With wedding season upon us, so many couples are about to blissfully enter into marriage, hopefully with dreams and ideas of their long and happy lives together. Do you remember those times? Maybe you’re long past your newlywed days. What advice would you give them?
I’m reading one of the reported “best books of all time,” Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. Nearly smack dab in the middle of the book, I was struck by a character’s experiences of entering marriage. Levin had adored and loved Kitty for many years and dreamed of marrying her. Finally, the stars aligned and they were engaged. They had an elaborate wedding and went off into the country to begin their lives together. Levin never expected petty annoyances to get in the way of their love, and he was surprised how easily this happened. I want to share a short excerpt from the book, because I think it offers a great image of expectations along with reality.
“He was happy; but on entering upon family life he saw at every step that it was utterly different from what he had imagined. At every step he experienced what a man would experience who, after admiring the smooth, happy course of a little boat on a lake, should get himself into that little boat. He saw that it was not at all sitting still, floating smoothly; that one had to think too, not for an instant to forget where one was floating; and that there was water under one, and that one must row; and that his unaccustomed hands would be sore; and that it was only to look at that was easy; but that doing it, though very delightful, was very difficult.”
Tolstoy goes on to say, “As a bachelor, when he had watched other people’s squabbles, the jealousy, he had only smiled contemptuously in his heart. In his future married life there could be, he was convinced, nothing of the sort…”
I thought the description was fitting for life and for marriage. We often envision a future that is nearly perfect like that little boat floating along. But once we get farther down our path and feel the sun beating down on the rocking boat and realize that it’s work to maneuver the boat, we are surprised. It doesn’t mean it’s not delightful, but that it requires our effort can sometimes be unexpected. Levin sees his life as “suffused with the brilliant light of happiness” so it’s not that he is disappointed in marriage. However, his expectations were simply different from reality, at least at the beginning.
In many ways, we have expectations for our partner that are different from our reality, often not in a bad way, just different. Keeping perspective on this might help us maneuver through some of the potential conflicts in relationships.
I’ve often heard young parents make a similar confession, saying that they always imagined what perfect parents they would be until the real child rearing challenges became apparent. It doesn’t mean they don’t love the role of parenting, just that it was far different from their expectations. Forgiving ourselves from our parenting mistakes becomes just as important as forgiving our partner for their perceived failings.
What expectations do you still carry with you into your marriage? What petty annoyances are you allowing to create division with your mate? How do you dream about and picture your future 10 or 20 years from now? And what advice do you have for those starry-eyed couples about to be wed?
Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.
Photo by Noomhh courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.