My father-in-law regularly repeats a joke that used to do the macarena on my last nerve. “Your mom and I have a great relationship. Want to know the secret?” he’d ask my husband and me with a smirk. “Low expectations.”
As a woman of exceedingly high standards for myself and my relationships, I’d snort, roll my eyes, and think, “How sad!” Twenty six years of marriage and about a decade of personal soul searching have changed my view of the joke, however. My father-in-law is on to something.
I was the woman who dragged a whole train of expectations down the aisle with my white dress, and it hasn’t served me well. A long list of lies shot those expectations full of steroids.
Before I broke up with perfect, I said things to myself like “I always need to be my most perfect self.” That’s been replaced with a commitment to be my truest self. (Shaky sigh of relief.) I once truly believed that I could make the pictures of perfection in my head come to life, but now I’m content to live in the blessing of my reality. I used to measure the perfection of my marriage by holding it up to others. These days I focus on the gifts of the man that’s perfect for me instead!
Probably the worst lie I believed was this: I should help my beloved live up to his potential.
It sounded so pretty when I said it with my sweet southern accent, but the heart of the lie was rotten. I suspect I’m not the only one who bought the lie, though. You know the drill. “It’s not criticism. It’s help.” “It’s not manipulation. It’s showing him the right way to do things.” “I’m just encouraging him to have high standards, don’t you know?” Mercy.
We go into a relationship because of admiration, but somehow a growing level of commitment shifts us into improvement mode. He’s wonderful, but… He’s almost perfect, if only…
When I met my husband Barry, I was most attracted to the bold and hilarious way he spoke his mind. I love to tell people that he’s reverent about God, but everything else is fair game! Barry had this “good girl” in daily gales of laughter about the edgiest things.
Somehow the switch flipped after we married, though. He didn’t change a bit, but my attitude did. I was nervous when I didn’t know what he’d say, and I thought I could make him even more wonderful by refining his verbal filter. Needless to say, that belief wasn’t very popular.
Relationships shatter when we value perfection over people.
Sadly, it took years for me to realize the damage I was doing with my pick-you-apart methods, but thankfully my husband isn’t just funny. He’s also one of the most grace-filled people I know.
I asked Barry recently what expectations he brought into our marriage, and he seemed puzzled. “I expected to love you and for you to love me,” he replied simply, and I realized he was being honest. That’s a shocking statement for a woman who believes in the power of a life-changing tweak!
For twenty-six years, Barry’s greatest gift to me has been that he truly lets me just be without an agenda to improve me. The trick for us reforming perfectionists is to learn to return the gift, and I’m determined that’s just what I’m going to do for Barry for the next twenty-six years plus.
This week I’m finishing up Kathi’s 21-day challenge in The Husband Project, and she’s been a huge encouragement all the way through. Almost every day in one way or another she’s urged all the participants to lower our expectations. Live in the real world. Give yourself (and your husband BTW) grace.
Kathi’s absolutely right. For about five years, I’ve been breaking up with expectations, lies, and mental pictures of perfection, and my marriage is the happiest it’s ever been.
It’s been a journey, but I’m now convinced. Low expectations add the gift of joy to our marriage. When unconditional love is elevated and perfectionism is banished, two individuals experience the freedom to grow into a bonded unit where happiness thrives.
That kind of marriage is even better than perfect, so next time, I’ll look my father-in-law in the eye, rare back, and laugh myself silly at his joke!
Author: Amy Carroll is the author of Breaking Up with Perfect and a speaker with Proverbs 31 Ministries. She lives in NC with her husband and a bossy miniature dachshund. You can find her on any given day texting her sons at college, typing at her computer, reading a book, or trying to figure out one more alternative to cooking dinner.
She and her husband Roger are the parents of four young adults in San Jose, CA. When she’s not dating her husband or hanging out with her puggle Jake, Kathi is speaking at retreats, conferences and women’s events across the US.