I was recently thinking about when my wife and I moved into our house two years ago. It was our first house, and before finding it, we’d been shopping for about 6 months. I think we’d looked at about a hundred different houses (at least it felt that way), before we finally decided to make an offer on this one. It held so much promise; we were going to have our own backyard where our son could play, matching appliances for a change, plenty of room for our growing family, and a great neighborhood community.
These days, all we ever seem to do is complain about it. That backyard is too small, those appliances don’t work nearly as well as they should, there are a million things that need to be repaired, there’s never enough room for all of our crap, and (aside from a few exceptions) the neighbors are all hermits and kooks who can’t manage mow their lawns. We tell ourselves that it’s not bad for a starter house, but it’s certainly not our ideal place to live, and we’ll find something much better as soon as the market improves and we can sell it.
It’s amazing how our perceptions change so quickly from promise to disappointment. It’s like the old adage about how “familiarity breeds contempt.”
And it occurs to me how marriage is a lot like that house. In the beginning, it’s all about potential, promise, and novelty. But that can quickly turn into disappointment, frustration, and routine. That person who seemed so amazing when you were dating suddenly looks very different. You’ve got yourself a full-fledged spouse who’s there all the time, even when you’re not at your best, or perhaps when you’d rather they not be there at all. It’s hard work to be amazing all the time, and we all have faults that are bound to rear their ugly heads sooner or later. All you can see is how your partner – and by proxy your life – is not living up to your expectations. If you’re not careful, marriage can turn you into a very bitter person.
There’s no magic bullet, but I think the trick is learning to remind yourself to see what’s special about your relationship underneath all of that crap and to have more realistic expectations. You’ve got to find a way to connect on some level as frequently as you can, even if it’s just something small and insignificant. Stop setting the bar so high, and you’ll find yourself a lot less disappointed. I know that sounds like a cop out, but to me it’s like that house. It is what it is, and if you expect it to be perfect in every way and focus only on its flaws, you’re likely to spend a lot of time running around in circles endlessly repairing peeling paint and vainly wishing for a better house. That doesn’t mean you don’t work on it where you can, but there are certain elements you’re just not going to change.
Based on a suggestion from my lovely wife, I’m reading what’s turning out to be an excellent book called Take Back Your Marriage, in which the author combats “the consumer mentality” of marriage. It turns out that our relationships are increasingly doomed by looking at them the same way we look at the houses, cars, blue jeans, and potato chips that we buy. There’s a pervasive “what’s in it for me” mentality that causes us to maintain relationships as long as they’re meeting our expectations, but meanwhile, we’re always looking for a better deal. Granted I’m only 40 pages into it, but it’s been very insightful so far, and I’m sure I’ll have some new perspectives as I make my way through the rest of it.
Well, I gotta go for now. There’s plenty of work around the house that needs to be done.