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    How to Deal With Unspoken Expectations

    In his book, Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married, Dr. Gary Chapman tells about the frustration he and his wife felt in the early years of their marriage. At one point, he shares that they went for weeks without cleaning the toilet. 

    He couldn’t understand why she wasn’t cleaning the toilet because that was something his mom always did. Carolyn couldn’t understand why Gary wasn’t cleaning the toilet because that was her father’s chore in her childhood home. Unfortunately, neither told the other about their expectation.

    When Chapman worked up enough nerve to ask his wife why she hadn’t cleaned their toilet, he finally learned she was waiting for him to do it. Needless to say, that became an interesting and eye-opening moment in their marriage.

    Truth be told, every married couple probably has a similar story. They walked into marriage thinking they knew and understood each other only to discover there were numerous unspoken expectations that each person assumed the other understood - little things like how to spend money, how many children to have (if any), where to spend the holidays, whether to buy new or used cars and how much to spend on them, who cleans the house and who handles yard work.

    Looking back, even the happiest of couples will acknowledge that these “little” unspoken expectations have created tension in their marriage. And, if they had it to do over again, they would discuss them ahead of time.

    So, what are some of the most common unspoken expectations? You can probably guess many of them. Many expectations revolve around: house cleaning and maintenance, money management, frequency of lovemaking, boundaries with the in-laws, work and marriage, childcare responsibilities, punctuality, celebrations, conflict management, meal prep and meal times. The list could go on, but you get the gist. There is lots of room for hurt feelings, misunderstandings and assumptions with unspoken expectations.

    Whether you are preparing for marriage or already married, having a conversation about unspoken expectations could be very enlightening.

    Where do you begin? 

    First, it’s helpful to write down your expectations, even if you think you have shared them before. Then ask yourself, where did these expectations come from? Many unspoken expectations are based on family traditions and values, past relationships, life experience and friends. 

    Next, share your unspoken expectations. As you walk through them, keep an open mind. Differing opinions don’t mean one is right and the other is wrong. The question is, how can you make that expectation work for your relationship? If you aren’t married yet, it is important to know your non-negotiables when it comes to expectations for your marriage. 

    If you are clearly on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to managing money, whether or not to have children, what a career path looks like, etc., do not expect things to change once you walk down the aisle. Many have led themselves to believe things will be different after marriage, thinking they would be able to change the other person’s mind. Not only did they not change their mind, each person can end up feeling angry and empty.

    Unspoken expectations can be the silent killer of relationships. Do yourself and your loved one a favor: be honest about your expectations and ask yourself if they are realistic. Just because your family did it that way doesn’t mean you necessarily have to do it the same way in your marriage. Talking about your expectations ahead of time can save you a lot of headaches and heartache down the road.

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    Potential Boundary Issues

    Before you take that walk down the aisle, sit down with each set of in-laws and talk about boundaries within your relationship.

    For example, when a couple considered purchasing a house close to his mother, the mother-in-law said, "I am okay with you living close to me, but you will call before you come to visit and I will do the same." That was one smart mother-in-law!

    Things To Consider

    • If your in-laws have a key to your home, how will they use that? Are you okay with them dropping in whenever or is the key for emergencies only? AND, how do you define an emergency?

    • Is there an unspoken expectation that you would come over for dinner once a week?

    • How do you feel about your spouse talking with his/her parents about issues within your marriage?

    • Do they expect to talk with you every day?

    • How will you handle unsolicited advice?

    • What are your in-laws' expectations surrounding holidays?

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    The Value of Father-Daughter Relationships

    Beth, a 26-year-old church secretary was in a particularly good mood. She was actually glowing when a friend asked if her boyfriend had proposed to her.

    "Her response took me by surprise,” says Ken Canfield, author of Seven Secrets of Effective Fathers and The Heart of a Father. "She told me her father initiated a phone call to her for the first time in a very long time. I noticed she had flowers on her desk and I asked who sent her flowers.

    "With a huge smile, she told me her dad sent them to her for her birthday. Beth’s response to her father’s attention made me realize something. Even grown women hunger for love, attention and affirmation from their father.”

    Research from Canterbury and Vanderbilt Universities shows that from birth on, a father's activity and presence uniquely benefits their daughters.

    “Many men operate off of the premise that if they were uninvolved in their daughter’s life as she was growing up, it is too late to make a difference,” Canfield says. “Thinking that the die is cast or the deal is done because our children are grown is something we must re-examine. It simply is not true. In a parallel vein, research shows the devastating impact of divorce affects adult children deeply. Contrastingly, the continued investment in your child’s life even when they are parents of your grandchildren will reap tremendous benefits for you and them.”

    Studies reveal that men tend to spend more time with their sons than they do with their daughters. In fact, fathers tend to back away from their daughters during the pre-adolescence and adolescence. However, a girl's need for attention and affection during that time period is even more important.

    “When a father abandons a relationship with his daughter, she can become frozen in time relationally with the opposite sex,” Canfield says. “A 50-year-old woman may look like an adult, but on the inside she is still working on issues that should have been attended to by a healthy, engaged father.”

    Based on research, we know a few more things about these relationships. Without a healthy relationship with their father, girls will find other ways to contribute to their development when it comes to relating to men.

    “When you are frozen relationally, it is difficult to know your place and how to develop a healthy relationship. It's because you are working from a point of need instead of working out of a position of co-equal,” Canfield says. “There is a void in her life. The search to fill that void prompts her to take risks in relationships, which usually result in some really poor choices.”

