Posted by: Dr. Archie Bost
We must give up unrealistic expectations regarding marriage!
Have you ever read a “bride” magazine? They ought to be classified under “science fiction.” All the women’s blemishes and flaws have been airbrushed out. No one is ugly; even the guests are stunning in those magazines. Many weddings take on Disney extravaganza proportions with a cast of hundreds of people and thousands of dollars building up to that 30 to 45 minute event. The woman hibernates for days and turns into a goddess that walks down an aisle. It’s a fantasy world of “everything must be perfect”. The honeymoon is some far-off place that most can’t really afford, but it is going to be perfect.
Fast forward about 6 months or a year and that same couple is sitting around the breakfast table with the man in his t-shirt with a day’s stubble and she has yesterday’s mascara smeared down her face. They’re arguing over how come they can’t meet the budget and who’s going to take out the garbage. They’re looking at each other and saying, “What happened?”
The problem is that we bring such high expectations into the marriage that no person could possibly meet them. That sets us up for disappointment, followed by discouragement, followed by despair. We start saying, “Maybe I made a mistake. Maybe I married the wrong person. Why didn’t I listen to my mother?”
The reality is that marriage is composed of two very flawed, very imperfect individuals. It is crazy to think that two imperfect individuals can form one flawless, problem-free relationship. It’s just an unrealistic expectation.
There are three types of expectations that we need to face. First, there is the conscious spoken expectation. These are the expectations we speak and hopefully clearly communicate with our spouse or future spouse. Second, there is the conscious unspoken expectation. This is the expectation that we know is there, but for some reason, we are not willing to speak of it with our spouse. Then third is the unconscious expectation. This kind of expectation is often only realized when it is not met by our spouse; but sometimes, even then we do not see it as an expectation. We realize that we are hurt or angry but we are not sure why. Only after thinking through or talking through the actions that lead up to the hurt or anger do we realize that we had an expectation that was not met.
The first type of expectation is communicated clearly but it can still be a problem in marriage. The husband may expect to go out with his fraternity brothers a few nights a week to a local sports bar and he communicates that clearly to his wife, but she strongly stands against him doing that. She starts to feel like he prefers being with his buddies rather than with her. That is an unrealistic expectation for him to think that he can spend that much time with his buddies and build a strong covenant marriage with his wife. Sometimes the wife might expect that her husband will help her in the kitchen and she talks about that before marriage, but then in the marriage he rarely helps her. She starts to feel hurt and communicates that with him, and he defends himself creating an even larger divide between them.
Another example of such expectations is a woman that expects her husband to be the spiritual leader of the home but he is not stepping up to fill that role. Disappointment, hurt or anger would be a natural response to that, but understanding is a better response. Maybe another man needs to come alongside him and mentor him on being a spiritual leader.
The second kind of expectation, the conscious but not spoken expectation, could be when the husband expects to have sex every day and some days twice, but he never communicates that with his wife. As bedtime approaches, he starts to hint that they could have sex and she turns him down. He says nothing but starts to withdraw and gets very quiet. His wife asks him what is wrong and he says “nothing, good night.” He starts to feel rejected and undesired, both of which are huge for him. He has never communicated his expectation to her because he is uncomfortable talking about sex with her. The distance continues to grow between them.
An example of the third type of expectation, the unconscious expectation could be one that I encountered over 30 years ago. Both the man and woman were in their early thirties. They had a beautiful wedding and the wedding night was exceptional by both accounts. As he disrobed that evening he placed his shoes next to the wall close to the door of the hotel room and he folded his cloths and placed them on the dresser. She was pleased because she feared that she would marry a man that just dropped his clothing on the floor and she might be expected to pick it up. He was not like that, and she was very pleased. The next morning as they prepared to get breakfast, he was dressed except for his shoes. He looked at his shoes next to the door and said to his wife, “My shoes are still next to the door.” She replied, “Yes, that is where you put them.” His next statement lead to a tense and hurtful week of honeymoon. He said, “My dad always put his shoes next to the wall like that and mom would polish them before he wore them again.” His wife said, “Let’s get two things straight. First, I am not your mom. Second, I will never polish your shoes.” When I saw them, they had only been married about 10 days. She admitted that she handled that situation poorly, and he realized that he was allowing what he saw growing up to become expectations in his own marriage. They were able to resolve their issue in my office and left with much more unity.
Unfulfilled expectations often lead to anger or deep hurt. As we confront our expectations, we will discover that there are some good and reasonable expectations and there are some that are unrealistic. The unrealistic expectations must be dismissed as such. The reasonable and good expectations are appropriate, but we might need to be patient for our spouse to grow into them. Having a better understanding of our expectations, we will be able to live with our spouse with better understanding and therefore, our hope is increased in the relationship.