Tony Campolo tells the story of a group of criminals who break into a department store but don’t steal anything. Instead they went around and switched all the price tags. Just imagine the frustration and confusion! He goes on to talk about the propensity within ourselves to switch the price tags – things that are valuable become not valuable. Once worthless things become important. We start putting stock in things that are not important, or healthy, or helpful.
Couples often do that with each other. Hot button issues like sex and communication become bones of contention, or simply too explosive to see in perspective. We begin to notice the flaws in that other’s character and become unsettled. We fixate on what is lacking and feel unappreciated or unfulfilled.
Expectations have forced us to switch the price tags.
There was a time when you couldn’t wait to connect emotionally with that person, but somehow that doesn’t happen much anymore. We started by putting that girlfriend or boyfriend’s needs before our own. It was all about them. You appreciated that they loved you. But things have changed.
In counseling I am fond of telling people that if they want to be happy in their relationship they need to lower their expectations. I have recently taken a second look at that idea and realize that it is more about changing your expectations than lowering them. Happy spouses remind themselves constantly how fortunate they are that someone else would love them enough to dedicate the rest of their life to that person. When I start telling myself that I am lucky to have a wife like Annette it actually transforms how I treat her, and how often I am offended by her. This crazy chick went way beyond the requirements of friendship. Not only does she love me but she is willing to align her future with mine – a truly stupid thing to do.
The more I cultivate gratitude in my feelings towards my wife the better things seem to go in my relationship. As I change my expectations I change my attitude. It is my choice to take what she says wrong. It is my choice to be offended, or angered, or frustrated. Sure she can piss me off – she can be so female, sometimes. She is like a different, albeit extremely attractive, species. Annette is very, very different than I am and it is tempting to become frustrated or negative towards her when she says or thinks things that a man cannot understand or appreciate. But here’s the clincher, as they say: the more I celebrate her uniqueness the happier I find myself. The more I try to change her, the more I flail misery around me.
The older I get the more I realize that happiness and contentment are things that I choose, they don’t come naturally.