We were high school sweethearts. In the midst of football games, stolen glances across the cafeteria, and fingers entwined between classes, young love sprouted. He was my hero, and I was his girl. As I flip through pictures of those days, not-so-long-but-forever-ago, I smile. My heart warms as the memories surface.
I love love.
I can't help it. I love a good, predictable chick flick, and I love the happily-ever-afters. I love it when the guy swoops in and rescues the girl, and off they ride into the sunset as she leans her head onto his protective shoulder. While I enjoyed a good romp in the outdoors, I'd be lying if I said I didn't play princess a few times growing up, or imagine myself in Cinderella's glass slippers.
We all crave a fairytale and a happy ending, if we're honest. I do believe that God created us girls with a tender place in our hearts that longs for this kind of love. But personally, my misunderstanding of Who should fill it has caused more trouble for me than I'd care to admit. In all of my romanticized ideas, I found that over time, I tried over and over to stuff my husband into this Prince Charming uniform that I had created in my head over the years. And I, of course, was determined to be the perfect princess to complete our happy story.
Do you ever remember growing up, getting ready for Halloween or a church program in which you were forced to wear a scratchy, suffocating, hand-me-down costume that didn't fit? Even if the candy was great, the games fun, or the performance riveting – the night was ruined and it didn't matter because all you could think about was how much you want to get out of this horrible costume?
Well, that was me. The hopeless romantic newlywed, jumping up and down desperately to wiggle into my too-tight fairy princess dress like a pair of skinny jeans, and yelling at my husband to please get his Prince Charming suit on! Funny picture, I know...it's sad, but true!
I wonder how many times we do that to our husbands? With all of our expectations, suggestions, honey-do lists, and critiquing? At the beginning of marriage, it might be trivial things that we outgrow, but I've found that those expectations grow more subtle as time goes on. We trade arguments over how the sheets are tucked for prayer sessions over changing their character.
I'm not at all suggesting that prayer and communication of certain expectations for our spouses aren't important – they are. But with some of the best intentions, I've been all-too-guilty of my heart motivations being far from where God intends. Of butting into the place of the Holy Spirit in my husband's life. Of studying scriptures to help our marriage, when in fact, the person needing the most help was me. Sure, I wanted to be a godly wife, too, and knew I had flaws to be corrected, but my preoccupation with this Prince Charming and Cinderella thing became my focus. I became more intent on having the perfect God-centered marriage than focusing on God himself.
I hated constantly feeling like a failure when I couldn't meet my own pie-in-the-sky expectations of the “perfect wife” to fit into my fairytale scenario. Even though they weren't even coming from my husband, I constantly felt defeated. God began to show me how much weight my husband must feel when I was placing some of those same expectations on him to be that “perfect husband” (i.e. spiritual leader, affection, time spent together, etc).
What if he had pinned a poster in the kitchen of a beautiful, smiling, gourmet-cooking, floor-scrubbing, heel-wearing woman that he constantly reminded me that I needed to be? I would have buckled in tears over that kind of pressure. But essentially, that's what I was doing to him, with these Prince Charming ideas of mine. And coming from the girl to whom he once professed his undying love and who gazed back at him with stars in her eyes? It was painful for him. Excruciating. Even now, it hurts my heart to look back and see how much I smothered him with all of my unrealistic ideals. Before I allowed God to open my eyes, we were in a tailspin of disappointments, arguments, and we both felt like failures in the relationship even though we couldn't quite figure out why.
Two well-meaning, madly-in-love newlyweds became frustrated, defeated, and left scratching our heads in the midst of the tailspin. It became exhausting for us both.
In His love and grace, God has softened my heart and shown me to receive His love first so that I can truly love my husband without all of the expectations that rise out of my insecurities. We're still in process, but I can honestly tell you that God has transformed our marriage. Even in the mess, he's still my hero, and I'm still his girl. While we are humans with many flaws, I believe it is possible to have marital bliss in the midst of our imperfections when we allow our perfect God to pave the way.
As God began to mold and shape my heart after His expectations, here are a few things I learned (and am still learning!):
God first - Before I can have a proper view of marriage, I must first allow God to fill my heart in only the way He can. My husband cannot satisfy or fulfill me, but Jesus can! The only way to have healthy expectations in marriage is to allow God to shape them. By myself, I'm short-sighted, fickle, selfish, and unrealistic.
But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all of these things will be added to you. ~ Matthew 6:33
Relinquish control - Okay, so this eventually revealed that I am somewhat of a control freak. :) God challenged me to simply trust Him, including releasing my marriage and husband into His capable hands. There has never been anything so freeing!
Heart check in prayer – When praying for my husband, what is my heart motive? Is it to change his heart to match my own desires, or is it to see His heart drawn close to the Lord and His desires? I constantly have to ask the Lord to align my heart to His as I pray.
Be careful with my words – How am I speaking to and about my husband? Is it in a manner that is building him up, or tearing him down? Are my words positive and encouraging, or negative and laced with sarcasm? Our words are powerful, and can bring both life and death.
Renew my mind with the Word – I've found that many of the strongholds, perceptions, and unhealthy expectations I carry start with me and what I allow to percolate inside my head. The longer I think about something, the more I begin to believe it's true. Satan works like that, giving us a snippet of truth and our fleshly imaginations run wild with it as we take things into our own hands. God's Word is a sure way to reveal the deceptions and unhealthy thoughts by the light of His Truth.
Extend grace – I am not perfect, and neither is my husband. Disappointments and failures will happen. I need to offer him the same grace that I'd like to receive when I make mistakes.
Don't assume the worst – If he fails to take out the trash? Choose to believe it's because he honestly forgot, and not because he doesn't care about the household. If he doesn't talk the entire time we're driving to the in-laws? Don't assume it's because he doesn't like talking to me – maybe he just enjoys companionship in comfortable silence. If he snaps at me or the kids right when he gets home from work? Believe that he's put in a hard day's work because he loves his family, and that it's not always easy to leave work at work.
Focus on the good – This has been paramount for me. In the battlefield of the mind, choosing to focus on the good things about my husband has done wonders in changing my actual perspective of him. I love what Paul says in Philippians 4:8:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
I've learned that the best of fairytales are those woven into the midst of flaws, trials, and imperfections. That's what makes the story so beautiful.
As your story is written by the Author of love, you may be surprised at the romance that kindles. And how much your husband resembles Prince Charming, after all, when you allow your heart to be molded by his Creator. ;)
In what areas are your expectations for your husband unrealistic and possibly smothering him? Ask God to reveal them to you, then surrender those expectations to Him. This week, I challenge you to look for the good things in your husband – then tell him about them! And when he falls short? Extend grace.
Ashlie is a wife to her high school sweetheart, mommy of two little girls, and makes her home in a small town nestled in the Midwest. Jesus, family, writing, and homemaking are her passions. She is a recovering perfectionist – God’s grace is her sanity. Seeing others discover His vast grace and love makes her all kinds of excited! She loves chocolate, coffee, thrift store shopping, and laughing until her sides ache. She writes at One Small Town Girl and tweets at @AshlieWrites
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