We love sharing and hearing narratives from our community, as they provide tangible glimpses of how God is pursuing and transforming his people by his grace. Over the next few weeks, we will be featuring guest posts from several women in our community, describing how they have found deepened hope in Christ through a variety of everyday realities—work, marriage, children, singleness, and more.
Today we are featuring a story from Lauren English. Lauren English and her husband Jordan live in Liberty, MO, and are expecting their first child in March. They have been attending Redeemer for three years.
For as long as I can remember, I have been a perfectionist. In elementary school, I made my mom braid my hair over and over until it was free of even the smallest bump. In middle school and high school, I poured myself into being the all-around perfect student: excellent grades, perfect friends, and the perfect youth group girl. Even in college when God started to strip me of some of those tendencies, I still tried to be an example of Christian ministry, doing all I could to be the best youth leader I could be. None of those things brought me the wholeness and fullness I desired, but I still kept running after them.
As you can probably imagine, when I got engaged and married a year after I graduated college, those perfectionist tendencies didn’t exactly go away.
I started pouring all my energy into making sure my marriage was perfect and lived up to all the expectations I had for our new life as husband and wife. I expected my husband to be the most loving, romantic, and thoughtful husband that ever existed. I expected myself to be the most humble, loving, and encouraging wife in the history of wives.
I expected everything about our marriage, from companionship and adventure to intimacy and communication, to fill me and finally make me feel whole. And it completely blew up in our faces.
My husband felt weighed down by the heavy expectations I was placing on his shoulders, even if I didn’t realize it. He felt like no matter what he did, he couldn’t live up to my expectations, so he was failing me as a husband. I felt a gnawing discontent starting to grow in my heart. I felt guilty for weighing Jordan down with my expectations, but I didn’t know how to stop. I was deeply disappointed that marriage hadn’t filled me in all the ways I hoped it would, and I grew angry at God for not “fixing” my marriage so it would live up to my expectations.
The high expectations I had of my marriage and my husband led to a season of deep discontent and distance from God that ultimately turned into depression. After almost a year of marriage, we decided to seek marriage counseling.
I’ll be honest, meeting with a counselor was not easy. She didn’t just give us a list of things to “fix” the places where we were hurting and broken, which is maybe what my perfectionist self would have preferred. Instead, she asked us real questions about the expectations we had of each other, marriage, and God. The deeper we dove into those issues, the more we started to see places where our expectations were hurting us.
We saw how our expectations for each other led us to feel like failures in marriage and in general. We saw how our expectations of marriage had become an idol, one we thought could satisfy us in a way it was never intended. Finally, I started to see how my expectation that God mold my life to fit my standards of perfection was leading to a lack of trust, distance, and even frustration and anger in my relationship with Him.
Our counselor helped clear away the hurt and confusion that had built up during that first year so we could see more clearly God’s heart for us and for our marriage. We saw that while He deeply loves us and desires for our marriage to be healthy and beautiful, His ultimate heart is that we would find our satisfaction and wholeness in Him.
Just like trying to be the perfect student or perfect Christian never filled me, trying to be the perfect wife with the perfect marriage wasn’t enough either. Walking through counseling helped my husband and me stop looking to each other and marriage to fill us, and instead to turn to Jesus with our identities, our longings, and our disappointments.
The struggle with expectations still pops up, but we’re learning to let those hard moments point us to Jesus instead of away from Him. Our marriage reminds us over and over that He is the only one who can fill the longings in our hearts, and the joy we find in each other is just a tiny glimpse of the joy and fullness He offers.