My wife and I are coming up on 30 years in marriage this fall. 3 children, two college grads, the other tossing a coin between college or the military at the moment.
I think that men and women enter into marriage with different attitudes and expectations, and how mature (not necessarily how old) they are when they begin is inversely proportional to how different they enter marriage.That can be overcome; it's just harder to do and requires more dedication.
The thing I find amazing is that as the years of marriage progress, I find that my wife and I, and for that matter most couples we know, tend to swap or reverse those expectations. Maybe a better way to say it is they become more like the other. I am not sure why that is, but I think it has to do with the many times in a marriage one of the two will fail at something while the other succeeds, and over time, like a seed planted, one cannot help but see the sense and success in acting differently than you'd reflexively respond, and act more as your spouse would.
There are may jokes about men and remote controls, and sometimes they are iconic for the territorial boundaries we each build in our marriage. Sometimes these "boundaries" we erect are a way of resisting what we know we must do in order to make the marriage work; to give up control. For men at least, that is never an easy task. I remember one time my wife went to visit her dad who was ill, and we could only afford for one of us to make the trip. Our first two children were still very young, and I'm sure it wasn't in her comfort zone to leave two babies in my care for a week, but she had to. I still remember getting "the eye," and being "asked" sternly: "You WILL remember to feed them, right?"
Of course I would. She knew that, but it was a comfort thing; she knew I would, yet at the same time I'm sure spent time each day worrying about whether I did or not. It sounds goofy, almost trivial, but these things are like checkpoints in a marriage. They are gates we must pass through without going off the rails if we are to really reach that level of blind trust we all want. We have to place that trust in the hands of our spouse much as we might be uncomfortable with it at the time, and as that trust is honored, we are willing to give even more until there is nothing you wouldn't give or trust to the other.
That seems on the surface to be all about give and take, but comes the day when something serious happens that puts one or both of you to the test, a solid basis of trust can be the thread that will hold a marriage together when everything around it tries to pull it apart. Sometimes your friends, in their zeal to "help," will cater to your feelings and help you feel anger or resentment about a spouse when that truly isn't helpful though it may give you a moment's sympathy. It's when the pressure of those tough times press us the most that in quiet we are reminded that, oh yes, to my surprise he DID remember to feed the babies, or she DID actually get the oil changed in the car when I asked her to. These memories ground us while we sort out what's important to us in our relationship to each other, to family, and to God.
As I was standing around the sacristy in the moments before my wedding, a relative I hold in highest regard said to me, "Don't forget to die a little each day." I didn't have a clue what he meant. I thought it was some sort of joke, you know, where people will joke about marriage being the end of (good or happy) life as you know it. I just smiled and said, "Yeah, I'll keep that in mind."
Well the truth of it is, I didn't keep that in mind. In fact it was more years than I care to admit before I had my moment of awakening and realized the truth and the wisdom of those words. Oh yes, I'd heard it read in the gospels and talked about in homilies, about how we must die to ourselves in order to gain heavenly reward, and so forth. But for many years I thought that meant giving up something I had to some stranger who didn't have any of it. Never in my wildest imaginations did it occur to me that it might mean I have to do that to or for my wife.
We went on a retreat one day and the leader of the retreat spoke about marriage being a sacrifice, and that the word sacrifice is a compound word made up of two Latin roots; sacra (holy) and ficio (to make). Then came the challenging question - How (men) are you making your wife holy? Well I hadn't been making my wife holy, I was just trying to get along so we would be nice to each other and dinnertime would be happy and I could have the remote control. She did her house things, I took care of the car and the lawn, we both read to the kids, and what, now there's MORE to it? OH yes! There is MUCH more to it than that. That is just existence, it is not growing, it is not growing closer, and it certainly isn't growing closer to God.
It took a while, because I can be quite dense, but I began to see that trying to live a marriage as a thing of equality and you-do-this-and-I'll-do-that was a ticket to nowhere. The E-ticket in marriage is doing more, giving up more, wanting less, and being willing to not have to be right. In the time since I began doing that, or at least trying my best to, our marriage has held more deeper meaning and given more fulfillment and joy than anything in the years before that. It really changes your whole attitude about life, if my opinion means anything at all. It also is a way to see a living verification of that part in Ephesians 5 that makes most people so uneasy when it comes up for the reading in Mass... that part about wives submit to your husbands, and husbands love your wives as Christ loved the Church, that He might sanctify it. There really is nothing to be uneasy about hearing that; it's merely the correct formula for making a marriage the best it can be. Strive to make it holy, and it will be happy and meaningful.