Whether you realize it or not, you are preparing to go into your marriage with a laundry list of expectations about your soon-to-be spouse. Expectations are ingrained into our very idea of marriage from a variety of sources. As children, we see the Disney princess marry the prince and ride off into their “happily ever after,” but we don’t see them argue over who’s turn it is to do the dishes or pick the kids up from school. TV tells us that every conflict can be resolved in an hour episode, and only the “perfect couple” stays together. And our understanding of spousal roles is filtered by how our parents treated each other, for better or worse, and we commit to having a relationship just like theirs - or the opposite of it!
Through all these external influences, it’s important to remember that your spouse may have entirely different expectations. If you don’t recognize and discuss these expectations with your fiancé, you may be setting yourself up for frustration and disappointment. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen.
Why Having Expectations Can Hurt Your Marriage
High expectations can be difficult to satisfy, and the fantasy we’ve created about married life often won’t reflect reality. Humans are flawed and life gets messy, and we may not respond to situations in a way that satisfies our spouse. When expectations aren’t met, we are left feeling dissatisfied, even wondering at times if we made the “wrong decision” about marrying our spouse. With fewer expectations, you allow more opportunities for gratitude to fill your life and marriage.
For example, if you expect your spouse to cook all the time, you feel cheated or disappointed when things aren’t always done according to your timeline. Having a conversation about when each partner cooks or if one person does all the cooking creates an agreement, rather than an expectation. And if you didn’t expect your spouse to make dinner and you get home to find a home-cooked meal on the table, you’ll feel truly grateful.
We also expect our spouse to be the great source of our happiness, so when things aren’t going well in other areas of our lives, we may wonder what’s wrong in our relationship. "If you are waiting on someone else to make your life meaningful and happy, you will almost certainly be gravely disappointed," says Todd Clements and Kim Beair, authors of First Comes Love, Then What? "When you learn how to be truly happy alone, you’ll begin to be the most successful in every relationship," they add. Your personal happiness, rather than a total reliance on another, will allow your relationship to grow and thrive, and your spouse will be encouraged by your happiness.
Recognizing Your Expectations
Expectations can range from physical and emotional fulfillment to household responsibilities, like who is going to handle the chores and finances, the way quality time and communication happens, and even how often sex occurs. Growing up, my parents went to bed together every night, and I came to expect that all healthy married couples did the same. I experienced disappointment early in my marriage when I realized that my husband’s crazy work schedule and insomnia meant I would be going to bed alone often, and that was a shift in my reality that I needed to understand and overcome.
Individually or as a couple, sit down and make a list of all the things your parents did, and think about how you might expect those actions to manifest in your own marriage. Consider what commitment means to you as you prepare to walk down the aisle and think about why this person is the one you are choosing to spend your life with. This list is essentially the expectations you are bringing into your marriage, and they are topics worth discussing with your fiancé.
There’s one expectation you probably didn’t write down, but it may be lingering in the back of your head – that “happily ever after.” Expectations are the fantasy we’ve created of a perfect marriage and a perfect spouse, what you expect him or her to be like. Mr. Right and Ms. Perfect don’t exist (you already know YOU aren’t perfect, so why should your spouse be), so if you let go of expectations, you can focus more on appreciating and embracing the person that your fiancé actually is. Recognizing now that your spouse will never live up to all your dreams gives room for a more satisfying marriage as you let go of your expectations of perfection.
Discussing your Expectations
After you’ve each created a list of expectations you have, try discussing some of the key points with your fiancé. Make sure you aren’t presenting a list of demands you expect in your relationship, but instead use these lists to explain why these things have permeated your view of marriage, and compromise on some of those expectations so you can move forward into a marriage filled with gratitude.
Remember that in all your expectations and beliefs about your relationship, marriage is a balancing act. For example, you should never have to ask your spouse to give up their passions or interests, but you may find yourself resenting the time they spend on that activity or hobby after you’ve tied the knot. If balance is kept, you should both be able to enjoy your passions, as long as they don’t take away from family time or personal commitments to each other.
As you discuss your expectations with each other, work through the following questions:
What kind of emotional support do you expect from me, whether we’re going through good or hard times, the loss of a job, illness, etc?
How much time do you need alone, or with your friends (without me)?
Do you expect to continue having intentional date nights and romance after we are married?
How much time do you feel is appropriate to spend working? Will work ever come before family time?
If we plan to have children, do we expect this to affect the amount of time either of us works?
Are you comfortable with the difference between our salaries?
What size house or kind of neighborhood do you hope to live in, now and in the future?
Are there any activities you expect me to do, or ways you expect a spouse should act?
How would you handle it if I have a midlife crisis and need to change aspects of my life?
Do you have any expectations about our sex life, and how do you think you will handle it if your sex drive changes?
Do you want to establish that extramarital affairs are not an option? And do you consider affairs of the heart to be equal to sexual affairs?
Do you have any expectations about how much we can each communicate with people of the opposite sex, and can you commit to never talking about the intimate details of our relationship with someone of the opposite sex (excluding a therapist or clergy)?
Discussing these expectations with your partner allows you both to compromise and agree upon elements that you both believe will improve your relationship. After that discussion, those expectations have become commitments, mutually agreed upon guidelines for a successful union.
Not All Expectations Are Bad
Trust me, if you walk up to your fiancé today and say, “I have no expectations of you,” he or she isn’t going to like it. And to say you have “low-expectations” of your marriage sounds pretty heartbreaking. So while you’re working through removing those detrimental expectations before you bring your fantasy-marriage baggage into your real life marriage, consider these 10 expectations that you CAN have:
Expect honesty from each other. Expect meaningful communication. Expect friendship and partnership. Expect conflict, and healthy resolution. Expect to never stop learning about each other. Expect a willingness to grow. Expect sexual exclusivity. Expect most needs to be met (but remember, no one is perfect). Expect a life of commitment to each other. Expect God’s blessing on your marriage.
Want more tips and tricks for a successful marriage? Let's chat!