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.