Standards can be a funny thing. In order to get good things, one has to have standards. But, we often times fail our own standards. This seems to be a paradox. Marriage, it seems to me, is this sort of conundrum. Some of us may say we have the perfect wife. This is especially common among those soon to be married and newlyweds. Before I was married and during our newlywed period, I thought that I had a perfect wife. Notice I say a perfect wife, not the perfect wife. It wasn't like I thought my wife was perfect and above all others, or attaining a sort of objective standard of perfection. What I thought I had was a perfect wife, a woman who met my notions of perfection. This worked great for a while, as long as things were the way I thought they should be.
Eventually, I began to see that I did not have a perfect wife. Some of you may be thinking, "Duh, how could this even be something that you needed time to realize." Whether I am thick or not may require a different blog post. My realization was in actuality not a good thing. After a few months, I came to see that my wife was not up to my standards and therefore not a perfect wife. For the next FEW years of my marriage, I harbored feelings of resentment towards my wife. Sometimes this would come out in harsh words, cutting criticisms, and giving her the silent treatment. All of my antics assumed the premise that my criteria for what a perfect wife should be resided in my subjective set of standards. My frustration with my wife was grounded in selfishness. My marriage wasn't about us, it was about her attaining my standards. Never did I consider that my thought processes and standards caused me to be an imperfect husband. I spent more time attempting to rehabilitate my wife to standards, and virtually no time on self improvement. The truth is that my wife's burdens and struggles are mine. This took me a few years to recognize and fight back against.
I still have to fight these feelings in my marriage. Many would say that if your spouse doesn't meet your standards, then it's just time to find someone else. If that's what marriage is, then you don't have a marriage but a legal contract. Party A has to do the following, and Party B must hold up their end of the bargain. If this is your view of marriage, you will at the very least fight, harbor resentment, and brood. In the worst cases you will steer the marriage straight to separation and divorce.
I certainly can't be a perfect husband, and my wife can't be a perfect wife. If marriage is about having your spouse satisfy your subjective standards, it's not really a marriage. A real marriage has some elements of a contract to it, but it is so much more. Jesus tells us that the marriage union is a profound mystery, and that a man and a woman come together to form one flesh and that to do this a man and woman both leave their prior family relationship to start a new unit. There cannot be a perfect wife because perfection is not something that a spouse can achieve, but a standard by which a marriages can be measured. I cannot look to my wife to be perfect without also demanding perfection of myself. I need not focus on the actions of my spouse, but on the cultivation and growth of the marriage. I know this is abstract, but I will have some practical application of these ideas in coming posts in the "To Have and To Hold" series.
Photo: Kate Coogan