My husband, Gene and I sat across the dinner table of friends whom we recently met. While we waited for dessert, the topic of anniversaries came up.
“And how long have you been married,” the wife asked me.
“Forty years,” I said proudly.
“Well, not quite, “Gene said, “more like 39.” He chuckled. “We don’t count that first year.”
I wanted to elbow him for being so uncomfortably honest. They were, after all, new friends. But he was so right. We wanted to erase that first year of our marriage from the memory book of life.
But we couldn’t. Those memories linger like the smell of burnt toast. That happily ever-after didn’t even last through the honeymoon. So what happened? How did that beautiful bride dressed in white, depicting purity, and that handsome man, looking like a prince waiting for me at the altar, change so drastically?
What was even more drastic was our disappointment. We walked down the aisle with dreams and hopes. But the problem was they were framed in unrealistic expectations. We smiled at the photographer’s prompting and cut the wedding cake, relishing in each moment… unaware of what awaited us once the wedding turned into marriage.
And sadly, we turned into a real-life illustration of the beauty and the beast. Both of us counted on the beauty of marriage. But instead, the beast of discord settled in our one-bedroom apartment with royal blue carpeting.
Blushing a bit, I admit these are the five mistakes I made even before I could use the Crockpot we received as a wedding gift.
1. Finances and its control. I came from Bolivia, where poverty was a way of life. My parents were frugal, guarding every penny. Gene came from a relaxed approach to finances. In his home, items were bought even when they weren’t urgently needed. In my effort to guard our income, I asked Gene to account for each dollar he spent. He resisted, indignation flaring up by my questioning. And rather than appreciate my self-assigned task of paying the bills, he resented it instead.
2. Time spent with friends. We were a couple now. I expected our free time to be with each other or other couples. For me, girlfriend time was limited to small chunks of time. Therefore, when he took long hours to get home after a racquet ball session with his fraternity brothers, I didn’t welcome him home with hugs. Instead, I made it known I was to come first before friends or other social commitments. My mistake was to make Gene my source of happy moments and pleasant feelings.
3. TV watching. Silly, I know. While dating, we watched anything at all as long as we were together. But to my surprise, our tastes were different. I liked romantic programs that were light and fun. He preferred the action-packed flicks. But as we tried to accommodate each other, resentment had already been simmering inside. I anticipated him to love me enough to say, “Sure, honey, I know you don’t like detective movies, let’s watch a romance story instead.”
4. Cleaning the apartment. Gene worked toward his college degree and since I worked full time, I assumed he should help keep the apartment clean. I requested to have shoes, empty soda cans, paper plates, etc. to be out of the living room and put away where they belonged. He saw nothing wrong with leaving the cleaning to weekends. Resentment grew in me. My mistake was to put a clean, tidy apartment above harmony and peace.
5. Time with parents. Gene loved my mom’s cooking. And heading to my parents for Sunday dinners would be a logical thing to do. But when he decided that we would skip a Sunday or two, I was puzzled. Why would he pass up an enjoyable time with my family and delight in my mom’s cooking? He didn’t have an explanation. And my mistake was to challenge his reasoning rather than to try to compromise.
And so during that first year, dissatisfaction, disappointment, and discouragement were served at every meal. It was clear to me we weren’t a match. The differences outnumbered intimate moments. And misunderstandings, arguments, and slammed doors screamed, “You made a big mistake.”
So why did I stay? One, because we had made a commitment before God. And two, because divorce this soon, with no concrete reason, would’ve been an embarrassing event for all.
But that was even more embarrassing is admitting what I brought with me to the marriage. On that wedding day, some commented that I looked radiant. But they didn’t know that underneath that flowing white dress, I wore a black slip of fear.
Fear was at the bottom of all. I was afraid happiness wouldn’t show up if we were in debt. I vowed not to have a messy house as I feared it would be a reflection of me as a wife. I was afraid if Gene didn’t spend quality moments with me instead of his friends, I wouldn’t be first in his life. And if he didn’t agree to stay connected with my family, I’d be unhappy.
In the midst of that fear, happiness showed up when God spoke to my heart through the Bible. I had no reason to fear, to worry or be insecure. God was first my spouse, my divine Father who would meet my needs and make me whole.
Time has swept by since that truth settled in me. And like Gene took out the trash, I took fear out of me. There were lessons learned. Pride put aside. And insecurities corrected.
God corrected my perception of marriage. He transformed my thinking—I married Gene; I didn’t marry my expectations. And now, 40 years later, when we dine with friends, we learn they too struggled at various stages of their marriage. Good to know we’re not alone.
Our house still isn’t spotless; Gene and I choose certain TV shows we enjoy together. He spends time with our adult sons at basketball games and I shop with girlfriends. We invite both extended families to our home. And we tithe to insure financial freedom.
But the most beautiful freedom came when I chose to love Gene without fear, without conditions and without unrealistic expectations.
Janet Perez Eckles is an inspirational speaker before English and Spanish-speaking audiences. She’s a radio host and the author of four books, including Simply Salsa: Dancing Without Fear at God’s Fiesta, where she helps thousands learn to celebrate life and find joy by conquering fear. www.janetperezeckles.com
Publication date: September 21, 2016
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