Have you ever had the experience of dining at a new restaurant and being completely underwhelmed? Maybe a friend told you how great the food and atmosphere was. She went on and on about the entrees and the exceptional service. Your hopes were really high and you couldn’t wait to order the chocolate mocha mousse she raved about. But the night you visited, you were seated in a dark little corner, the server got your order wrong, your entree was overcooked, and they had just run out of chocolate mocha mousse! You were NOT happy!
You had extremely high expectations for this highly spoken of experience and the restaurant let you down in pretty much every way possible. How frustrating! What a waste of time! How could they! Totally didn’t meet your expectations.
Marriage can feel the same way sometimes. You thought your were marrying Prince Charming or Goddess of Your Dreams. Girl, you thought he would help you with housework, send you sweet love-texts, bring home flowers, always smell good, and always clean up after himself. Sir, you thought she would always look good, smell good, watch the game with you, and be in the mood. He or she would always make your life easier, put your needs first, and sacrifice his or her own comfort for yours. Yes, of course, that’s totally reasonable and doesn’t resemble a fairytale mindset at all. (And if you believe that I have some beachfront property in Arizona….)
Fast forward a few years and you realize that marriage isn’t quite like you thought. You may have even come to believe that you were delusional going into marriage. But delusional is a pretty harsh term. In the world of love and emotions, we call it limerence.
According to Wikipedia, limerence (also called infatuated love) is a state of mind which results from a romantic attraction to another person and typically includes obsessive thoughts and fantasies, and a desire to form or maintain a relationship with the object of love and have one’s feelings reciprocated.
Limerence is a good thing in the beginning of a relationship. Without it, you probably wouldn’t have gotten married and your spouse wouldn’t have married you either. (Just being real here!)
Limerence is when your hormones affect your emotions to the point of affecting your thinking. You don’t pay much attention to the flaws of your significant other because you are feeling so amazing about his or her wonderful-ness. Yes, limerence is about you. It’s about how you feel.
And then it wears off. And you see your spouse (usually your significant other has become your spouse by the time it wears off) for who he or she really is. A normal person. And you’re underwhelmed. You begin to realize that marriage is not exactly how you thought it would be. It’s kind of like a dark restaurant with overcooked entrees, poor service, and no chocolate mocha mousse! And that begins to bring you down.
But listen, just because limerence has worn off, just because your expectations haven’t been completely met, doesn’t mean that marriage should be boring, and frustrating, and unfulfilling from now on. It doesn’t mean you married the wrong person either.
Hopefully, you and your spouse have cultivated some depth to your relationship beyond just emotion. But if not, there’s no time like the present to make some changes. Post-limerence is the time for both of you to “get real” about what your life together can and should be.
Take a look at the situation for what it really is, not for what your unmet expectations are telling you it is.
Is your husband truly an annoying person? Or does he just not do everything you want him to and in the way you want him to do it? Is your wife honestly an unsatisfiable whining nag? Or is it possible that she is trying to get something from you, like affection or attention, in the only way she knows how? Are the two of you really polar opposites that just can’t get along? Or are both of you so accustomed to striving to get what you want from the marriage that you’ve forgotten that humbly serving each other is the only sure route to marital harmony?
What is really going in your relationship that makes it so unsatisfying for you?
We are all making our way through life with a set of core needs. These needs are things like acceptance, security, love, significance, and belonging. A good marriage can shore up some of these needs, but marriage can never completely fulfill these core needs. That was never the intended purpose of marriage. It may have seemed like your partner could be everything you needed back when you first got together, and that’s why it’s so easy to feel disappointed with the relationship now.
But the truth is, it isn’t possible for any human relationship to provide things for you that only your Creator was meant to fulfill for you. You will always be disappointed and your spouse will always be disappointed if you are counting on each other to meet your core needs.
One of the kindest things you can ever do for yourself or for your spouse is to stop putting the responsibility on them to meet all your needs. They will never make you happy enough, never make you secure enough, never accept you completely enough–because it’s impossible for them to do so. You will always be frustrated with them if you put those kind of expectations on them. They will always be frustrated with you for placing impossible expectations on them.
It’s a volatile, unhappy marriage when one partner has expectations that can’t possibly be met by the other person. But when both partners have those impossible expectations it’s a disaster of a relationship.
They both become so convinced that the problem is with the other person, that they begin to have thoughts like “Maybe a different relationship will make me happy.” “I deserve to find someone who makes me feel significant.” “If I could do it all over again, I’d choose a person who really loves me.” We think these things because we have a skewed idea of what our spouse can do for us. We think these things because we have a skewed idea of what we should be doing for our spouse.
You can see what a dangerous thought progression that is. How can you know if you might have a faulty viewpoint towards marriage? Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I pray daily for my spouse?
- Do I listen to him/her with the intent to understand?
- Do I seek his/her comfort and happiness more than my own?
- Do I serve him/her without being asked?
- Do I speak respectfully of him/her when they’re not around?
- Do I know what he/she wants in life?
- Am I helping him/her pursue their dreams?
- Am I an encourager and support to my spouse?
- Do I consider my ambitions to be more important than his/hers?
If you answered no to the previous questions, your marriage has room for improvement.
So what’s the solution? Look in the mirror first for the solution to your unhappy, unfulfilling marriage. Did you you bring a boatload of impossible expectations to the marriage? Did you have any intention of sacrificing, serving, and embracing humility in this relationship?
The only way to be the spouse your spouse needs you to be, is to be the kind of person God wants you to be.
Look to God for your significance, acceptance, belonging and security. When your needs are met by Him, you aren’t desperate for your spouse to meet them for you. You will show up filled up in your marriage. You will approach your entire life, not just your marriage, in a more healthy way, because you aren’t interacting with people for what you can get from them.
It’s not uncommon for two people to enter marriage with the idea that it’s all about how the other person makes them feel, each one hoping that the other person will meet all their needs and spend all their time, money and effort making them feel special. It’s an attitude toward marriage that is prevalent, but it’s not accurate.
You can’t change your spouse, but you can change yourself. If you began your relationship emotionally high, but it has lacked in depth and fulfillment as time has gone by there is one thing you can do about it.
Let God fill the core needs of your heart. As He fills you with His acceptance, love, significance, belonging, and security you will be able to show up in your marriage in a whole new way. As you bring service, humility, and contentment to the marriage, your spouse will undoubtedly notice. Things will begin to change as you stop putting expectations on your spouse that they were never meant to fill.
You are not a powerless victim in an unfulfilling relationship that you chose years ago while you were in a state of fairytale-like emotion. No, you are an active participant in the strength and depth of your relationship today. You may need to adjust your perspective of yourself, your spouse and God, but things that are worth having are worth working for. That includes your marriage.