Guest Blog by Roxanne Maroney, Co-author of Hope After Hurt
It feels strange for me to say we’ve been married 48 years, when I really don’t feel that old. But as I look back at more than 4 decades, there were good times as well as some very dark periods. Many times I wanted to give up, but with work and the willingness to change, we came out the other side with new awareness about ourselves, new relational skills and a greater capacity for navigating stress and conflicts.
Expectation is Resentment Waiting to Happen
One area that often tripped us up in marriage was expectations. These formed many of our myths about marriage. To help clarify this, I’m defining expectations as the way I think life should be, or how I believe others should behave. But expectations are often unrealistic, and it’s been said “an expectation is a resentment waiting to happen”. With most couples I’ve worked with, I’ve found they usually don’t have the same expectations. This is because every marriage is cross-cultural, meaning we were raised in different families and with different experiences.
We all have expectations about certain things in life. Some are reasonable and realistic. Like when I sit on a chair with the expectation it will hold me; or when I get on an airplane and expect it to get me where I want to go. But unreasonable and unrealistic expectations are dangerous in almost any area of life, especially in marriage. There have been several research studies on expectations and satisfaction in marriage. One study at Northwestern University revealed how expectations of marriage have actually increased in the past few decades, while the amount of time couples invest in their marriage has decreased.
Where Do Expections Come From?
Some partners expect their spouse to make them happy or complete. This puts an unreasonable burden on your marriage, and increases the likelihood of the exact opposite happening. You will likely be unhappy. Some marriage advisors even tell couples they should just lower their expectations, but that’s not the answer either.
Problems arise when expectations are unconscious, unrealistic, unspoken, and un-agreed upon expectations are a landmine in any relationship, whether marriage, parent-child, or friendships.
So where do expectations come from? Basically, they are beliefs that were formed by how we were raised, the culture we live in, our own desires, TV, movies, even fairy tales. These all form an expectation that something will or should happen. It’s a belief focused on the future. It may or may not be realistic, and then anything short of your expected result gives rise to disappointment and often resentment.
You might ask, “Can I have any expectations, or are all expectations bad?” NO, but it does require that you take an honest look and be aware of them, then ask if it’s realistic, was it spoken to your partner instead of just expecting them to get it, and then come to an agreement or compromise.
Let’s look at some common myths that may have formed your beliefs and expectations, and may have contributed to heart-breaking conversations.
Marriage will make me happy (or “you complete me”).
REALITY: It may have worked for Jerry Maguire, but happiness is an inside job and your partner or friend, does not have the power to make you happy. A person’s sense of happiness or completeness must come from deep inside. Relationships and marriage have the potential of complementing individual happiness and well-being, but cannot be the primary source. God must be the primary source of our joy and security. The hope that “a spouse will always make me happy” is impossible to fulfill. “And they both lived happily ever after” or “happy wife happy life” is unrealistic, but with work and awareness you can become a more supportive and caring and loving partner.
If we really love each other, everything else will fall into place. Since we are both Christians, we should be fine.
REALITY: This is a passive, unrealistic, and irresponsible approach to marriage. Marriage needs constant nurturing. It is a dynamic relationship rather than a static one. Because of individual, societal and environment changes, marriage is always in a state of flux. Constant sensitivity to one another’s needs and adapting to relational changes and stressors are necessary to keep the love alive. My husband and I believed this myth until a few years into our marriage when we were at an impasse over communication. I wanted him to listen attentively and simply repeat back what I said … not a bad expectation, but it came from the fact that I was rarely listened to as a child. I became hyper-sensitive in this area. Although he didn’t immediately see the need to reflect back what I was saying, we worked out a compromise. Knowing it was important to me, he would try to reflect back what I was saying, and I would lessen my demand (or expectation) that he always hear me.
A good marriage stays romantic.
REALITY: All relationships go through romantic times and valley experiences. Sometimes, the realities of married life, children, and illness, will cloud over romantic feelings. Every couple falls in love; every couple falls out of love. Just because the feelings of love are not always present, it does not necessarily mean a lack of love. Love is more a choice than a feeling.
Here’s another point to keep in mind to manage our expectations about romance. Marriages tend to “evolve” into a partnership with occasional romantic times. They define their relationship less in terms of romance and more in terms of comfort and security. There’s still love, but it’s not as it was when they first met and were head over heels for each other. If your expectation is that romance or even your sex drive will stay the same as when you were first married, as fun as that was, you won’t mature and evolve.
My partner should just know my needs, especially if I’ve told them before.
REALITY: “Finally I have someone who will meet my needs.” This myth may have grown out of not receiving nurturing love growing up, or out of a self-centered preoccupation with what seems best for you. With this expectation marriage is not viewed as a we-relationship but as a me-arrangement designed to meet my needs. Regardless of a spouse’s intelligence or personal strengths, they don’t have the ability to read your mind. Needs for security, affection, emotional support, encouragement, or physical assistance must be verbalized in clear language, sometimes repeatedly. If the need is something the spouse can realistically provide, they need to first know the need exists, and agree to the request. Long term healthy marriages may still have the same annoyances and sources of irritation, but these upset the partners less, while the benefits of companionship and a history together begin to matter more.
Conflict means lack of love, or we’re an unhealthy couple.
REALITY: Conflict is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be damaging to the marriage relationship. Partners have different viewpoints and different feelings based on their background and experiences. It’s not if we will have ruptures, but when and how we repair from those ruptures. Those differences do not mean that one partner is right and the other is wrong; it just means they are not alike in their thoughts and feelings.
Conflict, when dealt with appropriately, can be healthy for a relationship when new ideas and new ways of looking at things are introduced into the relationship. But mutual respect is a key factor here. However, if your parents never had healthy conflicts you could have concluded that all conflict is wrong.
Communication is our real problem.
REALITY: Most people know how to communicate, and even how to listen and repeat back, so it’s not communication that’s the problem – it’s reactivity in communication that gets in the way. These can be triggers from our past we need to resolve in ourselves for communication to flow more successfully.
The next time you are irritated, frustrated, annoyed or judgmental ask yourself, “What expectation do I have and where does it come from?”. Maybe it’s an unrealistic expectation or a trigger you need to explore. If this is not a hill you want to die on, then let it go, or if it’s something very important to you then communicate it as a request and not a complaint with a willingness to adjust.
We all have expectations, but the real path to growth is to recognize those that are Unconscious, Unrealistic, Unspoken or Un-agreed upon and then talk about how you and your partner can adjust to meet each other in a more realistic and loving way.
I hope that today’s blog was encouraging to you. Make sure you sign up to receive blogs every Tuesday and Thursday. transformingfamilies.org was created to enable you to discover and develop authentic, healthy intimacy in all your relationships.
FYI: I also provide one-on-one coaching, if you would like to improve your relationships, or you want someone to talk to, e-mail me at ‘email@example.com’, and we’ll schedule a time to connect. My hope for you is that through these blogs, references, and resources, God will transform you from being bruised or broken to an abundantly blessed child of God.
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