It’s one of the things we are most afraid might happen to us. We know the horrors well enough and often devote inordinate efforts trying to skirt them. Yet, however hard we may try, it’s an error we’re highly likely to make all the same: we too will – almost certainly – end up marrying the wrong person.
The truth is few people dating in their twenties and thirties today truly believe that the person they marry will be perfect. We have seen enough broken marriages and read enough relationship blogs to know that marriage is hard—even when you marry your best friend. More and more men and women are putting off marriage, not because they don’t want it, but because they feel ill-equipped for the challenge.
Uncovering and struggling to meet one another’s expectations is one of the most difficult tasks in married life. Most of the time we don’t even realize we expect our spouse to behave in a particular way or to be a certain kind of person—we just assume that our spouse is on the same page. Sometimes the fix is simple. You share your expectations with your spouse, he/she shares his expectations with you, and you both work to be better for each other. But there are some expectations that our other half can never satisfy. Maybe it’s his/her inability to be the extrovert, the communicator, or the affirmer you hoped he would be. Then sets in the slow and sinking realization that this person you married will never be able to meet your very reasonable expectations—this person is never going to change.
The risk of marrying the wrong person is compounded by the way that almost everyone else is comparably aware and so cannot inform us about what is adrift in their characters either. Naturally, we make a stab at trying to understand them.
It’s not that you expected your partner to be perfect, but you did expect to be able to work things out. We visit their families and perhaps the place they first went to school. We look at their photos, we meet their college friends. All this contributes to a sense we’ve done our homework. We haven’t. Marriage ends up as a hopeful, generous, infinitely kind gamble taken by two people who don’t know yet who they are or who the other might be, binding themselves to a future they cannot conceive of and have carefully omitted to investigate.
Accepting the disappointment of unmet expectations, and then moving on to truly love our spouse for who they are, requires a healthy grieving process. Allowing yourself and your spouse to grieve together for what you will never have is the first step to finding true compatibility with the person in front of you.
The most amazing marriages we’ve seen are ones in which the partners not only can accept their disappointments but also reach a point where they can do it together. In other words, they are able to join together in acknowledging the things they grieve, and doing so becomes a way of being more intimate.
Let’s not cast aside our expectations too hastily, even the unrealistic romanticized ones. We should allow ourselves to grieve for the person we didn’t marry so that we can open our hearts to the person we did. This is how true compatibility is built and deeper intimacy is forged in marriage.
There are good reasons to stay in a bad marriage, from the spiritual to the financial. There may be hope that the marriage will get better even great marriages to have problems. Maybe it’s financially untenable to separate or you believe your children would suffer from the change. But the argument that romantic dissatisfaction is inventible is a terrible reason to stay in a bad marriage.