Hopes and Expectations
"What do you hope for from marriage?" I put the question to a girl, Gill, who had recently announced her engagement. She looked coy, blushed a little and then confessed that she hadn't thought that far ahead. "I'll just take it as it comes, I guess."
But Gill is a social worker. In her work, she sets herself clear goals. In developing her union with God, she also plans the way ahead with meticulous attention to detail. Why, then, this reluctance to clarify the expectations with which she approaches that most vital relationship, marriage?
This reluctance to express the high hopes one places on the marital relationship is common. But hopes and expectations need to be voiced. Giving them expression has three main advantages. First, this unveiling of desire enables your partner to assess whether he / she can begin to match your hopes and meet your needs. Second, it is as you place your dreams side by side that you see more clearly where you are compatible and where you complement each other. But there is a third reason. Clarifying your marital ambitions provides the relationship with a sense of purpose. When you each declare your deepest longings, it becomes clear what you two are setting out to achieve. This adds zest to love.
Why do you want to marry?
Why do you want to marry this partner?
Why do you want to marry at this stage of your life?
Respond to those questions in writing. Examine your replies and consider the implications. Then begin to investigate the ways in which you plan to meet each other's needs. Can you fulfil the other's hopes? Perhaps some of your expectations are totally unrealistic? If they are, a wise couple recognizes that either some of their cherished longings must
be placed on one side or the relationship must be terminated. Is your partnership deficient? Or are you demanding more from your marriage than a human relationship can reasonably offer? If you are unable to unravel the answer to those questions for yourselves, seek advice.
If you discover that you are over-optimistic, learn to laugh at the unreasonableness of your demands. Laughter heals. It paves the way for realism, as one group in our church discovered recently.
This group was disintegrating. The cause, they claimed, was lack of good leadership. What did they require of their leader? As each person in the group expressed his / her expectations of the group leader it became clear that the archangel Gabriel himself would not have qualified. This healthy ventilation of unreasonable hopes caused amusement. It was liberating. It resulted in a more accurate assessment of the purpose of the group, affirmation of the person who had struggled to hold them together and the construction of a step-by-step plan for the future.
No couple can plan the route through the whole of marriage before the adventure has even begun. Circumstances change, tastes change and requirements from life evolve. It is possible, however, to plot short excursions into life. If you are serious about your relationship, it is advisable to map out the path which will best take you through engagement and the early months of marriage. Setting yourself realistic guidelines at this stage could result in months of fulfillment as you watch each target being reached and passed.
This sense of achievement is vital. It is important because, at a time when expectations of marriage are higher than ever before, marriage as an institution seems to be less stable than formerly. Thus the satisfaction level does not match the high level of expectation. This leads to disillusionment. This disillusionment is one of the chief causes of marital breakdown today. And this creeping disease often begins early in a relationship.
Is marriage unstable? Are high expectations wrong? What are the expectations couples bring to marriage?
What are your hopes?
Marrying for love
Most couples marrying today claim that they are "marrying for love." This is a comparatively recent phenomenon. In the past, parents or marriage-brokers would have created the match. Love was expected to emerge from these "arranged" marriages, but love was not the basis on which the marriage was constructed. If the bonus of love never materialized, the couple was still held firmly together by clearly-defined roles. As long as the husband fulfilled his functions well as provider, protector and bread-winner, he was considered to be a good husband. Meanwhile his wife would meet his domestic and sexual needs and devote herself to his children. This earned his approval and made her a good wife. Since the expectation of life was considerably shorter than today, a husband and wife could co-exist reasonably happily. Even if they never learned to love each other, they probably loved at least one of the children. They could therefore relate through their offspring.
But now, all that has changed. Marriages can last longer. Most couples marrying today may reasonably expect to live together for fifty years or more. Their relationship could outlive the years when children remain at home. And there are other changes. Love is no longer considered an optional extra. It is the essential foundation on which thriving marriages are built. This love is required to span all aspects of the relationship: social, recreational, emotional, intellectual, economic and domestic. Its benefits should enrich both partners. Couples are no longer held together by function. They are cemented by love.
It is hardly surprising that marrying for love has swept away the traditional patterns of marriage in recent years. Richard Jones, in his fascinating survey of marriage, opens up the extent of these changes. They are recent. In 1950, for example, "husbands and wives put a lot of emphasis on moral and economical qualities: a sense of humor, fairness, faithfulness, moral qualities, personal qualities, intelligence .... being a good cook." Nineteen years later there was a noticeable swing:
In 1969 the emphasis had been shifted to psychological qualities: understanding, love and affection, patience,
equanimity, shared responsibilities and interests and, emphatically for the husbands, being a good mother.1
This shift in emphasis has continued. Today couples rarely, if ever, marry a partner who will simply be an efficient executant of a clearly-defined role. They marry because they love each other. This loving includes liking. It is characterized by mutual understanding, emotional sustenance and caring. The prize of love is the personal growth which results from each partner helping the other through personal and marital problems. This love union is warm, close and tender.
