Question: My spouse and I still love each other, but married life bears little resemblance to the hopes and dreams we had while we were dating. Hardships and disappointments are beginning to wear us down. Sometimes I actually find myself thinking that I’d be better off on my own. Is this normal?


"Normal" is a relative concept. If you could peek behind the doors of other people’s marriages, you’d find that "normal" encompasses a surprisingly wide range of variance in most areas. Every marriage is different because every couple and every individual is unique. There is no such thing as a perfect marriage; at the same time, all marriages are not equally troubled or dysfunctional. Nevertheless, if we make room for these variations, we’ll probably find that a certain amount of dissatisfaction or disillusionment is "normal" for any marriage.

The expectation gap

Why should this be? It’s primarily a reflection of what we might call the "expectation gap." Most couples start out with their heads full of dreams of marital bliss. A complex series of hopes, expectations, and plans – whether expressed or unexpressed – has been built up in their minds during the courtship and dating process. The problem is that those plans often hit several speed bumps not long after the honeymoon. One spouse loses a job. Another is diagnosed with a chronic illness. Habits that seemed cute at first become annoying. In-law conflicts arise. A baby is born and financial resources begin to run thin. Reality sets in and the dream begins to fade.

There’s only one way to survive a crisis like this: you have to be willing to lay the old expectations aside and deal with the situation God has place you in. You have to bear in mind that while "a man’s heart plans his way," it is nevertheless the Lord who "directs his steps" (Proverbs 16:9). This is an important part of the process of growing and maturing, both as individuals and as a couple, and it can be more easily accomplished if you step back and remember where your expectations came from in the first place. They were probably drawn from one of two wells: 1) the starry-eyed romantic mirage of courtship; or 2) the marriage you saw modeled firsthand when you were growing up.

Seeking outside help

Good marriages are not necessarily "made in heaven." Instead, they are forged in the crucible of day-to-day experience. If you and your spouse can examine your expectations honestly and recognize them for what they are – false or true, positive or negative, healthy or harmful – you’ll be in a better position to put them in perspective and get on with the task of grappling with the challenges of life as you’re experiencing it at the present moment. "Sufficient for the day is its own trouble" (Matthew 6:34).

If you’re like most couples, you could probably use some extra help in this area. An objective third party can help you see aspects of your situation that you could never discern on your own. Instead of jumping to the conclusion that your marriage is a failure and that you’d be better off single, you should consider the option of seeking professional counselling. Our staff would be happy to provide you with referrals to qualified counsellors in your area who specialize in marriage and family therapy. They’d also consider it a privilege to discuss your situation with you over the phone. You can call our counsellors here at Focus on the Family Canada Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific time at 1.800.661.9800.

Excerpted from The Complete Guide to the First Five Years of Marriage, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers. Copyright © 2006, Focus on the Family.

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