A month after my husband and I were married we moved to a little island called Maui. We were young and free and looking for a far-off adventure to begin our life together.
With a few dollars saved and our family's support we launched our journey and got jobs once we arrived. What followed was a life-changing, hilarious, difficult, trying, and memorable year.
When we reflect back on that time in the ocean, we laugh at some of our decisions and wonder at the simplicity of life as two young love birds with a Hawaiian beach down the street from our apartment.
But life in paradise is never completely paradise, no matter how good people make it look.
The difficulty came not from our lack of money, our roach-infested car, the old mattress we slept on, or the fact that our grocery budget was so small that I pocketed hot dogs at a work lunch one day to add to a soup at home that called for sausage links.
The true challenges can be summed up in a word: Expectations.
I was a starry-eyed, twenty-one year old bride who had just married the most romantic guy in the world. During our four years of dating and engagement he constantly wooed me, pursued me, encouraged me, challenged me, and pretty much made me feel like the most beautiful girl who had ever existed.
My future looked promising as I floated into marriage on a cloud of adoration.
But a few months in it felt like my cloud was quickly evaporating. Not all of my marital expectations were being met. I was falling fast to the ground and I became resentful.
Now if you had been observing our marriage from the outside you would have wondered what in the world I had to sulk about, as was my husband who was trying his hardest. He still treated me with respect and romance and kindness.
But adopting an ungrateful posture inevitably leads to dissatisfaction.
By constantly seeking adoration I missed all the ways I was being loved. And I was totally neglecting to ask, "How am I loving him?"
My inflated expectations projected something onto him that I wanted from him. They were too difficult to live up to. I was expressing hurt and frustration way too often - something had to change.
Since that time nine years ago I've been a work in progress. Prayer and scripture have been my greatest sources of guidance, along wisdom from others, and trial and error.
I think it's tricky to write about marriage. Every couple is so very different, facing a myriad of unique stressors and circumstances. I would never want to over-simplify or minimize what someone's going through. But for those able to identify with me, perhaps you'll relate to a few of the things I've learned over the years, and am still learning.
Identify the expectations. In reality, a healthy marriage won't completely eliminate all expectations, especially basic ones like respect, fidelity, and care. But the key is determining which expectations are healthy and realistic, and maintaining open communication about them. I've been guilty many times of expecting something from my husband that he wasn't even aware of and then getting frustrated if he didn't meet the unknown expectation.
Understand that your spouse will never meet all your needs. I was seeking my worth and validation in the gift God had given me, not in God himself who is the only One able to fill those needs. In my naivety I had come into marriage neglecting the fact that I was a very flawed sinner, who was marrying another sinner.
Love isn't about waiting around for someone to meet our needs. When I remember this I'm so freed by the truth. It sets my priorities straight and lets my husband off the hook.
Stop being a critic. I had a major revelation while reading about facing outside critics. I realized what a huge critic I was, typically in my thoughts towards people rather than with my words. I've been prayerfully determined to redirect that propensity ever since. With my husband specifically, I want to point out and focus on all the things he gets right. Instead of criticizing something because he doesn't do it the way I would, I want to view it in light of his natural gifts.
Embrace gratitude. This is one of the biggest for me. When I'm tempted to get hurt or frustrated, sometimes I have the wherewithal to stop myself and reflect on all my husband is doing right and the countless reasons I'm grateful for him. It's a life-changing habit and it ultimately brings glory to God.
Take initiative. Seek ways to bless your spouse. At first I was slow to serve because I thought he should be serving me first. Jesus did not come to earth to be served but to serve others.
Know what your husband's love language is. Learn what energizes and drains him. Ask about work and co-workers. Take sincere interest in what's going on and all he's dealing with. Make time in your day just for him. It's important.
I want my husband to feel the kindness and love of his Savior through the way I love him. I will always be totally imperfect and mess up on a daily basis, but I'm learning to not live under condemnation of failure, but under the mercies of a new day and new beginnings.