Marrying for love provides the setting for the gems of friendship, shared harmonious living and the sexual fulfillment of both partners. Clearly this kind of marriage, sometimes called companionship marriage, offers richer rewards than its traditional counterpart. In traditional marriage, there was little companionship. The need for togetherness went largely unacknowledged. And although the sexual needs of the husband were sometimes met, the wife's desires were frequently disregarded. It was as though she hadn't any. Companionship marriage, on the other hand, highlights the relational nature of marriage. Love makes inroads into every part of the relationship. It is this love for which most couples crave.
So what is the problem? The problem is that companionship marriage offers seemingly unlimited advantages. It also makes costly demands and you cannot enjoy the benefits without paying the price of "that special richness," love. And there are other complications, too.
The newness of companionship marriage contributes to the apparent instability of the marriage relationship. Stereotyped patterns of marriage offered a definitive way of life. The husband went out to work, controlled the finances and made major decisions. His wife cleaned the house, cooked the meals and looked after the children. But companionship marriage acknowledges no such conclusive boundaries. This is both liberating and perplexing. It is liberating because it gives scope for creativity, exchange of certain roles and
experimentation. This is fun. It is perplexing because there are few rules to this new game. Couples must make up their own and that is not as easy as it sounds.
It is difficult because love is not always "doing what comes naturally." Love has to be learned in the hard school of experience. We all know the theory of love, but it takes hours of patient practice to translate this theory into a life-style. Moreover, couples are required to compose the rules of their game before they have gained the experience of mature loving. This creates more problems.
There is another snag. Most couples marry for love, but few ever define what they mean by that altruistic statement. It might mean that you want to pour out love for your partner; to increase his / her self-esteem, improve his / her welfare, and to convey that knowledge which all persons need to hear, "I am lovable! I don't have to do anything or be anything but myself. I am valuable and worthwhile in myself."2 On the other hand, you might not be so desirous of giving love as of receiving it. "I want you to love me, to meet all my dependency needs, to quench my insatiable need for attention." Perhaps marrying for love combines these two extremes? But it follows that the person whose main aim in marriage is to give love in generous measure will invent a far less selfish set of rules than the person whose horizons do not extend beyond self's needs and whose aim in marrying is to grasp love greedily.
And there is another difficulty. Although we convince ourselves that companionship marriage is more rewarding than the outmoded customs we have discarded, and although we recognize that flexibility is richer, even more biblical, than stereotyped marriages, past patterns haunt us. They hold us in their ghostly grip. "I still feel guilty when I leave Mike to cook his own supper." "I feel I ought to organize our finances, although I know Sheila would be more efficient." These persistent voices from the past prohibit harmonious sharing unless couples discuss the rules of their game. This discussion should continue until you are sure that your proposed life-style coincides with your partner's. If it doesn't the game will collapses around you.
Begin to write the rules for your partnership.
What do you expect from your husband / wife?
What are your feelings about fixed roles and headship and submission?
Chapters 12 and 13 place the spotlight on these subjects. Here we go on to consider further hopes and expectations. Love is not the only reason why people marry.
Marry for happiness
Some couples marry for happiness. But what is happiness? It is a mirage. Its delights are transient. One moment they are there, then the dazzling beauty vanishes. Do you really want to marry for happiness, that will-o'-the-wisp which is destroyed by adverse circumstances? The answer to that question might be Yes. In our wisest moments each of us knows that the tantalizing conclusion of all good fairy-stories, "They lived happily ever after," is a fairy-tale. Yet this romantic fable does not lose its appeal. The dream lingers. We would like it to come true for us, but the solemn truth is that marriage is not for happiness, it is for wholeness. Wholeness leads to something deeper than happiness, an inner, indestructible joy. This lasting joy is nurtured in secure relationships. It needs constancy, dependability and predictability for its growth. That is why Christian couples can experience an unassailable joy. This joy is a gift which originates in the heart of God. His gift is safeguarded for life; pain, sorrow and temptation are powerless to touch it. As Jesus said in a different context, "Your hearts will be full of joy, and that joy no one shall take from you" (John 16:22 JB).
How do you plan to help your partner reach his / her full potential through engagement and the early months of adjustment to marriage?
What does he / she need from you?
Wholeness is brought about through trust, acceptance, receptivity and prayerfulness.
