Marriage is hard. I'll be the first to admit all those years of studying relationships in graduate school gave me a wealth of knowledge about how to have a successful marriage, but living that knowledge is an entirely different story. My marriage is a constant work in progress - emphasis on work.
My husband and I work really hard at practicing love. Loving each other well takes endless practice; we can both be very selfish people. Most people have a natural tendency toward self-preservation, which is why relationships are so difficult. We are wired to take care of ourselves first; it's natural instinct. Often, taking care of ourselves comes at the expense of others. Having a loving relationship with someone, especially a spouse, is a constant practice of putting the other person's needs ahead of your own, which can be quite uncomfortable.
I love my husband, but some days I love myself more. Days when I'm busy loving myself, expectations of how he should be treating me and what I think I deserve start to creep into my thoughts. Instead of greeting the day with an attitude of service, looking for ways in which I can be helpful to him, I meet the day with a list of selfish desires and an attitude of entitlement. With the latter, I am inevitably setting myself up for disappointment, anger and resentment.
When we had our first child, it became painfully obvious to me how often I lived with a sense of entitlement and a list of expectations. The wonderful world of parenting - and by wonderful I mean crazy hard, insanely frustrating, yet most amazing - brought with it a score card I tucked away in my brain.
Each time I sacrificed myself for the good of my family, I made a mental note. My husband now owed me.
I got up last night, so he should be the one to wake up with the baby tonight.
I made dinner yesterday, why isn't he offering to make dinner today?
He went golfing last weekend; It's my turn to do something fun.
The more I kept score, the more resentful I became
My own anger and self pity were taking away the joys of parenting, precious moments with my newborn baby. My husband and I were barely speaking; and when we did talk to each other, it quickly turned into a fight. We both spent so much time keeping score, throwing our sacrificial deeds in each other's faces and demanding our expectations be met that we were missing out on having a relationship. We were missing out on enjoying the beautiful baby we had created together. Our family was falling apart, and we were to blame.
Rebuilding our relationship took time, effort and patience. We didn't shred the score cards right away, but we were so desperate to let go of the thick wall of anger between us that we were willing to work. And we worked hard.
We learned to let go of expectations by asking ourselves each morning, "How can I be of service to my spouse today?"
This simple thought shifted my entire perspective. Instead of looking at him with a critical eye and judging him for what he did or did not do for me, I was able to look at him with love. Pure, genuine, selfless love.
We now have three children and a pretty hectic life. We both spread ourselves very thin trying to be the best parents and spouses we can be. We are by no means perfect at it. Sometimes, the score cards come out. Our marriage ebbs and flows, but we are committing to a lifetime of continuous practice - practice that includes letting go of expectations so we can be of service.
Love through service is a pretty great way to love.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on Feelings and Faith and SheKnows. It has been republished here with permission.
Christine Suhan is a wife, mother to three, photographer, writer and Marriage and Family Therapist. In her spare time, you will find her snuggled up with her fur babies watching Netflix and eating ice cream.