The last night of my honeymoon, almost fifteen years ago, I set an alarm to wake us up for our first day back at work—and started to cry.
“Our honeymoon is over,” I wailed. “Things have been so great so far, but this has been the easy part. What will happen when things get harder?”
My husband comforted me as best as he could, but I could tell he was a little confused. I was crying because things hadn’t gone wrong yet?
But honestly, looking back, I think my tears were a little prophetic.
Almost fifteen years later, I’ve learned there’s an ache at the center of every marriage. It’s this: you can love someone like crazy, desire the best for them, want to care for them selflessly—but realize that ultimately, you will never be the perfect person for them. You will never be able to give them everything they need.
Yes, we’re all called to seek healing so as to love more fully. But there are limits to how much we can change. I am limited.
Sometimes Christians follow this by saying, “Jesus is the only perfect person for you!” And that’s true. But saying it out loud when someone is grieving might get you punched in the nose.
The stuff we long for from our spouses doesn’t feel replaceable by warmer feelings about God. No offense, but “Jesus is awesome, so you’re good,” does not feel like a great blessing.
After my honeymoon, it didn’t take me that long to figure out my husband was not always the perfect person for me. That was hard, but I felt prepared to accept it.
I found it much harder to accept that I was not the perfect spouse for him. It hurt to realize I am no fairy-tale princess, fulfilling his every hope and expectation.
So for years, I simply refused to accept it. I saw my deficits as problems I was supposed to overcome. To compensate for, or if all else failed, to pretend away.
But little by little I’ve stopped. Not because I am an amazing person, but because it didn’t work. Trying to be someone I was not made things worse. Pretending I had no limitations hurt my husband. Feigning enjoyment hurt our intimacy.
The results are in. I failed to become the perfect spouse.
Honestly, I’m a little befuddled why God uses failure to change our lives. I am a much bigger fan of trying hard and then succeeding. I think He should consider my approach because working harder and then finally achieving your goals is so much more satisfying than biffing it over and over until you give up.
Whatever. He’s not listening to my helpful suggestions. And so I’m left with the old me, sitting on the bed, crying fearfully. What could I say to that girl that might have helped her?
I wish I could tell her she would fail at being the perfect wife, and that though failure hurt, it was normal. That her husband would fail, and his failure was normal too. I would tell her that failing together meant we were attempting really hard stuff. That we were both doing the best we could. And realizing how hard we both tried to love would be an improbable gift.
Our imperfect faithfulness is the antidote to the grief at the center of every marriage. When you realize that perfect marital “success” is not possible, you find precious freedom. It’s not within anyone’s power to make their marriage succeed—after all, even loving spouses can experience betrayal or divorce. (Heck: loving, wonderful people never find spouses at all).
Even though there aren’t any guarantees in love, we can show up faithfully. Ordinary, imperfect faithfulness is the only real measure of success. Instead of striving ever harder to become something you’re not, you simply have to love as best and kindly as you can, each day.
I will never be the perfect spouse. What a giant blessing it is to accept that—and realize that even so, I am beloved.
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