Sometimes it’s hard to write about things when you’re in the middle of it, like with marriage. I haven’t written much about our marriage recently because well…one, it’s not just my story to tell. Even though I am more of an open book and will gladly share what I’ve been learning with just about anyone, I know my husband, Gerber may not want to share those same things or at least not in such a public place like my blog. And I respect that. I think, secondly, it’s because we’ve been pretty invested the past year and a half in re-figuring out our marriage. You know, how to be mom & dad and wife & husband; how to love and serve each other well as partners in the home and at work. It’s an ongoing dynamic and dance that has been a quite an adjustment for us. Maybe it is for all couples?
. . .
I remember when we did some pre-martial counseling, we talked about expectations and values. We did one of those online inventories and congratulated ourselves that our scores were so high. On paper the our values and preferences lined up so well. We marched into marriage confident of who we were and excited for what was ahead. Perhaps that’s how all marriages should start. With an extra dose of love and gumption for the journey ahead.
I think anyone who is married knows it is a journey. A daily, moment-by-moment, journey choosing service over selfishness and deciding whose turn it is to do the dishes or change the baby’s diaper. And somewhere on that journey you start doing the hard work of unpacking hundreds of expectations that you didn’t even realize you’ve been carrying with you all along.
Expectations are sneaky like that, because often you don’t even know you have them, until one is not being met.
. . .
The first time Gerber took me to the beach in Guatemala I cried. Not tears of joy, but of disappointment. It was not what I had expected. The sand was black and hot, too hot to walk on. It was humid and sticky and the waves were rough. There was a steep hill leading to the water’s edge and that hill was not conducive to throwing down my striped towel for sun bathing. The waves washed up over my feet and the tears rolled down my face. This was not like the beaches in Santa Barbara.
I had been in Guatemala for 6 months and hadn’t seen the ocean, or really any body of water. I missed the ocean breeze and the feel of the sand and looking out over the horizon. Gerber had suggested a beach day. I was ecstatic. And now here he was holding my hand, glancing at me from the corner of his sunglasses, utterly confused why his girlfriend who loved he beach was crying.
. . .
We have had lots of moments like this, and the thing is usually we can’t name the expectation until after it hasn’t been met. Be it about cleaning the kitchen, or letting the baby cry, about time together or time apart, or about deciding what we do or do not spend our money on for holiday celebrations.
This has been a lot of my inner work the past year, asking myself, what are my expectations? And not analyzing, are they fair or why I do have them. But just starting by admitting, these are my expectations. The thing is expectations are rarely, right or wrong. They just are. But nothing is worse for a marriage than unspoken expectations. Unspoken expectations fuel disappointment and later, resentment.
Together Gerber and I learning to name our expectations, or at least acknowledge when we feel the this-is-different-than-I-expected moments. And surprisingly that in and of itself has been such a unifying focus. Just the fact that we’re both living and doing life differently than we expected often brings us together.
. . .
I used to think cross-cultural couples had slightly more things to work through in marriage, than couples who marry people with the same first language and passport country. Maybe it’s true. However, friends in all kinds of marriages have shared similar struggles of having different expectations. I think what is true, is that when you bring together any two people, you will naturally also have bring together different expectations. Because regardless of your passport country, people are people, with unique personalities, preferences and priorities.
I sometimes imagine my expectations like an ice cube, rigid, cold and solid. And there is nothing very flexible or creative about an ice cube. But when I acknowledge my expectations, holding them in the palm of my hands, not hidden deep inside, the rigidness and coldness begin to melt away. And you know what forms when an ice cube melts? Water. Water, like love, is fluid and life-giving and fills up. And that is what I imagine happens when we let expectations melt away. They’re still there, but they just take on new form.
. . .
Last week, Gerber knew I had been missing sunny California beach days. He suggested a beach trip for the three of us. I, being the planner in our relationship, realized that would be Valentine’s weekend. Perfect, I thought, Valentine’s Day at the beach with my two favorite people. We went to the same beach he took me to almost 5 years ago. This time with a baby, a few extra bags and pool toys in tow.
I now know that the beach is actually not my husband’s favorite spot to relax. He prefers places that are cool and have shade and preferably a TV. But I also know that he would do anything, even sacrifice his own preferences and comfort to see me happy. So last Saturday, just before the sun was setting, we walked out onto the sand. With my daughter on my hip and my husband at my side, I put my toes in the water and smiled. The beach hasn’t changed in Guatemala. The sand is still unbelievably hot. The waves our rough and the air is sticky. But we have changed. I have changed.
I am firm believer that marriage changes us for the better.