The Struggle is Real: Marriage Expectations

Written by: David M. Smith, M.Div., M.A.
The Struggle is Real: Marriage Expectations

It seems no one has “Rose Colored Glasses” quite to the degree as couples who are engaged or “Just Married”! If they could bottle up those emotions and sell them, I think we would have a lot of “love addicts.” What those couples are going through is a powerful cocktail of unconscious connection, conscious attraction, and hormones! In fact, the couples who have it the strongest have been studies with functional MRI scans to practically mentally ill! But this strong attraction, infatuation, or “idealization” is pretty normal. We try to fight it with premarital counseling, by listening to family and friends, and by having extended periods of engagement – all VERY helpful disciplines. But most couples enter marriage with their “glasses” still pretty rosy!

The end of this period of idealization is usually marked by some encounters between a husband and wife that feels like the emotional equivalent of throwing a bucket of cold water on each other. People usually find that each person is being a bit less “careful” with how they treat each other. There are more disagreements, more unmet expectations, and more disappointment. This begins the period often known as “The Power Struggle.” Once again, this is normal development. Two adults start seeing each other more clearly, less rosy! Hopefully during this stage, people can still see each other somewhat “objectively” as real humans with strengths and weaknesses – in need of love and grace. This is a time when most couples have to do some work on “communication.” They need to establish marital rules and norms for:

  • how we are going to talk to each other,
  • how we are going to treat each other,
  • how we are going to express our needs,
  • how we are going to listen to each other,
  • how we are going to solve problems together,
  • how we are going to heal hurts, apologize and forgive.

Couples that successfully accomplish this can be thought of as “seeing things clearly” – they are looking through clear glasses. If they can do this with Biblical love and compassion, perhaps they can even see their spouse with the kind of clear but compassionate point of view that God has!

Couples that lose some of their idealization and who fail to develop the values and skills needed to work realistically together, tend to develop a different kind of glasses – “Mud-covered glasses!” These are couples who, when their idealistic expectations are not met, react with hurt, rage, and running away or “lashing out” emotionally at their spouse. If couples continue the power struggle and “fight to win” – the marriage loses! These couples think they are “seeing clearly,” but the research suggests they ONLY see the negative and are actually gifted at filtering out the positive. Once a couple begins this mud-slinging, it is hard to take off the “Mud-covered glasses” and begin to see clearly again. But it is NEVER too late for one or both spouses to begin the process of getting back to treating each other with respect and working together.

Overly positive expectations lead to surprising disappointment, which can lead to EITHER learning to communicate and work together OR to dragging each other further down into emotional pain and disappointment. Each couple has to make the choice to take the higher road – and God will provide the tools and reward the effort – if we are willing.

If The Summit Counseling can help you find the tools you need to communicate and work together, please contact us at: !