I Failed to Become the Perfect Spouse

 

failure

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.

That sucks.

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.

Heather Caliri

Heather Caliri

Writer at A Little Yes
Heather Caliri is a writer from San Diego who uses tiny, joyful yeses to free herself from anxiety. Tired of anxiety controlling your life? Try her mini-course, “Five Tiny Ideas for Managing Anxiety," for free here.
Heather Caliri
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  • Stephanie Thompson

    Thank you for your honesty about your marriage and the truth about relationships in general. We are surrounded by books, tv, film, etc… which aim to convict us of what we need to continue to change in order to have the fairy tale marriage. In reality, “loving the best and kindest way possible” and “showing up faithfully” demonstrates our commitment and reminds us to simply look for that in the other person.

    • Amen, Stephanie. The cultural messages we get about romance are so counterproductive sometimes. I was just talking to a friend about marriage and our culture’s ideas of romance. We come from different backgrounds–me more conservative Christianity, her a secular upbringing. And I think both of us were sold bills of goods (different, but related) about how finding The One would change everything and fulfill everything. It’s a LOVELY thing, marriage, it’s INCREDIBLE. But it’s incredible in its messiness, not its perfection.

  • Yes, yes, yes. Coming to that place of realizing that we can’t be the savior of even our dearest loves — and that all our efforts at self-salvation are fruitless — it’s devastating, but then . . . so freeing!

  • Yes, yes, so much yes. “Ordinary, imperfect faithfulness” — I’m going to hold on to that.

    • Thanks, Ashley. It’s worth committing ourselves to that–and letting go of the fairy tale.

  • “I will never be the perfect spouse. What a giant blessing it is to accept that—and realize that even so, I am beloved.” Amen! There is no way I or my spouse can fulfill every need that we each have, but thankfully we don’t have to. Marriage is hard work. Sometimes things will go along nicely, but other times there will be struggles. There is much grace. We just need to keep showing up and being faithful even through the hard times. Thanks for this encouraging post! Blessings!