Summary: It can be a real emotional letdown when you’re sitting in a counseling session with your spouse and realize that you or your spouse’s expectations are not being met. Have you romanticized marriage?

It can be a real emotional letdown when you’re sitting in a counseling session with your spouse and realize that you or your spouse’s expectations are not being met. This might be the first moment of the realization that your thoughts and expectations about your marriage were very different.

Many men testify to encountering a moment when their wife exclaims, “You’re not the man I thought I married.” Or maybe you will say or think the same about your wife. This can be an awkward moment. Many couples are surprised by this moment because they experienced early in their relationship what they believed to be a deep love. Only now do they discover it might have been love built on emotion or feeling that led them to over-romanticize their marriage. But marriage is deeper than mere infatuation.

Three Principles to Remember About Marriage

One | Couples encounter struggle

If you talk to couples who have been married for fifty years or more, you will discover that they often confess to multiple years of conflict with each other. This is shocking for many. It was for me. But marriage is not always as pretty, perfect, and romantic as we want it to be. It’s full of ups and downs. It is going to include struggles with health, finances, children, and each other.

Many couples who have been married for fifty years or more will tell you that there was often a prolonged length of time (sometimes five to ten years) that was challenging for both of them. Even if they’re currently very happily married, they may tell you about a severe and substantial season when they weren’t sure they were going to make it—an event or conflict had put their marriage in danger. This often surprises us because we romanticize marriage in a way that we should not.

It’s fine to want a romantic marriage or the very best marriage, but we shouldn’t imagine that the experience will only be great. This is never true in any relationship. And while some think they are going to have perfect sexual intimacy all the time, and others think they are going to have complete emotional intimacy all the time, our dreams are quickly crushed when we discover each other’s failings, faults, and shortcomings. Remember, struggle is inevitable; you are either in one, coming out of one, or about to head into it. Anticipate it.

Two | Marriage is a commitment

As we enter marriage, we usually don’t realize that our commitment to marriage is more important than the contract of marriage. Contracts are made to be broken; ask any attorney. When push comes to shove, we will look for a way out of a contract. It’s in our human nature. We love to justify, to look for excuses, and when we feel pain, we run for safety. Commitment eludes half of all Christian marriages today. At the start of a marriage, few couples imagine they could ever end up divorced, but 50% of all Christian marriages do end in divorce. This fact remains unchanged.

The remedy is a single word: commitment. Older couples will resoundingly affirm that commitment was the one thing that got them through the hardest moments in their marriage. Commitment, not a contract, with both members engaged. That’s all it takes—commitment, commitment, and more commitment. I have seen many marriages face challenges, and some of them are ugly. And yet, as ugly as they are, the beauty of commitment is far more significant. Just keep this verse in mind: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mark 10:9).

Three | Share what you want and need

When we romanticize marriage, we, by nature, begin to look elsewhere when our unspoken needs are not being met. Maybe it starts by looking at other couples and seeing their relationship only through the eyes of perfection. And then our discontent escalates as we seek out the physical or emotional attention we want, or maybe need, from another person who is not our spouse. Before we know it, we are emotionally or physically involved with another person. And why? Maybe because we never verbalized our wants and needs.

This escalation of romanticizing always lends to tragic results. It attempts to undermine the joy of relationship, and it has long-lasting negative ramifications. The way we combat this destructive path is not only by checking our self-centeredness but by actively sharing our wants and needs. Many couples forgo these conversations for too long, which creates an emotional and physical disconnection that becomes increasingly difficult to mend. An anthill of need turns into molehills of latent needs that go unmet first for weeks, then months, and then years. In this void of conversation, we leave a vacuum of unspoken need on the table that often leads to harbored feelings that must be expressed and responded to. For the sake of your marriage, your relationships, your future, your children, and your faith—have the conversation. Speak up and let your heart be known. Stop the silence. It might lead to something beautiful.

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