So on this day when we mask ourselves from others and pretend to be someone else for day, I thought it might be a good moment of reflection for married couples to think more deeply about the one to whom they are most “unmasked.”
What am I driving at? Our wives and husbands know us pretty well. We are literally naked at times in their presence and even more times are emotionally naked as well. Indeed our spouses know us best in most cases. They hopefully also accept who we are and not who they’d like us to become.
I’ve heard many women use the term “I’ve got him trained” and it bugs me to no end as a man. It’s not because we don’t have our faults or things to learn or might even not have a clue as to why you’re mad. Rather, it’s part of the “I can have it all” mentality. I’m sure husbands are equally at fault here and maybe even more so. We certainly want what we want when we want it and come with expectations of a wife that probably is proscribed more by traditional gender roles. Dinner? We hope that it’s made and on the table most nights and not by us. An unfair expectation to be sure.
Perhaps our impatience with our spouses stems from our expectations of an always customized living situation. Our homes, our computer desktops, our phones are all “arranged.” We want these things the way we want them. Do we treat our spouse the same way? And when they don’t meet those expectations how quickly do we want to get rid of them for a “different model?”
Sheryl Paul discusses this aptly in her recent Marriage column in the Huffington Post:
They start to look around at their friends’ relationships and wonder at what appears to be unilateral ease and bliss and passion. They reminisce about past boyfriends and long for the trait that he or she possessed that’s missing in the current husband or wife to be. In short, they become obsessed by the grass is always greener syndrome where everyone else’s relationship and their own past lovers are elevated to the status of perfection. And in so doing, they miss the wonderful man or woman that is standing before them, ready and available and wanting to forge a shared life. They’ve moved from appreciation and gratitude to negativity and criticism.
“Having it all” is a fantasy and the grass is always greener syndrome of comparison is a futile place to live. There is simply no such thing as the perfect partner. By extensive, there’s no such thing as the perfect job, the perfect place to live, or the perfect house. When I hear that a client is falling prey to the grass is always greener syndrome, I ask if they’ve found themselves in a similar place of obsessive comparisons regarding other aspects of their lives. They almost always respond affirmatively. One client recently said to me, “Not only do I compare my fiancé to other men, I’m always thinking about other places we could live and other jobs I could have. The truth is that I’m with a great guy and live in an adorable town and have a stable, good-paying job, and I’m missing it all.”
We live in a “you can have it all culture”, and no where is this message more pronounced than around the wedding and one’s choice of marriage partner. We’re indoctrinated to believe that we can and should have it all, and that anything less than perfection in a mate is settling. When I ask my clients to tell me about their partners, they almost invariably reply with some version of this: “He (or she) is kind, caring, responsible, loyal, honest, hard-working. We enjoy each other’s company and are attracted to each other. He’s my best friend and the person I want to be around most.” When I ask about any potential red-flag issues — abuse, addiction, betrayal, irreconcilable differences regarding core values or religion – the clients laughs and says, “Oh, no, nothing like that!” Do your parents and friends think you’re a good match? Yes. Is he or she someone who would make a good lifetime partner? Definitely. Hmmm… sounds like a far cry from settling to me. It sounds more like a bad case of the grass is always greener syndrome.
For some, nothing can ever be good enough and everyone and everything fails to satisfy. She’s too fat, or too bossy. He’s not ambitious enough nor does he make enough money. She can’t cook and he’s too messy. What if I find someone better?
The truth is that we can easily miss out on the beauty that our partners possess all too easily. We can concentrate on the negative instead of the positive, what annoys instead of what endears. Not to say, that people shouldn’t try to clean up their nasty habits when necessary, or their lazy behaviors when they annoy their spouse. Certainly some things will need to change and compromise will be key. But there’s also an opportunity for acceptance and to realize that our spouses are not meant for our customization. They are meant to be loved, unmasked before us in all their beauty…
and with their faults as well.
Early in my marriage, my wife would frequently call me when she’d have a break during the day. Interruptions often annoy me, no matter who they come from. But I’ve come to realize that my wife calls because there’s nobody else she’d rather call. And for that matter, she could NOT call at all! Now with each call comes a smile (and sometimes some sarcasm–“I’ve been gone for less than 30 seconds. Couldn’t stand to be that far apart from me ALREADY?”)
So celebrate the good in your partner and overlook some of the bad. Value honesty and openness and unmask those things that you both need to work on, just don’t harp on them. Instead value the giving of freedom—the choice to let people be themselves and not who we’d like them to be.
In short, doing the opposite allows us to see and love the person we married as they really are and allows us to be loved by others for who we are as well.
So while it is Halloween, unmask yourself for your partner today and rejoice in the people that God has made you to be.