Do You Want A Happy Marriage? Do This.

Flickr/ Erin McGuire
Flickr/ Erin McGuire

Living in harmony with another human being of the opposite sex can be challenging, to say the least. My husband, Luke, and I have had many of “those talks” throughout our marriage. You know which ones I’m talking about. The ones that bring a couple back to a place where they really understand each other. For us, they often center around misplaced expectations.

“He’ll mow the lawn, take out the trash, and fix things that are broken . . .”

“She’ll do the grocery shopping, the cooking, and the laundry . . .”

These are expectations. Sometimes they are based on stereotypes. Other times they stem from common experience, or the way we grew up. Regardless of where they come from, we all have them. Let me share a little wisdom based on personal experience about expectations: it’s best not to assume that you and your spouse agree on your duties of daily life without discussing them first.

Human beings are unique. Marriages are unique. Some things are vital to making a marriage work – love, honesty, trust, fidelity, commitment. But others are not so vital. Who takes the trash out, or who works and who stays at home can vary. Not all happy marriages are arranged the same way.

During our (nearly) three years of marriage and two children together, my husband and I have discovered a lot about each other. Some of what I learned about him has been surprising. Some of what he’s discovered about me has surprised him. Some of what we’ve learned about being a couple has surprised us, too.

For instance, I planned to work full-time after kids. I wanted to, and darn it, that was what was going to happen. But it turned out that while I loved my professional job, I missed my child during the 40-hour work week, and the demands of motherhood on top of a full-time career were breaking me down. I had to adjust my expectations. So Luke and I revised our budget and I found work I was able to do from home. We made it work. It turned out that Luke wanted me to be home with our kids. We learned something surprising about our marriage. And we adjusted our expectations.

Here’s another example. I expected I would have to do the grocery shopping. I hate grocery shopping. If you gave me a choice between doing dishes, weeding the garden, sorting a pile of laundry, changing diapers and grocery shopping, I’d take the dishes and the weeding and the laundry and the diapers. But Luke finds grocery shopping relaxing. He literally finds going on a scavenger hunt for the best deals on peanut butter and pasta sauce and graham crackers a soothing and fulfilling experience. Guess who does the grocery shopping? It’s not what we expected, but it works.

I grew up in a home where things were homemade. I expected to do most the cooking in my marriage, and had visions of ready-to-eat, homemade suppers on the table every night. After all, I thought, I would have plenty of time being at home all day with our kids.

Very funny.

With two kids just under the age of two, my husband usually comes home from work to a dozen matchbox cars and Tonka trucks littered across the kitchen floor, a pile of dishes and the meat still frozen in the fridge. Often it seems like I have nothing to show for my day but our two boys still breathing and a larger pile of laundry. So we’ve learned to tag team dinner together. But often the best solution is for him to cook as I do crowd control and bedtime prep.

It’s not all defied expectations. We do “fit the mold” in some respects. He mows the lawn. But he also helps with the laundry and does the dishes. I am the deep cleaner, the obsessive organizer, and the social planner, but I will also pitch in with house projects. (Don’t laugh at me, Luke. Remember that one time I painted?) And while I am the one who stays at home, we both care for our kids in our different ways as man and woman.

I try (emphasis on the “try”) not to correct my husband or expect him to parent in the exact same way as I do. It’s a work in progress for us both. We try to be united on certain fronts, taking turns reminding the kids “No touching the outlet!” and “Don’t hit your brother with that! … Or anything else you find!” But on other matters, we differ. Luke tickles the kids right after they finish dinner, and I really wish he wouldn’t. He dumps the water over their heads in the bath and I make sure it doesn’t run over their eyes. I say the short version of prayers before bed and he always says the long one.

Because at the end of the day, what do you expect? We are two different human beings living and loving in beautiful and unique ways. We work toward being united in the things that matter most. The point is not to love who I expected my husband to be. It is to love who he really is, and for him to love who I really am. And that means letting go of the expectations sometimes.

So we keep surprising each other, and we are happier for it.


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