Updated: Dec 8, 2021
Growing up in the New Media Age, relationships were almost always painted as one of two ways: A fairytale or a burden. Some creative twists include relationships being a fairytale until they become a burden; or being a burden until they become a fairytale. I mean just think about how Edward and Giselle started out in Disney's Enchanted...
I don't think this narrative is unique to the current generation. It is even noted in one of the Biblical wisdom literatures that there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9). However, while the fairytale vs. burden love story might not be new, it's certainly much more easily spread because of modern media. But is it even true?
To many people, life starts when they find “The One.” The general public probably doesn't actually fantasize about getting swept up on a white horse by a prince or putting the perfectly fitted glass slipper onto a princess. But we do dream about finding someone and "starting our life." We might picture it to be something like this: I will find someone attractive and dreamy. We will instantly click but decide to "take it slow." We won't fight much, and if we do, we will easily move past it. We will only have kids exactly when we want. He will be funny. She will have a cute laugh. We will go to the gym together. She will be an amazing cook. He will be good with kids. We will live in a nice apartment with a little puppy. We will hold all the same theological beliefs. Even if the other person has made mistakes in their past, they would never make a mistake again because I have changed them with my love. Love is all about being happy with my perfect match. People on Instagram are going to love us. And so on...
What do these expectations really say about the heart? Is this a good foundation to "start a life" on? We are here to confirm that expectations can be a good thing. They help create boundaries and good soil for your relationship to grow. But some expectations are usually rooted in lies and can be very damaging. Many of these mis-directed expectations are grown out of the core belief that "I deserve..." or "If only they..." These two core beliefs are both passive and selfish. They completely rely on what the other person does or doesn't do. It seems that these two types of outlooks on relationships can be summed up with the expectation that marriage makes us happy. There's this idea that our partner is supposed to check all the boxes and cater to our needs or vice-versa. When the happiness expectation isn't met, the fault of one spouse becomes the project or downfall of the other. These two core thoughts are what put people into the mindset of either a fairytale love or a burdensome love.
If you think your relationship is all about what the other person should or shouldn't do, you might be in burdensome love. You will find yourself thinking that, "If only they didn't do this, we wouldn't be getting a divorce." If only they would start doing more chores, if only they would stop getting angry, if only they had never watched porn, if only they did their devotions more, if only they liked my parents, if only they initiated sex more, if only they, if only they, if only... These are the thoughts of someone that views love as a burden. Burdensome lovers see their partner as someone they need to fix. If they don't "change", then it's either out the door with divorce or continuing "marriage" but only as roommates with built-up resentment.
If you think your relationship is all about what the other person could do for you, you might be in fairytale love. You might find yourself thinking that you deserve things like a particular type of engagement ring, a vacation of your choice, or a partner that completely understands your every need without any actual communication. You might feel like you deserve your partner to go above and beyond for you. Some expectations might look like: "I deserve someone that has a better relationship with God than me so I don't have to try as hard." "I deserve someone who is in good physical shape." "I deserve someone who will think about me all day long and text/ call back right away." "I deserve someone who has a perfectly clean history." "I deserve someone who only talks to me in a way that makes me feel like a king/queen." The fairytale lover relies on the perfection of their partner to fill in the gaps of their own personal lacking.
So if marriage isn't burdensome love and it's not fairytale love, what is it?
Well, what we've discovered is maybe marriage isn't about spouses fixing each other at all! What if the design of marriage holds up a mirror and shows us what we look like as individuals? This mirror exposes our faults, growing us closer to our Heavenly Father. It also exposes the goodness that we are doing which encourages us on our journey. Looking at my spouse, I can clearly see the deeper parts of me that I wasn't able to see so well before. In the same sense that marriage is like a mirror, marriage is also like a tough coach in your life. It pushes you to your limits and encourages you to keep running through hard times. It gives you a practical space allowing you to rely solely on Christ for support.
We want to be very clear that marriage is fun! Marriage is living with your best friend. Marriage brings a lot of good times. But marriage isn’t everything. I, Bethany, went into marriage thinking that all my prayers and dreams had been answered; which is partly true. But Josiah and I are not perfect people. As surprising as it is, neither of us could fulfill each others' expectations.
Josiah and I had one of the hardest first years of marriage. We struggled with our own sin issues and both brought a-lot of past hurts into our marriage that we were working through for months. We went back and forth between trying to fix each other and trying to rely on the other for them to fix us. We loaded our lives with lots of change all at once that we felt as if we were drowning. We were only getting to know each other while starting a new college in a new state, away from what's familiar. Then we found out after a month of marriage that we were expecting our daughter, Eden. In premarital counseling, they definitely advise against so much change all at once (at any point in your marriage). Although we didn't realize in the moment how much we were taking on together, something Josiah and I have definitely learned after our first year is that we need God to be #1 in our lives personally, and #1 in our marriage. We genuinely cannot go a day without having God be first in our lives. We aren't able to be a good spouse or parent unless we are praying, reading the Bible, and actively bringing Christ into our home.
Even though everyone talks about marriage being hard, we feel strongly that God wants us as Christians to step up and start modeling the goodness of marriage and the union it brings between a man, a woman, and God. It is a blessing when two people come together to become one. You aren't doing this on your own. Marriage is two people as individuals walking closely with God if they allow themselves to be open to what Christ is speaking. Our spouse was never supposed to be our perfect person. When they mess up (and they will!) it doesn't need to be the end of the world because Christ walks with us through the trial. When our spouse breaks a vow, it probably isn't because they hate you, but because there's a deeper heart issue between them and God. It helps to pray for a heart change and allow God to do His work in bringing us closer to Him (and we mean pray for a heart change in yourself while you pray for your spouse). Of course a broken vow also requires forgiveness and reconciliation with your spouse, because your covenant is between you, your spouse, and God. Overall, marriage is about making us better believers to live in close communion with God. Joy comes from a heart that is in right relationship with our Savior, not from our spouse.
For the people who have viewed their relationship as a burden... next time your spouse forgets to put the toilet paper in the right way, pray and ask God to reveal why it even bothers you so much and ask him to work in your heart. Maybe the issue is more serious than toilet paper, maybe there was a serious offense or even an addiction. Ask God how HE sees the situation and see if there's anything God wants to do in your heart during this time.
For the people who have viewed their relationship as a fairytale... next time you get frustrated with your spouse not doing something that you wouldn't or couldn't do, take a step back and ask God for a merciful heart and also ask where he might want to make you stronger.
I pray that we can always remember that sticking with our spouses through the hardships in their lives is so important. I ask God that we would be spouses that have ears open to listening to what you have to say about our own heart condition instead of just trying to fix our husband or wife.