We all go into marriage with a set of expectations. They're kindled by our culture (both religious and secular), by the examples we see, by our hormones, and by what we want - or think we want.
Christian culture paints a picture of marriage as it should be; the two should be one flesh, as Jesus said. Paul went into more detail in the seventh chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians, laying out the role and 'rules' of the sexual relationship. And let's not forget the Song of Solomon, a paean to married romance if there ever was one.
It would be nice if we could live up to these ideals, but too often, we don't. The 'sex stuff' in Corinthians is often misapplied by men to demand their 'right' to sex, when a careful reading doesn't lead there at all. It's all about mutuality.
Should we turn away from the expectations we acquire from Scripture? Of course not; but we should see them as a goal to be reached together, and not a condition that comes into force after you say "I do".
Secular culture is one of marriage's biggest enemies. If we watch enough romantic comedies, read enough romance novels, we get the idea that we should expect to be in love all our lives.
It's not going to happen.
You will - I hope - love your spouse through the years, but your heart isn't going to beat faster, at least not in the same way, after ten years of sharing a bathroom. And it shouldn't; would you want that fever pitch of excitement that brought you together, and cemented your relationship through courting? It would be pretty tiring.
And yet, if we don't feel that way, we feel cheated - as if something is wrong with us, with our spouse...or maybe the whole thing was just a mistake. "I'm not in love any more!" has warmed the hearts and fattened the pocketbooks of generations of divorce lawyers.
There's a darker side to expectations planted by secular culture, and it overwhelmingly affects men.
The Internet has made pornographic images so readily available that very, very few men have not had their view of women and relationships touched by it.
It's so wrong. Pornography depends on the objectification, and ultimately the degradation of women, yet men will often use what they see as "how-to" guides for a positive sexual relationship.
They'll press their wives to try "new things"; and they often get their wish in practice, but at the cost of a wife who knows full well whence came the request.
And these women will know that they are sharing their beds with the images in their husbands' minds, and after the act, will turn away heartbroken.
The examples in our lives, starting with our parents, can give us expectations that can be positive, or quite negative.
Being raised in a warm, loving family can make us expect that our spouse will be "just like Dad or Mom"...and we're crushed when the person we married is quite different from the doting parent whose image we carried as a talisman through the jungles of dating.
We reject the person we're with, usually subconsciously, because they're not who we want them to be.
Sometimes this takes forms that can be almost silly..."You don't cook like my Mom!" or "My Dad would never spend Sunday afternoon watching NASCAR!"
But the issues are usually deeper, and stem from the security we felt in childhood - that we were #1 in our parents' eyes. And all of a sudden...we're married to a separate adult, with an agenda of his or her own. (Not to say that your parents didn't have their own lives, but kids are rarely aware of them.)
There can be bad examples, too. You might have grown up in a home that was hellish, and the modality you came to expect was constant bickering and backstabbing.
You meet someone, fall in love...but somehow, you're always waiting for the other shoe to drop. You build defenses against attacks that don't come, and then, seeing the walls disused, actually invite the attacks, provoking until the itch is scratched, and the hostility that was familiar through our childhoods is reborn.
Hormones. Sometimes it would be better if we didn't have them!
Hormonal expectations are usually based around sex. No secret there.
Men are generally 'ready' almost all the time, and they cannot understand - without thoughtful training - that women's bodies and hearts simply don't work that way. For a man, an evening of passion can start after the ten o'clock news.
For a woman, it starts at breakfast...on the previous day.
To put it bluntly, men want to be satisfied, and women want to feel wanted. A man will enter a marriage thinking that his wife is 'pretty much like him', and his expectation is that if he can 'satisfy' her in bed, all is right with the physical relationship.
And what men don't want to face is the fact that a woman's drive to be wanted and cherished can lead her to fake it.
A woman will enter marriage thinking that the romantic gestures tendered by her suitor were emblematic of a cherishing heart. They are, but they're also indicative of a physically desirous heart, and in a man, you can't separate the two.
The sexual expectations often leave a man feeling inadequate, and a woman feeling used. Not what our Creator intended.
How can we keep wrong expectations from crippling or destroying our marriages?
It's not hard. Communication and education.
We have to learn to ask the hard questions, and listen to the answers without flinching, long before rings are exchanged. Too many couples avoid the difficult passages during courtship because they don't want to rock the boat, but they don't see...there's a storm a-comin', and it's called marriage.
If the boat isn't seaworthy, it can be repaired, but only if you know what to fix.
If you're already married, communication's even more important, and sometimes you have to go back to things you expected from the beginning - things that are now an embarrassment. And you have to take ownership of them, and talk about them
And sometimes you might find that the things that make you cringe in shame are exactly those your spouse loved about you in the first place...and wondered where they'd gone.
We have to be willing to be educated, and educated together. Men and women are different, and you and your spouse probably had very different - and separate - lives before you met. You have to learn about the person you're with, starting from their chromosome configuration.
You have to learn the path your spouse walked, and let your mate learn yours. Nothing hidden, nothing off-limits, because those will surely blow up in your face later.
And when you come to the end of this process, you'll find that expectations are replaced by mutuality, and longing, by hope.
Did you have any wrong expectations when you entered marriage? Do you have any now. that you're struggling with? Please share - you can help your fellow readers.
And one more thing - banish pornography. Guys, be transparent in your computer use. And ladies, encourage accountability without hostility.
This post is linked to Wedded Wednesday, a compendium of really cool posts on marriage. If you click on the logo below, you'll be taken to www.messymarriage.com, which is the springboard to a wealth of information.