Most of us are familiar with the plot format of fairy tales. “Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess who was in trouble until her knight in shining armor showed up to save the day and they lived happily ever after.” Unfortunately, I think too many of us approach marriage with this idea of “happily ever after” in our heads.
I certainly did. By the time I started dating my husband, my parents’ marriage was falling apart and home was not a nice place to be. Hanging out with him was a good excuse to not go home. And while we had a lot in common and a definite attraction to each other, I also viewed him as my knight in shining armor. I expected the wedding to cue my own happily ever after.
As I watch other marriages, I think many of us have this idea. We expect our spouses to make us happy. And when they don’t, when marriage isn’t the happily ever after that we expected it would be, we decide to bail out. We blame our situation (marriage) or spouse for our own unhappiness.
After our wedding, I was shocked at how hard it was to adjust sharing my life with this man I loved. We clashed over cooking together and hanging pictures. When we got home from work, we had different expectations about how we wanted to spend our evening. Looking back, I can see how our differing personalities and communication styles (and maybe pregnancy hormones) played into our struggles in those first few years, but at the time all I knew was that marriage was tough.
I had been aware of this idea of “happily ever after” for a long time. In fact, I’d felt some frustration that many books and movies end at the wedding, implying that life is great and nothing happens after that. I even wrote a novel in which my main characters got married halfway through the book and continued to deal with their character struggles and other issues for the next few years of their life.
This idea of “happily ever after” even pervades Christian fiction. While I love Susan May Warren‘s new Christiansen family series, I also felt this old frustration that the story ends at “happily ever after.” I was happy in her newest book to see Derek and Ivy again and to notice that yep, they’re still dealing with some of the issues they faced from their dating days, along with a few new issues.
I began to think through a lot of this last summer, as we finished school and transitioned into a new stage of life. I realized I had been expecting my husband to make me happy and, when I wasn’t happy, I blamed him. Letting go of that expectation that he would make me happy allowed us to have fun again and let me turn my energy into other things, like creating the home I want for our family (which makes me happy and in turn makes him happy).
That is part of what motivated my series last fall on “31 Days to a Happy Husband.” Instead of demanding that he make me happy, I decided I would try to make him happy. I was surprised when several ladies commented, “But what about you? Isn’t he making you happy?” That had been my attitude for a while—and it hadn’t made either of us happy. Yes, I do believe that we as spouses can make each other happy, but I don’t believe we should expect or demand that our spouses make us happy.
That’s not to say I don’t believe in “happily ever after” in marriage. I do. I just don’t think it happens magically as soon as two people say “I do” or “I love you.” It comes from from giving up expectations about what your spouse may or may not do for you. It comes from putting your spouse’s happiness before yours and from daily decisions to love each other. It comes from a willingness to take what life throws at you and to grow together.
What do you think about “happily ever after”?