We all have expectations. We expect the sun to rise and seasons to change (all in one day for those of us in Tennessee). Perhaps we expect our spouse to put their dirty clothes in the hamper. We expect the post office to deliver our mail. 

We base our expectations on personal experiences and understanding, often beginning in childhood. They are birthed from how we believe the world works. They may be rational or irrational, realistic or unrealistic. Grounded in truth or fantasy. Based on facts or opinions. Stem from our experiences and decisions.

If we aren’t careful, expectations can negatively impact our marriage. In the National Survey on Marriage in America, the National Fatherhood Initiative reported that 45% of divorced respondents said unrealistic expectations contributed to their marriage ending. That’s almost half of all divorcees surveyed.

Marriage is a partnership, and healthy couples desire what is best for each other. To know what each person needs, you’ll want to communicate often about what you expect. It won’t be a one-time conversation because expectations change with the seasons of marriage.

The first step is to identify what our expectations are. The next step is to recognize what is realistic and what isn’t.

So, what are realistic expectations?

Realistic expectations are those that can be met. You can discuss them and agree about them. Some realistic expectations require compromise. These could be expectations around household chores, sex, and finances, among others. 

Here are some examples of realistic expectations:

  • Sharing responsibilities around the house. Remember, marriage is a partnership.
  • Showing respect to each other. This is crucial and foundational.
  • Speaking kindly. Words have power. Uplift each other with words of life.
  • Saying “I love you” often. You just can’t say this too much.
  • Trusting each other. Trust is essential. If trust is broken, work to repair and heal.
  • Honoring each other’s dreams. Our dreams are often different. That’s ok. Encourage each other to chase those dreams.

What about those unrealistic expectations?

Unrealistic expectations are the ones we may not say out loud. They’re the unspoken ones. We somehow expect our spouse to read our minds and know what we want and how we want it done. (Like knowing exactly how to fold towels. Or is that just my marriage?) Sorry to burst your bubble; they can’t read your mind. As much as that would be great, it doesn’t happen. 

How do we resolve unspoken expectations? You’ve probably heard this before – communication. 

So, we can solve some unrealistic expectations by simply discussing what we each expect in our marriage. Write it down, talk about it, resolve any issues and make a plan to move forward together. Don’t miss that “together” piece. Remember, you’re on the same team. 

Let’s be honest. Some expectations are just plain unrealistic and unhealthy. 

Here are examples of some unrealistic expectations:

  • Your spouse is responsible for your happiness. You alone are responsible for your happiness. You can’t put that responsibility on anyone else; it’s unattainable.
  • Your spouse will complete you. Your spouse may complement you, but they don’t complete you. They can’t.
  • The person you married will never change. We all change and grow. Hopefully, we grow in healthy ways together. But change is inevitable.
  • Your spouse’s life should revolve around you. Each of you is an individual. A marriage is made up of two individuals, loving and caring for one another. 
  • All of your time should be spent together. We all have different interests, and that’s ok. Your spouse shouldn’t completely ignore you and not spend any time with you. But it’s ok to have other interests and hobbies.
  • Your way is the right way. Marriage requires compromise from two different people with different backgrounds and experiences. Compromise in marriage is a beautiful thing.

We all have expectations, but they don’t have to derail a marriage. Come together as partners and communicate what you expect. Keep the conversation going. If one of you is unwilling to compromise or maintains unrealistic expectations, you may need professional help. A counselor who wants to see your marriage succeed can help you work through the tough stuff.

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***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 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.***

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