We screwed up each other’s birthdays our first year of marriage.
My birthday came first.
Everyone at work said “Happy Birthday.” My first graders showered me with handmade cards and wilted flowers from the playground and sweaty hugs. Family and friends wrote messages on my Facebook wall.
And Husband? Well, he did nothing. Said nothing. As the sun set on my twenty-third birthday, I was a little dumbfounded and a lot ticked off.
Before we got married I promised myself I would never be one of “those wives” who got upset about an unacknowledged holiday, but having low expectations was still different than having no expectations at all. I expected a hug, a “Happy Birthday Wife,” and you know, that one other thing.
A few months later it was Husband’s birthday.
After my birthday and my angry tears and our thorough conversation that followed, I wasn’t going to mess his up.
Husband said he hated celebrating his birthday and that the best gift ever would be to go the entire day without anyone acknowledging his birthday. Basically, he would love it if I celebrated his birthday exactly how he celebrated mine. But I knew better. He didn’t really think birthdays were stupid; he was just being humble.
So I planned to celebrate in a roundabout way. I invited all of our friends to get together for “National Peach Cobbler Day” because it was the same as his birthday and Husband loved peach cobbler. Look at me! I was simultaneously celebrating and not acknowledging his birthday! I was the best wife ever!
And he was the most annoyed husband ever. Because no, really, he doesn’t like celebrating his birthday. No, really, he would rather I not acknowledge the day at all. No, really, he thinks it’s dumb to be treated special for a day he had nothing to do with. No, really, he didn’t expect anything on his birthday. Except, maybe, that one other thing. But he'd take that any day.
Even though we dated through our birthdays before, we learned pretty quickly that the “it’s okay’s” and “I don’t care’s” we said while dating were actually a load of crap.
Because way deep down we each had our own expectations.
And even though we have been married almost four more years since the year we screwed up each other’s birthdays, we still don’t always understand each other’s expectations.
Husband still can’t understand why I would even want him to acknowledge that I turned another year older with a bite to eat and a big bowl of ice cream. And I still can’t understand why it is so painful for him to just pick a dang restaurant so at least the rest of us can enjoy a meal out of the house.
But our expectations are there. Low as they might be about our birthdays, they are there and real and ready to create conflict if we aren’t willing to recognize them, be honest about them, and respect them. Both in ourselves and in each other.
We were warned in pre-marital counseling.
We were told we would bring expectations into marriage about a lot of things – holidays, families, money, sex. We were told our expectations were related to both how we grew up and to our differing personalities.
And we were warned all our lives: men are from Mars, women are from Venus. Something about how sometimes we might look at each other and think, “Yes, you and your strange ways do make you appear an alien species to me right now.”
But that has been marriage for us in the first five years:
Learning each other and listening to each other and not understanding each other and trying to love and respect each other anyway. Realizing that sometimes our expectations for whatever we are currently dealing with are on totally different pages. Realizing that sometimes we have to stop and ask each other, “What did you expect?”
God told the guys to love their wives. God told the girls to respect their husbands. But we don’t often expect that the kind of stuff that makes our spouse feel loved or respected might not flow naturally from us. Might take work or honestly, just seem really dumb.
Again, not just in how we celebrate the other one’s birthday, but how we handle each other’s families. How we spend our money. How we approach sex. How we take care of our home.
I mean, it has been almost five years of marriage and Husband still can’t bring himself to wipe the crumbs off the countertops after his morning toast. And I still can’t bring myself to offer a back rub before he asks for one. Even though we know it’s what each other expects, it’s how the other feels loved.
And as we handle our expectations of the “little” stuff in marriage like birthdays and toast crumbs and back rubs, we see how that carries over to our expectations of the "big" stuff like how we handle moving and losing a baby and having more babies and which family we will eat with for Christmas dinner.
This marriage stuff is fun, but not always easy. And sometimes it’s good, even great, to sit down and ask, “What did you expect? What do you expect?" Getting on the same page, even if their page is written in Greek with invisible ink.
Grace and Peace,
P.S. What kinds of expectations did you or your spouse carry into marriage that surprised you?