Many years ago, I was in Paris as part of a mission trip. While there, we had some free time and a group of us went to the Louvre. The Louvre houses some of the most famous art work in the world. Pieces like the Venus de Milo and and the statue of the winged, headless angel called Winged Victory.
But of all the artwork in the Louvre, the one I wanted to see the most was Leonardo da Vinci’s painting, the Mona Lisa. I had seen pictures of the Mona Lisa all my life, and now I was finally going to see it for myself!
I made my way through corridors and masses of people, constantly looking at the pamphlet map to make sure I was headed in the right direction. Finally, I stepped into a big hall with a large crowd of people. I check the map, and it told me I was in the right place. I politely, but urgently, made my way through the crowd, hoping to get to the front and see the famous Mona Lisa.
I’ll never forget my first impression upon seeing the Mona Lisa. When I finally broke through to the front of the crowd, and saw this painting I had heard about all my life, my first thought was…”That’s it?!”
It was not at all what I expected. I was expecting something big. Something spectacular. Something larger than life. But instead, I saw this small painting (only 30” x 21”) done in dark and muted colors. It was roped off and under glass on a far wall…all of which made it seem the size of a postage stamp.
To be honest, it was kind of a let down. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great privilege to be there and see this famous work of art. But it’s not how I pictured it, and it made it hard to really enjoy the wonder that was in front of me.
The same thing happens with marriage. Everyone goes into marriage with very high expectations about what a good marriage will look like. We have visions of great conversations, relaxing leisure time, passionate sex, common goals, high achieving kids, adequate bank accounts, and a host of other things we equate with a good marriage.
But when we finally get there, we quickly realize that real marriage is not how we pictured it. It’s harder than we thought. We don’t always want the same things. We disagree over how to spend time, how to spend money, how to raise kids, and how often to have sex. The marriage we thought would be so fulfilling, winds up being more frustrating than we thought. Then, because it fails to meet our expectations, we find it hard to enjoy the wonder of the marriage that’s right in front of us. We think, “Is this it? This is not how I pictured it.”
When this happens, we need to examine our expectations.
Some of our expectations about how marriage should be come from the misbelief that if the marriage is right, you won’t need to work at it. In fact, just the opposite is true. A good marriage is one that involves a lot of work.
Other expectations about marriage come from what we saw growing up. We either try to recreate what we saw growing up, or we desperately try to avoid what we saw growing up. We assume our expectations are right and reasonable. The problem is, our spouse’s expectations are rarely the same as ours, because they saw something different when they were growing up, and they assume their exceptions are right and reasonable.
So what do you do when marriage is not how you pictured it?
If your spouse is engaging in abuse, adultery, or abandonment, then you should remove yourself from the situation until your spouse willingly gets all the help they need to change themselves.
But if it’s just a clash of expectations, you have to make a decision…
- Decide that, because your marriage is not meeting your expectations, something is wrong with your marriage. This will lead you to point out your spouse’s faults, relentlessly try to get them to meet your expectations, or assume you’ve married the wrong person and leave the marriage.
- Or, decide that your expectations about marriage are not as realistic as you thought, and begin to adjust your expectations to better suit your your marriage. This will lead you to better enjoy the marriage that’s right in front of you.
Ask yourself, “Which of these two decisions will make a better marriage and leave a better legacy?”
Marriage is not how any of us pictured it when we were single, but that doesn’t mean it still can’t be a masterpiece. If you’re willing to humble yourself and work at taming your expectations, your marriage can bring a smile to your face that will make people wonder what you’re thinking about…just like the Mona Lisa.
The next time you and your spouse are out on a date, (and yes you should do that) try asking your spouse, “What’s one way our marriage is not how you pictured it?” Let them know you’re not trying to trick them or start a fight, but that you’re curious as to what they think. Then ask them, “What’s one way our marriage is better than you pictured it?” Let them ask you the same question. You may be surprised by the conversation that follows.
Copyright © 2017 Bret Legg