Few things sound the death knell of a marriage more certainly than unrealistic expectations. And that is expecting something out of a marriage or relationship that the other party is either ignorant of, unwilling to provide, or simply unable to provide. When our expectations of our spouse or marriage are not fulfilled, the result is usually frustration, anger and sometimes resentment.
The truth is, we all have expectations. And that does not change even with marital status. Naturally, we expect our spouse to be faithful to us. We expect our spouse to love and respect us. We expect him or her to support us. We expect our spouse totolerate or put up with our tastes, excesses or weaknesses. The truth is, from the outset, we are undyingly filled with expectations for our spouse and marriage.
It is pertinent to point out that:
- Expectation is a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future; a belief that someone will or should achieve something.
- Disappointed expectation is one of the leading causes of marital trouble.
- Many people’s expectations are often poorly defined and sometimes completely unknown, yet they desire others to meet them.
The question is: where do expectations come from? Usually, they are from our own desires – from the things we want, or would like to have. They come from what we think we deserve. In marriage, we have given up some of our rights as singles to commit to someone, and we often expect that such a person should reciprocate our commitment by making us happy or at least by trying to make us happy. And some expectations come from the things we are used to, which could be our lifestyles. After all, we grew up in certain ways and environments. That way or environment then becomes a familiar terrain, so we unconsciously expect it to continue even when we are married. Our expectations could also come from the things we observe. We see certain married people relate in a particular way and we like it. Then we expect that to be the norm or standard in our marriage.
It was M. Scott Peck who said, “The problem of unmet expectations in marriage is primarily a problem of stereotyping. Each and every human being on this planet is a unique person. Since marriage is inevitably a relationship between two unique people, no one marriage is going to be exactly like any other. Yet we tend to wed with explicit visions of what a ‘good’ marriage ought to be like. Then we suffer enormously from trying to force the relationship to fit the stereotype and from the neurotic guilt and anger we experience when we fail to pull it off.”
The truth is, there will be expectations in both little and big things: finances, romance and lovemaking, what car to drive, when and how to sleep, where to go on holiday, how to bring up our children, how to relate with his or her friends and in-laws etc. And some of these expectations will be perfect matches, while some will require adaptation or adjustment. Unfortunately, some expectations will sometimes be downright unrealistic and will ultimately spell doom if they are not tempered with reality. Such will include:
- The outgoing spouse wanting his or her profoundly introverted partner to be as sociable as he or she is.
- The hard-working, goal-driven person seeking participation and integration with a spouse who is unpardonably passive andunmotivated.
- The logical type who values systematic approach wanting to resolve issues with a spouse who is overly emotional.
- The deeply spiritual person wanting to share his world with a spouse who is uninterested in anything religious.
- A pennywise person expecting cooperation in maintaining a responsible budget with a spendthrift.
- The earnest, philanthropic person who wantsto spend a lifetime tending to the needs of the downtrodden and indigent in the world expecting to involve a spouse who wants to live the good life and frolic with the rich and famous.
- The greedy and unrealistic spousewho expects a partner to always satisfy his or her insatiable appetites or wishes.
It is therefore no wonder that issues will often come up in marriage as a result of difference in expectations. This plays up the need to watch out and try as much as we can to come to terms with our spouse concerning those expectations. As the Bible states, “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” (Amos 3:3)
The truth is, a marriage is made so much more difficult when you, or you and your spouse, set unknown expectations of each other. If you expect your spouse to assist or behave in any way, it is important that you make it clear, instead of assuming that he or she knows what you want.And make sure that the expectations are realistic. It can be counter-productive to set goals for your spouse without his or her consent.
Now, where differing expectations are already causing a problem in the marriage, it is important that:
i) One partner takes the initiative for peace and progress by lowering his or her expectations, particularly where they are unrealistic or unachievable.In actual fact, it is not fair to expect something from one’s spouse that he or she cannot possibly give or do.
ii) Both partners work together, making compromises, where necessary, to ensure that difference in expectations does not cause division. After all, much of the success in marriage is often through compromise. So it is important that you find a middle ground – something that is acceptable to you both.
iii) Spouses learn to express themselves and discuss their expectations. That way, differing expectations are synchronised or dealt with.
iv) Couples see a mediator or counsellor, where amicable resolution of differing expectations is impossible. But it should besomeone who is impartial and can give ideas on a compromise, or other possible solutions.
Whether or not we like it, our spouse is unique in some way, and tapping into this uniqueness will greatly enhance our marriage. Otherwise, we will be inadvertently trying to force others into our mould, and that could lead to frustrations and pains. So rather than creating unnecessary frictions and problems, it is advisable to enjoy your spouse’s uniqueness as long as it is not inimical to the general good of your marital relationship.
Even if it is a habit you consider intolerable, you can find a way to encourage and help your spouse seek a solution. You can lovingly support your spouse to bring about the desired change. Remember,“Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another….”
Above all, take whatever problems or challenges you have with your spouse to God in prayers.
Your marriage is a blessing.