She looked me in the eye and said, “I’m ready for another adventure with you. I want to shoot a deer.”
Did hell just freeze over? When I met her she wouldn’t even look at wild game, much less eat it. When we were dating, my parents’ neighbors invited us over for dinner. She happily partook until someone said the venison was “really, really good.” That night ended poorly.
As a loving wife, she tolerated my hunting for years. As a loving husband, I tolerated her cats. We both tolerated the kids.
After 23 years, just as I was willing to let a cat sleep in our bed, she was willing to eat wild game. My double-battered chicken-fried venison back-strap, with gravy-smothered mash potatoes and french-cut green beens is one of her top 5 favorite meals. Ever. Each year she’s first in line to see if the smoke-dried venison-pork sausage hanging in the garage is “dry enough yet.” Two weeks ago, she held my Yeti up for me to take a drink when my hands were bloody from processing the deer she was standing next to.
She surprised me back in August of this year when she decided to go backpacking with me. Now she wanted to put the crosshairs behind a live deer’s shoulder and pull the trigger. Hell. Yes.
I gear up for a hunting trip in two ways: 1) Physical, and 2) mental.
It’s physical in that my truck is loaded with archery equipment, my Hoyt Challenger compound-bow, scent-free clothes, maybe a couple of rifles (because who knows and why the hell not), my knives, my pistol, and all the things I need for the stay, like food, laptop, extra clothes, and beer. Lots of beer. And whiskey, too. Because hey, it’s a hunting trip. And last and most importantly, when I can take him, I bring Cash, my black Labrador Retriever.
It’s mental in the sense that I switch from a caring and compassionate Husband-Daddy-Lawyer who mostly wears a suit and tie, to the Outdoorsman-Hunter that wears old gnarly clothes or camouflage. The latter persona is ready to sit in whatever the weather throws at me in order to kill something.
When I gear up physically and mentally for a hunt, I’m already there before I even leave the driveway. We all thrive on something. For me it’s the outdoors and physically demanding activities. Hunting. Backpacking. Fishing. Crossfit. Rucking. And then the processing of the game. I love getting dirty and bloody and using weapons. Or being in the middle of nowhere living off what I can carry and nothing more. It feeds my soul.
Arrangements for Grandma and Grandpa to take the kids for the night helped us get away. We dropped the kids and were on our way to the ranch where we hunt. It was a nice drive. I don’t care much for possessions, but driving my ’98 Dodge Ram 2500 with a 5.9L Cummins Diesel engine down the highway is therapy (her name is Twister). Having all the hunting gear and my dog completes it. But this time I had my wife with me. It was pretty amazing.
The plan was to hunt the evening, stay the night, and hunt the morning. Staying the night involved being on a isolated ranch in a warm building on a very cold night. No kids and no responsibilities other than to each other. We had plenty of booze and movies to help pass whatever time we couldn’t pass doing other things. On the way up we purchased her hunting license. After that we talked hunting and various other topics for the 40 minutes it took to get there. Her voice revealed her giddiness.
When we reached the ranch we were surprised to see the gate already open. We pulled in and about a dozen assorted vehicles were parked around the buildings. We knew there had been another hunting party up for a few days, but it was our understanding they would be gone by our arrival. A few texts with the landowner and we learned that these folks were staying until Christmas Eve at least.
It was a simple scheduling snafu. But it meant our plans were foiled. There were too many hunters and not enough blinds. Too many people and not enough privacy. Faith’s very first hunt was not going to happen.
I couldn’t be mad. There was no reason to be. These things happen. But disappointed? Definitely. For her. For me. For us. It’s hard to get childcare for five kids. And it’s a lot of work to get everything ready for two people to hunt and be gone for a few days. Faith had mentally psyched herself up to let the air out of something. I had geared up mentally and physically. Now we both had to somehow turn that off.
This is where Faith has always been better than me.
The outdoorsman/hunter in me was NOT ready to go back home. But I had no choice. It was done. We made a few on-the-spot calls to see if there was any way we could hunt with any of my nearby friends. All options were closed.
It became official within minutes – we were not hunting this night or the next day.
It’s simple, really. So many problems in our relationships are due to what Derek Harvey refers to as “unmet expectations.” One of my problems throughout life has been letting foiled plans foil my personal happiness. Like, I said, Faith has always been better at this than me. Being touched with the OCD and a Type-A personality, I’m not a big fan of unexpected changes, especially once I’ve committed. It’s taken me years to learn how to adjust to that. Kids were a big part of my softening. But I’m still not great at last-minute disruptions to my plans.
Are you guilty of setting lofty ambitions for your spouse or yourself? As a divorce lawyer, I see this all the time in marriages that are either on the rocks or already over. One or both spouses has created expectations for the other spouse. Let’s not forget: We’re human. We will and often do fail. And when our significant other fails to meet our expectations, disappointment reigns. My job has provided me with years of looking at marriages that failed and marriages that continue to work. Of course, keeping my own marriage intact through peaks and valleys has provided me with an unique perspective on expectations.
I’ve been guilty of setting unfair expectations.
Spouse A expects Spouse B to be a superhero. Spouse B expects Spouse A to always say the right thing at the right time. Expectations of what to say/not to say in public. Expectations of how to spend/save money. Expectations of what to wear/not to wear. Expectations of sexual activity. Expectations of how to parent appropriately. Expectations of how to respond to non-verbal cues or body language. The list is infinite and the potential for unmet expectations is rampant.
Outside of the obvious offenders like infidelity and financial problems, there are many reasons that marriages can fail. In my practice I’ve heard them all. Lots of finger pointing, hiding behind religion, denials of personal issues, an unexplained desire to leave the marriage, refusal by one spouse to get help the other spouse wants, to name but a few.