How will these qualities feature in your marriage?
The real meaning of love is to procure your partner's wholeness.
How will you give yourself to that task?
Marrying to escape
This self-giving is one of the essential ingredients of love. But some people marry, not so much for what they can give as for what they hope to receive. These hopes, too, should be aired before marriage. They are not necessarily wrong, and since they are a part of you, your partner has a right to hear them and to measure his / her ability to meet them. Take, for example, the desire to escape from loneliness. Surely this is biblical?
At creation God observed that it was not good for man to be alone. But marriage is about relationships, creativity and the activity of love. Love desires not so much its own good as the welfare of the loved one and others. If you marry only to escape from the aloneness of singleness you may find that you have a complex assignment on your hands which makes untold demands. If you are not willing actively to promote your partner, you should not marry. By "promote" I do not mean that partners should pressurize one another to succeed, nor should they idolize one another. Rather love for the other will involve drawing out the best in him / her; the promotion of realistic personal growth.
But, of course, marriage does alleviate aloneness. David Mace puts it well:
We all need friends. Of all the experiences which men and women can encounter, loneliness is one of the most dreaded. One of our deepest human needs is the need to love and be loved. Of course that need can be satisfied apart from marriage. But the close and intimate life together of husband and wife has always provided the ideal solution for most people. Sharing their resources, their plans, their hopes, the married couple grows into a fellowship of warm affection and mutual trust which becomes more and more precious to them as the years go by.3
In avoiding loneliness, are you also prepared to share your resources, your plans, yourself?
Do you feel this will be easy or difficult with this partner?
How will you begin to support the other emotionally?
Pauline discovered the hard way that marriage cannot be used only as an escape route. She was in love with a married man when she met James. She had been praying that God would send her a partner, because she longed to escape from the agony of an adulterous relationship. James seemed to be the answer to her prayer. They married. But Pauline brought impossible demands into their relationship. Her desire was not to promote James; it was to seek consolation for herself. Their marriage fractured.
How are you planning to promote each other?
What have you to give to one another?
Marrying for status
Some single people long for marriage, not just for the companionship though that is an important consideration but for status. Despite the clamour of feminists in recent years, there is still a supposed stigma attached to the single state. Marriage appears to provide a higher status. But for the Christian this should not be a contributing factor. Status is something to be relinquished, not highly prized. Our goal in all things should be to obey God, whom our souls love, and to follow the path which He unfolds for us. If this path leads to marriage, that is our highest vocation. If it is singleness with the stigma attached, this is the calling which will lead us most directly to Himself, the source of joy.
When parental pressure is exerted, this obedience to God needs to be recalled. Parents, friends and relatives perpetuate the myth that the only road to fulfillment leads through marriage. This is not the truth. Many fulfilled, joyous and fruitful Christian people demonstrate the falsity of this claim. It is possible to love deeply and to be loved in return without being married. But, of course, for the Christian, singleness involves celibacy, and many people marry because sexual oneness with a person of the opposite sex is a passionate yearning. This desire should transcend the biological urge. It should symbolize the longing for the true union of hearts which is one aspect of comradeship. It is one definition of that quaint phrase "one flesh."
Is it wrong, then, to go into marriage with high expectations
of the sexual relationship? I believe that high hopes are both healthy and right. Sensitive, effective and satisfying sex forms the heart of wholesome marriages. One of the keys to satisfying sex is communication. Couples need to learn to lay on one side their reluctance to talk about sexuality. The next five chapters of this book are designed to open the lines of communication on this confused subject.
But perhaps you bring hopes and expectations to your relationship which have not been mentioned in this chapter? What are they?
When Virginia Satir was asked this question, this is what her research revealed:
Women's hopes centered around having a man who, of all people in the world, would love only them, who would respect and value them, and would talk to them in such a way as to make them glad to be women, who would stand by them, give them comfort and be on their side in times of stress.
Men have said they hoped for women who would see that their needs were met, who enjoyed their strength, their bodies, regarded them as wise leaders and who would also be willing to help them when they expressed their needs . . . . As one man put it, he wanted someone "who is all for me. I want to feel needed, useful, respected and loved a king in my own house."
Of course, we shall not all echo those hopes. Honest as they are, some of them are selfish.
How do you feel about the desires expressed?
Chapter 6 || Table of Contents
1. Richard Jones, How Goes Christian Marriage?, Epworth Press, 1978, p.32.
2. John Powell, The Secret of Staying in Love, Argus, 1974, p.19.
3. David R. Mace, Whom God Hath Joined, Epworth Press, 1964, p.21
4. Virginia Satir, Peoplemaking, Science and Behavior Books, 1972, p.125.