It’s easy to convince ourselves that our dissatisfaction stems from someone else’s shortcomings or our own inability to measure up to the world’s standards. We think we have a perfectly good reason to be unhappy because clearly we’re coming up short or missing out on the best life has to offer. Just look around and you’ll see how terrible your life and relationships are.
Actually… don’t do that.
Sometimes it’s absolutely true. We should never allow ourselves to be mistreated or abused. But there are two other sources of dissatisfaction that actually require a bit of introspection rather than finger-pointing and name-calling. We can easily be misled to believe our lives are mundane and miserable, but really our unhappiness is the result of one or both of these joy thieves:
When it comes to self-image, the last place we should look to for what our body or life should look like is the mass media. The reality ship sailed long ago, even before Photoshop came around. Advertisements have always meant to appeal to our emotions and desires. Our economy is driven by people spending money, even when they don’t have to. And in order to get us to do that, companies have to convince us that what we have and how we currently are isn’t good enough. Welcome to capitalism.
There’s another way comparisons will leave us dissatisfied. That is comparing the people closest to us with other people we don’t know quite as well. Depending on what we focus on, it can be easy to convince ourselves that our neighbor’s spouse is better or more desirable than our own. If we spend our time focusing on how easy a relationship with someone else would be, we forget about trying to make the one we’re in work. We can become delusional and start to believe there are people that are easy to love and effortless to live with. Ha!
The reality is that we have a sad but natural tendency to treat people we barely know better than those we’re closest to. We all know what to say and do if we want to make someone think we are sweet and thoughtful. That’s easy. So of course other people seem flawless to us. But we’re all a little crazy once you get to know us. Everyone has some quirk or weird tendency that makes them a little difficult. Everyone has unflattering habits and does stupid things you won’t ever know about or see unless you live with them. No I’m not a proponent of living together before marriage. Marriage built on the right foundations sees those challenges coming and works through them with ready patience and a revolutionary thing called communication.
This includes you (and me), by the way. Sorry if I’m the one to burst this bubble, but you can be weird, annoying, and difficult along with the rest of us. It’s honestly a miracle anyone would be willing to put up with me.
I’ve got a bone to pick with literally every romantic movie ever made (except “Hitch”). If your expectations about a “good relationship” are based on what you see in movies and read in books, you will be disappointed for the rest of your life. I’m just speaking for myself, but I don’t speak in fancy lines like “If you’re a bird, I’m a bird.” I’m a better writer than I am a speaker. But I’m not writing anyone a letter every day for a year. The woman who expects me to do so will become dissatisfied with me as soon as she wanders out to that mailbox around day two or maybe three and doesn’t find another handmade envelope with perfect handwriting inside of it telling her sappy romantic things that would realistically require me to stay up all night and day coming up with. I need sleep.
Someone else’s words or timing will rarely be quite as perfect as you envisioned them. You have no business getting angry or ill-tempered because someone didn’t respond how you expected them to. They’re human and have a completely different personality and love language than you. Your expectations will never impact their mood.
We also have false expectations about what our relationships should look like. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to spend your life with someone you can trust to constantly pursue and faithfully love you. But no matter who you spend your life with, the honeymoon will eventually end, and they will mess up. I hope I’ll never forget my wife’s birthday, but if it’s not that, I’m bound to need her forgiveness for something else… dare I say regularly. And likewise for her.
When we expect mind-reading perfection, we will always be disappointed. But if we expect the people in our lives to be… I don’t know… human, we will likely be constantly surprised and amazed at who they are and how they love us.
And you know what? It’s okay that you planned to be an uber-successful business owner who works when you feel like it and lives in a comfortable four-bedroom house on five acres of beautiful land with a spouse who has the very nature of Christ and gives you butterflies every time you see their face or hear their voice. But take a moment and realize that we’re all on our plan “X,” “Y,” or “Z.” Life rarely has anything to do with plan “A,” and that’s okay.
It’s also okay that you sometimes meet people who seem to have it all figured out and have the perfect life. Let them try to convince the world that they’re not like all the rest of us who make mistakes, have regrets, and constantly have to work at this “loving others” thing. I promise they do. And it’s okay that some of your friends on Facebook seem to be living in heaven itself… leading the happiest, most productive and enriching lives you could ever hope for. It’s Facebook. They probably posted that last status while they were on the toilet. In reality, they have to do laundry, pay bills, and clean dishes just like the rest of us. They get the occasional hangnail, hemorrhoid, and canker sore, too. I know it’s gross, but it’s true.
Don’t fall for it.
Change is possible, of course. We should always strive to be better lovers of God and other people. But comparisons and expectations are the C4 explosives to relationships as well as our own self-image. When you start to identify what you compare your life to and what your expectations are, you can finally release them. You’ll find yourself enjoying each day a little more and recognizing that God has blessed you richly in the relationships you have.