It is wedding season and I really love to go to weddings. I find myself getting sentimental and teary-eyed every time I go. I love to see young couples dressed in wedding finery, obviously infatuated with each other, ready and eager to make commitments to each other. I love to gather with family and friends to celebrate the occasion and to feel the reminder of love’s enduring power and promise. It is a joyful thing to marry and create a new family. It is a remarkable expression of love and covenant keeping with God for a young couple to come together in matrimony. I love it!
However, because of the type of work I do, I have often found myself uncomfortable at weddings. It seems people believe because I am a marriage counselor and marriage educator, I must have some profound advice to give to young couples on this special day. So, I suddenly find myself, while trying to just enjoy the occasion, with a video camera in my face and someone saying, “Give some advice to the newlyweds!” I am reluctant to give advice at moments like this. I wonder to myself “What is the right thing to say?” Then, my obvious hesitation is met with an exhortation like “Oh, come on! You are an expert at this! Give the couple some advice!”
I have been thinking about this more because several of my nieces and nephews have recently married or will be marrying soon. Soon, my own children will be reaching the time where they will desire to marry. In short, the question will come up again. I suppose I should be prepared to give some good advice. Well, many who know me are aware I have come up with what I consider the best advice I can give. Unfortunately, the last time I spoke this advice into the camera shoved in my face, I got a troubled look from the eager “reporter.” Yet, I still feel it is the best advice to give. It may not be too palatable, but I believe it is the “right” advice.
Prepare to be disappointed and prepare to be disappointing
I believe this is sound marital advice. Most couples enter marriage with high expectations for the feelings of infatuation and deep romantic love to continue. Most young people embark on this journey with starry eyes and love-struck hearts, where there is no imagination of there ever being a change to what they presently feel, let alone a hard moment or two ahead of them. This is wonderful and I am not sure I would wish to change those feelings. Yet, wanting marriages to be strong and to last requires some adjustment to our thinking in this regard. I believe I love attending weddings because seeing a couple with this kind of love and excitement reminds me of how I was the same when I was married. Yet, I know what is around the corner for them. Disappointment will soon be their companion. It will happen. Because this is a marriage of two imperfect people from very different worlds, the specter of disappointment will arrive. And probably before they are ready to welcome him in.
What if disappointment were welcomed as a guest in the marriage? What if young couples anticipated the disappointment they would both be and feel? What conversations would a couple have if they anticipated disappointment’s arrival and sought to be prepared? I have learned in my own marriage, and in my career helping many other marriages, to expect and embrace disappointment. Life is full of disappointments of one kind or another. From my experience, most of these disappointments come not from the intentional behavior of others, but from the realities of imperfect people and real differences between people. So, it is how we handle the disappointments which surely come that makes all the difference. Marriage will be full of many disappointments for couples. There is opportunity in this. The prepared couple welcomes disappointment and uses it to help them move forward. When disappointment moves from obstacle to opportunity, couples learn to move forward. When partners realize each plays a part in inviting disappointment into the marriage, even more opportunity arises. Neither is better than the other. Both invite disappointment. Both can invite repair. Both can invite apology. Both can invite commitment. If we expect disappointment to be our occasional companion, we can then invite other companions into the marriage. These additional guests might include repentance, forgiveness, compassion, patience, empathy, communication, friendship, giving each other the benefit of the doubt, and charity.
In my limited view, disappointment does not cause marriage problems and marriage breakup. It is when a couple is not prepared to manage those disappointments (that surely will come) where conflict erupts and difficulties arise. Couples who have learned to expect disappointments and skillfully handle them, find the marital journey easier to take. This is not an “expect the worst” kind of mentality, but an assurance when disappointment comes, it can be welcomed as an opportunity to progress and grow and increase in love. So, be prepared. If you are not sure how to prepare for disappointment, talk to your love, ask your parents, pray about it, read marriage books, or take a Marriage Preparation class together. Marriage is and can be a wonderful thing. From my experience, it is even better for those who gracefully manage their disappointments. Bring on the wedding cameras! I am ready. Are you?