When we walk down the aisle and say “I do” there is a lot of anticipation with these words. Men are excited to be honored and respected by the beautiful woman looking into his eyes. Having a life companion to be able to do life with and a partner to have sex with is appealing. For women, we are excited to be unconditionally loved. We never need to find a date for Valentine’s Day again, and this man will be the one who can make us happy. We never take time to consider how expectations influence marriage.
How Expectations Influence Marriage
We walk into a marriage with expectations, often unspoken. Sorrow and discontentment can set in when these expectations are not met. There are different reasons we have expectations for this union.
Expectations from Media – Some of our assumptions come from what we see in the media. We watch TV shows or movies and assume love and romance will enter into a lives the way we see displayed on the screen. I speak about the dangers of the Jerry Maguire view in this post. We expect that men will act a certain away, and women often mimic what they see. More recently sitcom dads are the bumbling idiot while the girl needs to control him or all will go south. Other shows present men who say and the do the right things, with flowers and sweet words around every turn. We may even decide that divorce is the answer based on things that are promoted in Hollywood. Disappointment may set in when we realize our husband doesn’t bring us gifts or compliment us the way we see in the movies. Husbands might be discouraged when their wife doesn’t eagerly initiate sex, becomes more like a mom or doesn’t respect him the way he needs.
Expectations from Observing Other Marriages – Other expectations set in because of what we assume. We see the sparkly lives and smiling faces on Facebook. Everyone is happy and marriages look delightful. Through pictures, we watch couples going on hikes, dates and trips. Some may be asking themselves, “Why doesn’t my marriage look the same as the friends on my social media accounts?
Maybe we see the leaders at church and the happy families in the pew next to us. The expectation that we have often reflect what we assume these marriages look like behind closed doors.
What we forget is that although these Christians are often striving to do better, they are still sinful and different from one another. They came into the marriage with their own garbage and personalities that might be causing strife in their marriage. After all, being a Christian isn’t about being perfect. It’s about being forgiven through the grace of God. People do not come to Jesus because they are good. They come to Jesus because they recognize the are not.
When we see our friends on social media or in the church, we need to remind ourselves that we don’t see what happens in these homes. If we aren’t in deep community with these people, we can make the assumption that they don’t fight and their marriage is much better than ours. This can lead to discontentment and result in the comparison game.
Expectations Based on Our Parents’ Relationship Other presumptions are made because of how we experienced life growing up with our own family. We may have had a horrible childhood and want to fight hard against following in our parents’ footprints. On the other side of the coin, I have a friend who said that if there wasn’t strife in her relationships, it didn’t seem normal and made her feel uncomfortable. She almost initiated drama and destruction because that was what was known to her.
The opposite is also true. There are expectations based on the fact that our own childhood was very good. In fact, I know many people who say, “My parents never fought.” The fact that they have fighting in their own marriage terrifies them, and they feel like their marriage is doomed.
We also walk into marriage expecting that our spouse will take on certain roles and responsibilities similar to the way our own parents functioned.
What to do About Our Marriage Expectations
Communicate. Expectations often enter into the marriage unspoken. We want our spouse to intuitively know what we expect or hope for because that is an indication they know us well.
Communication can be broken down in the big marriage decisions: money choices, how to raise kids, how time will be spent or household responsibility allocation.
Communication can also be broken in the daily moments. For example, maybe you are inviting people over for dinner on a Saturday night. Rather than communicate to your spouse, you get annoyed that there was no help in getting the house put together, taking care of the kids or preparing the meal. You were even stuck with the dishes. You had expectations but they were never communicated. However, you still claimed the right to be frustrated because it should have just been obvious that you were slaving all day while he was doing his own thing.
My husband grew up in a family where his mom serves everyone. If you try and help with the dishes, she graciously says that she will do it with a heart of service. She models this heart of serving, and it is reflected in how her kids turned out. Of course, they had responsibilities around the house as well. I have a serving mom as well, but in our family everyone helped in the kitchen. It was part of learning responsibility. Also, if my mom cooks, then it is my dad who does the dishes. This method led to us to work hard, knowing that it takes everyone working together to run a household. It’s how we functioned. These were two different techniques in the kitchen, which actually yielded similar results.
However, when we first got married I decided to get annoyed with my husband because he wasn’t doing the dishes rather than communicating with him about how I felt it should work. He saw how his parents functioned, so he just assumed I would take care of everything in the kitchen. Until we were able to communicate about this, there was tension.
We have found that we need to keep communication strong. We need to talk and problem solve together. This kind of communication was how we were able to figure out the solution to creating family balance on the weekends, which had been an issue ever since we introduced kids into the mix.
Let Go. Sometimes we discover that our expectations were unfair or too high. It is often good to reflect on the expectations we have for our spouse and re-set them. Perhaps you have put your spouse in the position of God – expecting him or her to make you happy or feel complete. That needs to change.
You may have the false opinion that married couples shouldn’t fight. If you can let go of that unfair expectation and learn how to “fight” in a healthy way, you will be better off. It’s not about not-fighting, it is about how conflicts are resolved as pointed out by John Gottman in his book, “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.” (affiliate)
Maybe we are expecting too much of our spouse, not recognizing his or her needs. For example, when I first had babies, I hoped my husband would return from work (which couldn’t possibly be as stressful as having a newborn and a toddler) and tell me to take the evening off. He’d swoop in, grab a baby from my arms and tell me to go have some alone time. That was an unfair expectation that fed into disappointment over and over again. The truth was that my husband was working very hard, and his job is stressful. I couldn’t see outside myself and my own wants to walk in his shoes. He came home to a discouraged and needy wife and a crying baby after a hard day of work. He has a harder time transitioning, and I wasn’t even allowing for that. My unrealistic expectations had to be altered to find peace in our home.
Expect Nothing in Return. I know that I can do things in hopes that I get a certain response from my spouse. When we do things expecting some sort of reward in return, we often leave with dismay.
When we expect something in return for our own good behavior, we can have unmet expectations that can lead to feelings of sadness, disappointment frustration and anger, as pointed out in the ReEngage curriculum. We need to begin working as if for the Lord rather than man (Colossians 3:23). When we change ourselves, we may find that our marriage is transformed. However, we can also just find that we are transformed, which gives us a whole new outlook on our marriage.
Forgive. My husband and I have been a student of marriage ever since we tied the knot. We went to a Weekend to Remember early on in our marriage, and one of the big take aways for both of us was, “Your spouse is not your enemy.” You didn’t marry this person because you hate them. They are not working against you. If they are trying to communicate something or respond a certain way that doesn’t meet your expectations, it is probably not because they are wanting to sabotage you. Marriage came out of love, which I have heard defined as “wanting the best for the other person.” In our society, we often think of love as something we get rather than something we give.
All that said, our spouse isn’t perfect. This other human being will not meet all of our expectations. We will have to cling to Colossians 3:13, “Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you.”
Moving Forward as You Understand Better About How Expectations Influence Marriage
As you communicate, let go of unrealistic expectations, expect nothing in return for your good behavior and forgive quickly, you will find your married life improving. I love the quote above because placing your marriage expectations at the feet is Jesus is the best solution for peace of heart when it comes to your marriage.
I’d love for you to reflect on these questions:
- Is there expectations I have that I have not yet communicated to my spouse?
- Are my expectations for my spouse realistic, or am I putting to much burden on another human being?
- Are my motivations pure or am I behaving a certain way to try and manipulate a certain response from my spouse?
- In what ways do I need to let go and forgive? Visit this post to see what forgiveness is and what it is not.
- Can I take the burden off my husband by presenting my expectations at the feet of Jesus and allowing Him to change my heart?