My dad’s carelessness drove my mother crazy. Without fail, each time he would leave the house (giving himself not a moment to spare), he would be in a frantic sprint through the main floor for his keys. I’d often jump up to help as he yelled, “Where are my keys?!” It was a game to me, searching for his lost keys. His misplacement of important items…my mom couldn’t understand it. Why wouldn’t he just put them in the same spot every time? Life would be so much easier.
Loving someone for who they are can be a hard thing to continually do. You will never fully understand another human being, no matter how hard you try. You will also never change another human being. As much of a fantasy as it is, we don’t have dominion over other people. Don’t believe me? Think of yourself. How well do you know the person that you are? How easy is it for you to change your own thoughts and behaviors? And these are things we think are controllable…imagine trying that on someone else.
I got married as an infant – 20 years old and starry-eyed. I had no sense of the gravity that is choosing someone to spend infinity and beyond with. All I knew was that I was in love and my partner would be able to provide a living. I dreamed of all the babies I would have and the fun of being a family. Not once did I consider what it meant to live with and love one person no matter what, forever.
When my husband and I were late for things because the time didn’t occur to him, when he would dare to come to sleep without kissing me…that’s when I realized that I had some pretty serious expectations of him that he wasn’t meeting. When I would accomplish something and he didn’t pop champagne…when my birthday would roll around and he didn’t get me the perfect present…where did these expectations come from and why was I so angry all the time?
It’s easy to believe that we somehow deserve the perfect partner: someone who will fulfill our needs and do so without leaving their dirty socks on the bathroom floor. Someone who will praise us for the dazzling person we are, while washing the dishes, changing diapers, and kissing us passionately. We deserve a person who fills up the gas tank when it’s almost empty, puts their keys away, takes out the trash, and never complains about our shortcomings. Right? Don’t we deserve that?!
I spent a lot of time believing that I deserved things from my husband that felt unnatural to him. Following the birth of our first baby, my world was, as I expected, turned upside down: sleepless nights, exhaustion, intense new love for this tiny being attached to me for endless hours of the day. I expected my husband to be staring at the baby with the same love that I did, amazed with the wonderful job I was doing as a new mother. I wanted him to be a guy in a movie: bringing me coffee and breakfast in bed – instinctually taking the baby from me and telling me to go have a nap just when I needed it most. Instead, I had someone trying to cope with the change in ways that I didn’t understand while I sat with the baby, exhausted, and plotting his death. Of course, I’m being dramatic, but perhaps you’ve felt this way, too.
One day, at a mother-and-baby event, I heard something that changed my life, from a woman on stage who claimed to be an expert on marriage. Instead of dwelling on your partner’s shortcomings, just try to be the best partner you can be (and here was the kicker) — without expectation. Without expectation. She said that once she had discovered this, she was free and happy, and her spouse started to love her the way she craved. Could this really be the secret?!
I decided to try it…to have no expectations of my partner and just do my best to be the partner I fantasized about having. The almost undetectable change felt transformative to me. I don’t think the transformation had much to do with my husband. My bitter heart turned to a joy-filled one. Overnight? No. Over a time of lots of personal searching and growth. I began to notice the things that he was doing – the ways he showed me his love. I was kinder and more gracious. In turn, his attitude toward me lightened. Our relationship began to change, and that change started in my heart.
Of course, there are expectations that are important and necessary in a relationship: respect, faithfulness, love. I am in no way trying to encourage staying in a relationship where these important virtues are not present. I’m talking about the little things that chip away at a relationship: the small, seemingly inconsequential things that build and cause resentment and distance.
Nobody is perfect, not your partner, and certainly not you. Changing the question from “What do I deserve?” to “How can I be a better partner?” shifted my attitude and my life. Show the love that you want to receive and watch that love come back to you.
Happy Valentine’s Day to all you imperfect couples out there!