“How did we get here?” If you’re married, this is a question you and your spouse have probably asked yourselves (perhaps each other) over the course of your time together. Whether it’s 3 months, 3 years, or 3 decades, we all face certain aspects of marriage that for some reason, we didn’t see coming. We still get shocked at our spouse’s inability to be our Savior. We still get shocked that they get mad when we don’t get the chore list done. What did we expect?

Paul David Tripp, a noted counselor, and pastor who has written much on human relationships has written a book aimed at providing some answers to this challenging question. One of Tripp’s most significant opening statements is that “realism is found at the intersection of unabashed honesty and uncompromising hope” (26). That’s really what this book is all about. What Did You Expect? is about helping married couples, engaged couples, even singles desiring marriage, a healthy and conscious understanding of oneself and where God is leading us in it. The most effective audience is married couples, but it’s not narrowed to struggling married couples. Any married couple, if they approach this book with honesty and humility, will find that they have much to learn and many places to grow.

Tripp builds the book around six key commitments. These six commitments form the meat of the book, providing couples a resolution-like blueprint for adopting these principles practically into life. They are as follows:

We will give ourselves to a regular lifestyle of confession and forgiveness.

We will make growth and change our daily agenda.

We will work together to build a sturdy bond of trust

We will commit to building a relationship of love.

We will deal with our differences with appreciation and grace.

We will work to protect our marriage.

Critical to Tripp’s arguments throughout the book is the admission that we married husbands and wives are nothing more than sinners married to sinners. “Something lives inside [us] that is destructive to relationships” (118). Sure, most of us would admit theologically that we are born sinners. But often in the marriage relationships, we forget grace for our sinful spouse, and we forget our need for humility since we are ourselves sinners. Tripp takes it a bit further, showing that selfishness is “the DNA of sin.”

A key feature of Tripp’s book is that he brings in real-life counseling cases to expound on his points. Tripp has decades of experience walking couples through marriage counseling, and his experiences vary considerably. These examples bring his points down to the ground level and help us see the real-world implications for the lessons Tripp presents. A personal favorite of these examples was the story of Chris and Sarah in Chapter 11.

There is one main critique I have of What Did You Expect? With this being a marriage book, my wife and I are reading this book together, as I would imagine many couples will do as well. The book is fairly lengthy, and I have found in our reading together that there are quite a few paragraphs that offer many sentences to say the same thing. For example, on page 139, Tripp uses ten separate sentences to essentially paint the importance of trust in a marriage. This kind of thing happens multiple times in each chapter. I feel Tripp’s points could have been achieved with significantly fewer pages. A shorter book would likely make it more palatable to couples, especially couples who read together or couples who may be initially intimidated by the book’s subject matter. Nonetheless, the material is all great, I just think it could have been a bit shorter in nature, especially in areas like the one described above.

Overall, What Did You Expect? is a breath of fresh air to gasping marriages. It is a cool drink of water to exasperated husbands and wives. Tripp does a masterful job of highlighting the beauty of grace while also not letting off the gas. Ultimately, the gospel stays at the forefront, which is sadly unique for many marriage books; the theme of Chapter 17 shows that the worship of God shapes not only how we live, but how we do marriage. I am thankful for Tripp’s commitment to biblical counsel for a healthy marriage. This book will serve couples and the church greatly.