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What to Do When Marriage Disappoints You

It takes commitment and determination to work through disappointments in marriage. But it can be done.

I remember the exciting day when my parents finally gave in. After what felt like years of my brother and me dropping hints and showing them our pictures and wish list, my parents finally said we could get a pet. A few weeks later my seven-year-old feet ran into the kitchen to meet my forever-best-friend, a little white cat with an adorable gray face. My brother and I jumped up and down—“It’s finally happening! This is going to be the best part of my childhood,” I proclaimed with loud excitement. I can still remember debating with my brother about the name, and once we decided, I stood up in the air, and in a Lion King/Mufasa moment I outstretched my arms and yelled, “This cat shall be named Max!” I could hardly sleep that night knowing my new best friend was finally in my house.

Fast forward two weeks when a sad reality sat in. My brother and I had claw marks all up and down our arms, we had become very familiar with Max’s teeth, and the cat wouldn’t stop jumping on the kitchen counters and playing with our food. My non-cat-loving-dad wasn’t exactly thrilled about this. After a month, my parents gave up and said “Sorry kids. We can’t have Max anymore.” I didn’t tell them at the time, but I totally agreed with them. The cat had to go.

As I have navigated through the first few years of marriage, there have been times when that same disappointed feeling popped up in our relationship. I showed all my friends the dream man I hoped I would find, I counted down the days to our wedding, and then when he finally moved in with me, I had this moment of “Wait a second, what did I do?” Much like I anticipated Max to immediately be a fun, playful pet who was my very best friend, I looked to my husband, Caleb, as a giant upgrade to my adult life and knew everything would be better now that we were together (as the song told me). However, I quickly learned that wasn’t always the case.

If the goal of marriage is for me to always live a happier life, I am going to be really disappointed. As I’ve wrestled with this in my marriage, God’s taught me a few lessons on how to avoid and tear down those feelings of disappointment.

You’ve Got to Tell Him What You Need

If you’ve been married for a few years, I’m sure you can relate to the time, the fight, or the moment when you realized marriage wasn’t always going to make you happy. Our first year of marriage I remember coming home after a full day of work and graduate school, opening our apartment door, and expecting Caleb to jump off the couch and greet me with a big hello. As I walked in, I saw him lying on the couch, watching TV, and I heard a small “hello,” as he continued to stare straight ahead. I immediately broke down and mumbled something along the line of “Why aren’t you excited to see me? Can’t you at least sit up?” If Caleb had been a cat, I think that may have been the night I returned him. He wasn’t meeting my needs, I didn’t feel happy, and we had a small fight.

I grew up in a home that yelled your name in excitement when you walked through the door (literally). I assumed every time I would come home, my husband would greet me with the same enthusiasm my dad did throughout my childhood. When Caleb didn’t “meet that need,” I felt rejected and assumed he wasn’t excited to see me.

After a few months of feeling unloved in this area, I finally confessed to Caleb how much my “love tank” was filled when he showed me how happy he was when I came home. My husband had no idea that the first words he said when I walked in the door were so important. When I finally explained: “Caleb, I know this sounds funny, but it means a lot to me,” he began to greet me with a big smile and hug.

Feeling disappointed? Sometimes you just have to explain your needs.

Think About Your Standards

A few weeks ago I was listening to someone talk about this incredibly romantic evening with her husband. They have been married around 12 years, and folks, they’ve still got it! She came home from work to rose petals on the ground. He had cooked dinner and had a present sitting on the table for her. It wasn’t a special occasion or anniversary; she said, “He just does sweet things like that every month. Like he is always trying to love me.” (Eye roll here)

On the way home from her house, I was thinking about the last time Caleb did something like that for me and was feeling disappointed. I walked in the door to no food cooked, but there was a note on the table. Feeling excited that my husband must have left me a love note, I ran over, grabbed it with both hands, and saw, “Can you do some laundry tonight?” (Second eye roll).

Whether it’s stories from my friends, scenes from a chick flick, or pictures on Pinterest, often I am disappointed with my marriage and my husband not because of his mistakes but because of my unrealistic standards. For the first few years of our marriage, I would start to feel this way, and I could see myself begin to pout. I would get frustrated with my husband or easily snap at him during our conversations.

Recently when I was feeling disappointed, I felt God nudging me to take the driver seat. Not happy that he didn’t plan a date night? Then why don’t you. Wish he would initiate sex tonight? Maybe you should. Feeling like you two haven’t had a deep conversation in a while? Plan a time to start!

Another way women put unrealistic expectations on themselves is through social media. After spending a few minutes on Facebook or Instagram, it’s easy to walk away comparing your husband to the pretty pictures online. Did your husband say no to Christmas pictures but everyone else has a cute shot? A few months ago, I actually began writing in my journal each time I felt disappointed with my spouse, so I could spend some time processing what I felt and praying for God’s heart and wisdom toward my man. Each time I did this, it saved me from exploding with frustration toward my husband, but it also allowed time for God to reveal the pride and selfishness that were behind my frustrations. It wasn’t Caleb’s problem; it was mine!

Feeling disappointed? Sometimes you just have to adjust your standards.

Learn to Deal with the Tough Parts of Life as a Team

When Caleb’s mom and brother unexpectedly died two years ago, I was suddenly living with a very different (and very depressed) version of my husband. When my best friend found out she was infertile, she completely withdrew from her husband. I had another friend whose severe medical diagnosis changed every piece of her marriage, and she found herself constantly frustrated that she ever said “I do.”

I’m sure you can insert your story here, but sometimes disappointment in your marriage isn’t as simple as a lack of date nights. Often, the hard realities and sadness of life can sweep in, bringing hurt and pain into your personal life that then reflect on your marriage. As we get closer to Christmas, this time of year can bring up old wounds and re-ignite feeling of grief.

My friend said it so well as she was talking about the emotions toward infertility around the holidays. “At first, I was disappointed with my spouse because he wasn’t acting normal and loving me as I thought he should. However, God has started to show me that although we are dealing with this loss differently, we are still on the same team. I need to learn to fight with him instead of being disappointed that he isn’t serving me the way I think I need it.”

Feeling disappointed? Sometimes you have to work, grieve, and mourn as a team.

As you read these stories, I’m guessing you can relate. What will you do with your disappointment? I pray God will remind you of the gift he gave you in a spouse, show you how to walk away from sadness, and remind you that marriage is built to continue to make you more like him.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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