself by trying to hold us all to an unreachable standard of perfection and utterly unrealistic expectations.
Sadly, there were even those cold, ‘desert at night’ moments where the word divorce was said in my house.
God must REALLY have a plan for us and REALLY want us together because it’s only through His grace, His mercy and His will and His sovereignty and His divine miracles that we are still married and preparing to renew our vows.
Yes, you may cheer with me. 🙂
You see even though I’ve matured leaps and bounds and my relationship with God has grown deeper and deeper and I’ve ‘let go and let God’ on so many things, with my marriage, I’d get scared and pick back up what I’d laid at His feet.
I used enormous energy fighting for my rights, fighting for my own protection against indignity and injustice and oppression, fighting for my will, my way. I see now that I was terrified, living in fear and making fear-based decisions and behaving in fear-based ways.
What’s crazy? I was perpetuating all my own fears and making them become a reality by trying to control everything in my marriage and my husband in order to avoid those fears coming true.
Does that even make sense? The tragic and infuriating irony is not wasted on me.
My expectations were suffocating my husband and paralyzing my marriage. We were stuck in an unhealthy pattern with no visible way out. It felt hopeless.
Then in the still of the night, in the pit of my despair, God spoke something to me that I’d never heard Him say before.
‘I am your safe place.’
Oh yes, I knew He was. But why was He reminding me?
Because I also was expecting my husband to be that too, in God-like fashion.
And He started to show me all my expectations of my husband being wrongly placed. Those three pages of expectations? Those were God’s job.
He showed me that those characteristics I was looking for were all HIS. Those holes in my heart longing to be loved perfectly, protected perfectly, comforted, healed, adored perfectly all were to be filled by Him and only Him.
He is God. He is everything I need. And it was His job to be that. Not my husband’s.
Oh, make no mistake. My husband has all of those characteristics. He is ALL those things. Just not all at once and not all the time. No one is. We’re all human.
Just like any one of us, our spouse makes a terrible God.
Once I truly absorbed this to my core, I was able to give my husband grace for being a normal and flawed human, the normal yet exceptional, good, generous, loving, honorable, kind-hearted, Godly, Jesus-loving, doing his very best man and leader that he is.
And I’ve been able to give myself grace for being flawed and perfectly imperfect, a beautiful mess. Trust me, only GOD can deal with this big ball of mess.
All this time, I’ve just been looking for a God and as soon as I shifted all those desires in the right direction to the one true God, I was able to let my husband off the hook.
And it saved our marriage.
It’s hard, sweet friends. Oh, it’s hard.
It makes no earthly sense and it’s counterintuitive to believe that to let go is to gain and to die is to live.
But take my word for it. No, take HIS word for it. Look it up!
Would you open your hands with me? Release the white-knuckle death grip on your husband and your marriage and your dreams for the life you’ve always wanted.
I know it’s scary. It’s terrifying. But fear is never from the Lord!
I know it’s risky. But if God who is for you, who can stand against you?
Things may not go your way. Things may go a way you don’t like.
But what if …
That’s all in the Father’s hands.
I dare you to release it all. Let it flow from your hands into His warm, safe, strong, protecting and capable hands.
It was never yours any way.
Your life, your husband, your marriage, your dreams, your expectations.
It’s all His.
Will you let Him have it?
Will you trust Him with all that is precious to you?
Ask God to level the mountains that divide you and your husband as a result of misplaced expectations, Isaiah 45:2 style.
“I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron.”
Or, if you want to have fun on a whole new adventure and be among the first ever to encounter the new Strength and Dignity ecourse, click here, and then click on this picture on the site:
Looking forward to walking through this with you all.
Thanks for hanging in there as I dust off my keyboard and teach my brain to think again, clearing the cobwebs of kid brain. I know this has been a looooong post, but I am trusting that I will learn to be more, um, focused as I keep writing!
Thanks for loving me right where I’m at.