Things aren’t always what you expect them to be, especially in marriage.
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.
It’s not always easy to figure out how to deal with unspoken expectations as a couple.
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’s lots of room for hurt feelings, misunderstandings and assumptions with unspoken expectations.
Whether you’re preparing for marriage or already married, you can probably learn a lot by having a conversation about unspoken expectations.
How do you deal with unspoken expectations? And where do you begin?
First, it’s helpful to write down your expectations, even if you think you’ve 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’s important to know your non-negotiables when it comes to what you expect for your marriage.
If you’re 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., don’t expect things to change once you walk down the aisle. I repeat, DO NOT EXPECT MARRIAGE TO CHANGE THESE THINGS. 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, but each person can also end up feeling angry and empty. And that can cause major problems.
Unspoken expectations can be the silent killer of relationships (so deal with them sooner instead of later).
Do yourself and your loved one a favor: be honest about your expectations and ask yourself if they’re 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 heartaches down the road.
Looking for more resources? Watch this episode of JulieB TV for an in-depth look on this topic!
***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***