When Bill and Christy decided to marry, they did so with excitement and uneasiness. Their love for each other was strong, and they had no trouble imagining a lifetime together. At the same time, both of them had come from families where the parents divorced after years of conflict. They knew the stress and grief of love gone wrong. They wanted something better, but they also wondered whether they had it in them to succeed.
Were they doomed to repeat the patterns of their past? Was it fair for them to hope for something better?
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These questions have to do with expectations, and expectations are powerful. We tend to get what we forecast, whether good or bad. Our expectations predispose us and set forces into motion that bend the future toward what we hope or fear.
What are your expectations about your relationship? Do you expect that your chosen partner is your perfect match and that you'll both ride off into the sunset, living happily ever after? Instead, do you expect that your relationship will end up just like disaster stories you’ve seen with your own eyes – cruel words ricocheting off of real or imaginary walls, while after 20 years of putting up with one another the couple decides to call it quits? Or, do your expectations fall somewhere between these two extremes, with a sense that though you won’t always get things right, you will find a way to experience a largely satisfying lifetime together?
Don’t underestimate the power of these expectations.
At the same time, don’t overestimate their power, because there’s a force that’s even stronger than expectations: the force of intentions.
Intention has to do with the willpower you possess to take control of your unwritten future and make it a triumph over the past. It comes as a reminder that you don’t live your lives as victims of fate. Intention also has to do with the responsibility you share to shape the relationship you want. It comes as a reminder that dreams come true as you act to make them happen.
Both before and after you marry, you must be intentional about growth in your relationship. Decide now to learn everything you can about yourself and about your partner, as well as how to build your skills and strengths. Read relationship books. Attend relationship classes. Take advantage of relationship inventories/assessments. Meet with a mentor couple, coach, or counselor. Subscribe to relationship newsletters. Seek input from spiritual leaders, and pray together for guidance. Join relationship groups. Develop relationship skills. Put into practice what you learn! It's not enough to know it – you must choose to do it.
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If you expect to hit some rough patches but have intentionally equipped yourself and your relationship to handle them, you'll be able to navigate anything that arises. You’ll also know what your resources are and be able to ask for appropriate help as needed. If you intend to learn more and more about yourself and your partner as years go by and follow up those intentions with action, your relationship will stay fresh and current. If you expect that the investment of time and energy in marriage pays off, and add intention to your expectations, you will you'll be willing to do what is needed and required to develop a strong, healthy relationship.
Expectations vs. intentions. Your relationship can be everything you intend it will be. At the same time, be prepared to work for it. It's never too early to start, and it's never too late to begin.