When my husband and I dated as teenagers, he was a master romancer. He courted me with strewn pink rose petals, trails marked off by silver-wrapped chocolate candies, original love songs played on the piano, and sparkling cider under the stars. Of course, some women don’t care for all that, but I lived for it! I couldn’t wait to marry this man and experience a life of bliss, where I’d always be surprised and swooned.
After celebrating 12 years of marriage, I feel slightly disgusted with my younger self, who thought marriage centered around her happiness and comfort. She had it all wrong. If my more mature self could have somehow been transported to the past, I would have sweetly cupped her face in my hands and told her that she wasn’t the focus of her marriage. Being equipped with that knowledge would have saved me from a lot of unnecessary heartbreak over the years.
Unfortunately, I used to think my marriage should aim to look like a Nicholas Sparks romance novel or an episode of The Bachelor—false portrayals of love. My mission to chase after a fairy tale marriage wasn't bad per se, but it was dangerously lacking depth, wisdom, and purpose.
Valentine’s Day has a habit of setting us up for the same type of phony expectations. If you’re anything like me, you can’t wait to see what your husband or wife dreams up for this commercial holiday that mirages as genuine love, making us think the gift equates to the giver’s true affections. Maybe a vase of fragrant red roses will show up at your door, or he will take you out on a fancy dinner date. Or he might gift you with candy, jewelry, a day at the spa, or even a vacation to a foreign destination. (I tend to get carried away!)
However, real-life regularly interrupts my dreams of romance. My husband serves in the military, and that means it’s likely that between long work hours, field exercises, and deployments, I may not even see him on Valentine’s Day. Throw kids and everyday life responsibilities in the mix, and there’s barely time for him to stop by the grocery store and grab a card. Regrettably, it took me a few years to understand this.
The first time my husband gave me just a card for Valentine’s Day, I was baffled. Where was the man who composed ballads declaring his love for me? I needed that. I deserved that. I wanted more from him than a piece of folded paper! Reminiscing on my disappointment that day reveals my deeply rooted selfishness. I fell into the sneaky trap that says love is all about romance and getting your needs met.
Thankfully, God did what He faithfully does and transformed my heart in this area. Over the years, I’ve learned the truth about marriage and recalibrated my expectations. I thought my husband was supposed to fulfill me, complete me, and satisfy me. Notice the repeated pronoun there: me, me, me. To truly enjoy marriage, I had to take the focus off of myself and zoom in on my husband. It seems counter-intuitive, but something beautifully unexpected occurred when I took this approach to marriage by sacrificially loving my husband.
When we put our spouse’s needs before our own, our marriage works better because that’s how it was designed to operate. We’re supposed to be offering one another unconditional love, companionship, help, grace, and forgiveness. When I finally put all that into regular practice, my marriage began to look like I had imagined, but even better.
Thinking about my spouse before myself made all the difference, and ruminating on what he could do for me no longer consumed my time. Sure, I still hope he surprises me on Valentine’s Day and other holidays (and sometimes he does), but I don’t expect it anymore. Rather, I focus on creating something memorable for my husband that makes him feel cherished.
So, if you’re prone to the Valentine letdown, reframe your expectations. Yes, it would be marvelous if your husband defies your wildest dreams on Feb. 14, but he probably won’t, and that’s fine. Instead, think about what you can do to display love for your spouse. Allow yourself the freedom to temper your romantic ideals and concentrate on loving your partner the way that most effectively speaks to them.
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