“People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life.”
I remember clutching the book Eat, Pray, Love with dear life one night in my apartment in Washington, DC, in the US. As I sped through the pages, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Is this true? Can this kind of honest and revelatory love really exist?” The words of the author, Elizabeth Gilbert, sunk to my core. While I desired what she crafted on paper, what I didn’t fully appreciate was how un-romantic this kind of love would be. Let me explain.
I’ll never forget an argument that my husband and I had. I called it one of the “big ones”. It all started with me complaining about how James didn’t buy me a bottle of wine at the supermarket for a party we were going to that evening. I was offended, grace was not extended, and he reacted. What unfolded over the course of the evening (which felt like a lifetime) was a long drawn-out argument, the kind of heated debate that feels like it’s going on for hours and only seems to conclude when you reluctantly hit the “pause” button to order a pizza.
You’ve probably guessed that the argument wasn’t actually about a bottle of wine. In fact, it had more to do with my insecurities and the realisation that my husband couldn’t read my mind. He wasn’t acting exactly the way I thought he should. He wasn’t meeting my unrealistic and fanciful expectations.
When James and I got married, we were given a lot of helpful advice such as “Discuss your expectations” and “Don’t criticize each other in front of others”. The one that really hit home for me, though, had to do with grace. Give each other the benefit of the doubt. Give each other grace. Neither of you is perfect.
I didn’t give James the benefit of the doubt that night. He probably didn’t extend that to me either; it takes two to argue, after all. What I’ve slowly gathered since “the big one” was this—my husband isn’t perfect, and putting unrealistic expectations on him is not only unhelpful but also toxic to our relationship.
What I have learned since the fateful wine bottle argument is that sometimes my husband forgets to pick up items at the grocery store. From time to time, when he’s engrossed in a task, he may also forget to perform basic human functions like eating a meal. (How anyone can forget to eat for a period of three hours is beyond me.) And sometimes, the trash will overflow if I don’t remind him to empty it. If grace is left at the front door, I might be tempted to get a little annoyed or resentful over what I have previously called his “cute quirks”.
However, after being married now for the past 2½ years (I am by no means claiming to be a relationship guru), I have come to understand that marriage isn’t about “changing your spouse” into the perfect Hollywood image of a “knight in shining armour”. If anything, you will discover that the guy has plenty of kinks and dents in his armor.
Instead of expecting perfection, I want to celebrate my husband for who he is and for who God created him to be. Choosing to see my husband through God’s eyes has transformed my understanding of marriage—and my role within our relationship.
Now back to Gilbert’s words on soul-mates. If you want a sure-fire way of destroying your marriage, then by all means go ahead and compare your spouse to your long laundry list of “I wish you did this” statements. That will be just the ticket!
I can’t look to my husband to fulfil my every need when he was never designed to. This is an impossible feat and to put that kind of pressure on him will only lead to disappointment and resentment.
On the contrary, marriage will require you to change. That’s what marriage does. It will reveal things you thought you had dealt with long ago—the good, the bad and the ugly. But hopefully, in a godly, healthy and mature relationship, your partner will give you the freedom to let down your guard, a safe space to be vulnerable, and the support to help you sort through your reflections with grace and wisdom.
James and I are not perfect, but I can honestly say that the longer we have been together, the richer our relationship has become. In many ways, he has mirrored to me what it looks like to be confident yet gracious, as well as positive and optimistic yet realistic. In return, hopefully I have reflected back to him how to be empathetic and gentle.
Like “iron sharpens iron”, we aim to help refine one another in order to become the people Christ has called us to be. This always will be an ongoing process throughout our marriage. Like a set of train tracks, our goal is to grow in maturity yet remain parallel to one another as we come up against every curve and bend along the path.
Conflict and differences of opinion are bound to happen within relationships. But instead of nit-picking every little thing my husband has done wrong and trying to “fix” him, I know that ultimately, real change and maturity will only come if Christ works in Him. But I can show him sacrificial love, giving up myself for him—my agenda, my selfish desires. It’s not always easy and it’s certainly not the same kind of narrative Hollywood has portrayed to us at the cinema. But it’s the kind of love worth fighting for.