    According to Canfield, limitless healing and restoration can take place in father-daughter relationships. Here are Canfield's tips:

    • Initiate communication with your adult daughter. Affirm her for the positive contributions she has made to your life or in the lives of others.

    • Consider asking for forgiveness. The three toughest things for fathers to say are: “I was wrong, I am sorry, and will you forgive me?” Use these to deepen your relationship with your daughter.

    • Ask your daughter for three ways you can support her in the coming year.

    • Ask your child’s mother (who is an adult daughter) to describe how her father influenced her most significantly.

    • Affirm your daughter’s femininity by being sensitive to her emotional highs and lows.

    Cultivate an atmosphere of “no-strings-attached” love in your home. Be ready to listen to and support your children in every challenge.

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    Dad's Role in a Daughter's Marriage

    Sometimes the closeness of a father/daughter relationship can interfere with the couple relationship.

    For example, one couple was arguing over purchasing a $600 set of dishes. According to the husband, they could not afford them. As a result, the wife was furious.

    When she told her father that her husband would not purchase the dishes, her dad purchased them for her. Some might say, "Why is this a problem? He was just trying help."

    But most relationship experts would say the dad crossed a line when he got in the middle of something the couple needed to figure out for themselves. If she thinks she can run to her father and get what she wants every time there is a disagreement about spending money, two things will eventually happen:

    • The husband will grow to completely resent his father-in-law, or

    • The daughter will stop discussing these things with her husband and go straight to her father to get what she wants.

    Neither of these outcomes are good for the marriage.

    Couples need to openly discuss these potential pitfalls and agree ahead of time about boundaries and expectations within their marriage.

    For Fathers:

    While it may be difficult, it is important for you to step back emotionally once your daughter is married. Even though you enjoy doing things for her, it is better to ask yourself one question: Is if what I am about to do going to be helpful to their marriage?

    If the answer is no, don't do it. OR, ask them how they would feel about you helping. If both aren't in agreement that it would be helpful, then don't do it. Let them figure it out.

    It's hard to believe that any guy will ever measure up and be good enough for your daughter. If you want their marriage to be successful, however, guard against criticizing your son-in-law.

    Recognize it is not your job to control things. And while she will always be your daughter, her husband comes first.

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    5 Holiday Tips for Divorced Parents

    The holidays will be different for many children who are adjusting to their parents’ divorce. What once was, is no more. In the midst of their “new normal,” now they must learn how to deal with dividing the holidays between parents. And, it isn’t just the kids who will be experiencing stress.

    “I think it is critical for newly-divorced parents to anticipate the added emotional strain the holidays can present for both themselves and their children and prepare accordingly,” says Dr. Susan Hickman, local psychologist. “First and foremost, parents must remember that it is their role to provide emotional support for their children, not vice versa. Unfortunately, too many parents look to their children, rather than to other appropriate adults, for emotional support, love and/or validation.”

    Rarely does everything go according to plan. Maybe one parent doesn't pick up or return the children on time or the kids forget their favorite teddy bear. Perhaps somebody says something hurtful, resulting in a meltdown along the way.

    “The likelihood of this happening is great because favorite routines that are so easily remembered have gone away and truth be told, everybody still longs for them,” Hickman says. “Nothing is as it was, and with this realization comes sadness and perhaps anger – especially during the holidays, when family time is viewed as more sacred. Understanding these sensitivities and the reasons for them is the first step in not allowing the stress to spiral out of control.”

    If you want to prepare for dealing with the holidays constructively, try Hickman's suggestions:

    • Have a release valve. Identify a parent or friend in advance, someone who has a level head and who is willing to listen without attempting to fix the problem or meddle, to be on standby for you to call and blow off steam. Recognize that the overwhelming emotions of the present are not permanent.

    • Be available for your children. If it overwhelms you as a parent, imagine how overwhelming it is for children with their limited coping abilities. Children cannot reason through or understand adult decisions or actions and thus often blame themselves erroneously for parental behaviors such as divorce. If they do not have the opportunity to express their grief, anger, sadness, shame and self-blame, how will you ever tell them differently? Many emotional and behavioral problems arise because children of divorce try to cope on their own.

    • Allow children to be children, especially during the holidays. While divorce is serious and full of heavy ramifications, children still need to laugh, play, relate to others, engage in fantasy, etc. They do not understand the emotional pain of their parents, nor should they! Do not think they “don’t love you” because they don’t show empathy. Try not to expect or force them to carry this load the same way you do. One of the best gifts you can give them as a parent is the gift of childhood.

    • Give up the idea of ultimate control. Adults often believe they can change and control others, and they frequently make themselves (and others) crazy in their attempts. This is the art of parenting from a distance. Children need to see healthy coping skills and positive attitudes modeled in difficult situations toward all. This is a time to promote family involvement, not sabotage it through bitterness and the need to hurt one another.

    • Keep as many old traditions as you can, but don’t be afraid to start new ones. The old traditions provide stability, but many disappear due to divorce. Invite your children to help you create some, but be sensitive if they are sullen and reluctant to do so. This is especially important for teens.

    “There will likely be some tough moments this holiday season,” Hickman says. “Don’t let this daunt your enthusiasm. Your willingness to move ahead sends the message that you can live fully, happily and hopefully despite unexpected loss. This is the real message of the season: Hope, joy and peace.”