But the idea of unrealized or unmet expectations is less known. It’s clandestine.
Let’s make an important distinction: We’re not talking about setting healthy goals f0r yourself, your spouse or your marriage. My wife and I have many goals relating to finances, fitness, parenting, dating, and so forth. There’s quite a difference between healthy goals versus unhealthy or unfair expectations.
I watched a documentary once called 180 Degrees South. The protagonist is a young adventurer. His mentor taught him that the adventure actually starts when something in your plan goes wrong. Faith knows this is one of my favorite quotes. I tried to remind myself of this as I sat there in the truck with Faith, wondering what we were going to do now that something in our plan had gone wrong.
She looked at me and said, “See? Our adventure just started!”
Going back home was the last thing I wanted to do. I wanted to be outside and get dirty. She asked what else I wanted to do. In quick succession I shot down anything involving shopping or sitting in a restaurant. She laughed at that and calmly reminded me that she didn’t suggest anything like that. She said we could go back and get the kids and save Grandparent Sleepover Night for another day when we could make the hunt happen. I responded with an emphatic “no.” We both needed an break from parenting and we both knew it. Then she made another more interesting suggestion.
“Why don’t we go home, make a fire and just hang out? We can do whatever we want, we have no kids for the night. Sound good?”
The disappointment began to fade. This particular adventure had just now started. And I needed to place focus on what I could see instead of what I expected to see.
I needed to go with the flow. At least that’s how Derek Harvey puts it.
I started warming up to the idea of going back home. I suggested maybe going back out later to the bar for a drink or a bite to eat. She responded with her approval. So that’s what we did. Twister’s whining diesel helped me cope.
We took the long way home because one of the little ranch roads is Faith’s favorite stretch of pavement in our area. As the miles wore on, I became more accepting of the idea that we would not be hunting. Of course I continued to make snide remarks here or there. She helped me coordinate another date with the landowner and by the time we were 10 miles down the road, the hunt was rescheduled.
This is Texas.
Our weather doesn’t know what the hell it wants to do. I’m no expert but our location creates a mixed bag of weather conditions from hour to hour. We sit towards the bottom of the Texas hill country. The Gulf of Mexico is 3 hours to the southeast. The Southwest sits to our left. The Great Plains and the Rockies to the north and northwest. Cold weather from the Northeast blows down every once in a while, too. Throw all that together and you wind up with the following yearly forecast: Anything and everything can happen.
And it does. On December 7th we got several inches of snow in 4 hours. It came in like a blizzard. My defroster was on full blast because my windshield was icing up. By the next afternoon I was outside in a t-shirt.
We started this particular day at a humid 81 degrees. By the time we made it back home from the ranch at 3:30 p.m., it was in the low forties and very windy. It would get down into the thirties within the hour. But the forecast for Christmas Day? High 50s. Sunny. Yeah, dream on. White Christmas in Texas is like finding a unicorn (If you see one, don’t slap it on the ass).
Like the issues in long-term relationships, you have to go with the flow when it comes to Texas weather. But, it was perfect weather to hole up alone in our house with a fire.
This isn’t a romance novel, so I’ll spare the details. The evening turned out to be more than either of us could have expected. Between spending much needed quality time together and watching episodes of “The Ranch” with some mixed drinks, we had a lot of laughs. Later we satisfied our hunger with an impromptu trip in Twister down to Whataburger. It’s amazing how romantic fast food can be when you’re not fighting to keep a baby from destroying the surrounding area and four older kids from killing each other. After we went home and watched The Mountain Between Us. Spent more quality time together. And Saturday morning we slept as late as we wanted.
And another cool little thing: When we got home I left every gun, my bow, my knives, and my ammunition out on the table. ALL. NIGHT. LONG. So liberating. #nokidsathomeparentrebellion
It’s not the major things with another person that define the relationship. It’s the little things. The little choices you make in the “daily” that can make or break it. Faith told me that last weekend when I surprised her with a Grande NonFat Vanilla Latte with Two Pumps (somehow I remembered that ridiculousness), it was extremely meaningful to her. When I get home after a long day of trial and my dog is fed and dinner is ready, I am very grateful. These things are not brand new cars. They are not expensive gifts. But they are priceless to the lifeblood of a relationship.
Our “ruined” hunt turned out to be an amazing evening full of the “little things.” From disappointment came sweetness.
Yesterday Faith and I had a choice to make. I can’t speak for her, but the less experienced me would have made a poor choice. I would have been frustrated and acted on the disappointment in a negative way. Instead of being there to engage with Faith in developing a new plan, she would have been dealing with my bad attitude. In the past, this sort of change in plans would have probably created a loss of 3-4 hours of quality time alone together. Or worse, the failure to capitalize on a great opportunity to maintain and improve the intimacy of our union.
But we were able to let go of the expectations we had set for our day. We went with the circumstances and we each wound up extremely content with the events that unfolded. And in doing so, I realized that these types of expectations have no business in my marriage as it pertains to Faith. Who am I to set expectations for her?
Ask yourself the following questions and reflect on your answers:
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below with your thoughts about relationships and expectations.
I’ll also be talking about this on my weekly podcast Cause of Action with Bobby Falkenberg. Call the hotline to share your thoughts! 830 484 8839
Having a goal-oriented life is one thing. It’s great to set goals, record your progress, and move forward improving things as you can. But setting expectations for your significant other is a sure-fire way to wind up disappointed. And it’s a sure-fire way to make your spouse or partner feel inadequate.
Ain’t nobody got time for that!
Relationships are free-flowing rivers. Just go with them.