My wonderful friends, Julia and Harry, are experienced marriage mentors and often ask this question when working with couples: “What if God designed marriage more to make us holy than to make us happy?”1 How thought-provoking!

Having counseled thousands of married people, I am well aware of the many traps in today’s “me-first” culture. So when Julia recently asked me which traps I’d place at the top of a list of “Marital Landmines,” one shot into my mind ahead of all others: unrealistic expectations. Consider the following list, taken from our Biblical Counseling Keys on Marriage: To Have and to Hold.

  • Marriage will protect me from loneliness.
  • Marriage will bring me affection and sexual intimacy.
  • Marriage will rescue me from my present circumstances.
  • Marriage will provide me with love and acceptance.
  • Marriage will furnish me with financial security.
  • Marriage will afford me social acceptance.
  • Marriage will surround me with a loving family.
  • Marriage will offer me broader career opportunities.
  • Marriage will assure me that I’ll be taken care of.
  • Marriage will allow me to change my mate’s behavior. (That’s not going to happen!)

Those who enter marriage with the goal of getting rather than giving will find themselves floundering with false hope … because of unrealistic expectations. Only God can meet our deepest inner needs2 for love, significance, and security. His plan is for each marriage partner to give unconditional love … allowing Christ to lovingly use them to serve the other, instead of seeking to be served.

Ruth Bell Graham, late wife of the noted evangelist, put it this way: “I pity the married couple who expects too much from one another. It is a foolish woman who expects her husband to be to her that which only Jesus Christ Himself can be: ready to forgive, totally understanding, unendingly patient, invariably tender and loving, unfailing in every area, anticipating every need, and making more than adequate provision. Such expectations put a man under an impossible strain. The same goes for the man who expects too much from his wife.”3

Demonstrating instant forgiveness and unending selflessness for loved ones isn’t natural—it’s supernatural. Amidst the personality clashes and power struggles … the hurt feelings and hot tempers … is such a love even possible? A.W. Tozer provides the answer, “Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow.”4

The same certainly holds true for marriage.

If you both are “tuned to the same fork”—the Lord Jesus—you will experience harmony in your marriage and in your home. God’s desire for harmony among believers rings clearly throughout Scripture. Philippians 2:1-4 is a beautiful example: “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

If every marriage were tuned to the Master, imagine the devastation that could be avoided! Yet every day, people receive heartbreaking news about their marriages that send their emotions reeling. For example, Patricia, a dear friend and ministry partner, experienced this kind of crushing crisis a few years ago. Now with the wisdom of hindsight, she talks candidly about it and about God’s amazing breakthrough. (You can view her remarkable story here.) Prepare to be deeply encouraged!

Through your financial partnership with Hope For The Heart, you’re helping ensure that hope is available when Patricia—and thousands like her—need it the most. Whether it’s through printed resources, on-site counseling services, our two radio broadcasts, or a caring voice on the end of our Hopeline, your gifts are making a life-changing difference.

  1. Gary Thomas, Sacred-Marriage: What if God Designed Marriage More to Make Us Holy Than to Make Us Happy? (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2000).
  2. Philippians 4:19
  3. Ruth Bell Graham, It’s My Turn: Life Lessons From the Wife of Billy Graham (Charlotte, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, 2007).
  4. A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God: Finding the Divine in the Everyday (Wilder Publications, Radford, 2008), 63.
*Names have been changed to ensure anonymity.