When you think of marriage, what are your expectations?
Do you expect your husband to handle all the finances? Do you expect your wife to do the majority of or all the cooking? How much time do you expect to spend out with friends each week? Will you and your spouse pray and study Scripture together every day?
Do you have a detailed vision for all the qualities that are necessary for your perfect spouse to meet? Or do you have a simple list of qualities and interests you would like to see in your future husband or wife — a few non-negotiables and a few things you’re willing to let go?
This week my fiancé and I began battling our expectations for marriage. There’s a chapter in Greg and Erin Smalley’s “Before You Plan Your Wedding, Plan Your Marriage,” that addresses expectations we have in all different aspects of relationships and marriage. I mentioned the book last week, and I’m sure I’ll mention it again. So far, it is the most useful and practical advice book on marriage I’ve read.
There is nothing wrong with having a list of expectations as long as they are reasonable and well communicated. The most important part of your list must be your non-negotiables, such as your future spouse being a believer. Not all expectations are bad. It’s good to have reasonable expectations that make you feel loved and help you achieve your goals in marriage.
One chapter in the book covers how expectations can harm relationships especially when you don’t communicate those expectations to your significant other. Communication, it seems, really is key! Josh and I have run into this a few times, and it’s always created conflict. We’re continually learning to evaluate our expectations of each other and of marriage, share them with each other, and make sure we’re on the same page.
The book lists nine problems with expectations that lead to conflict. Some of the more obvious include mismatched expectations, unreasonable expectations and unmet expectations. Within those categories, however, there are other problems that I think are common but not often noticed.
Problems like how “unfulfilled expectations often turn into demands.” And “unexpressed expectations can lead to conflict,” which means that “unshared expectations limit teamwork.” These mean that instead of hoping our spouse or significant other will do something, we begin to demand it instead. This stems from the root problem of not expressing our expectations in the first place.
Josh and I have realized that when we check our expectations at the door, making decisions together is much easier. From wedding details to choosing our first apartment to even our weekend plans, we have significantly less conflict when we go into situations with open minds.
The authors suggest that we make a list of our expectations and determine whether or not they are reasonable. These include expectations in areas like finances, leisure, affection, marital roles and regular household tasks. Unexpressed expectations in these areas can lead to conflict. Your spouse or significant other might be just fine with your expectations but may not live up to them simply because they’ve gone unexpressed. And unfortunately, unexpressed expectations that go unmet can often lead to resentment.
For example, Josh and I spend our leisure time differently. I enjoy watching TV, and he prefers reading. He doesn’t have cable where he currently lives, and I do. As Josh just accepted a job in my area, we looked at apartments this week and found a place for him to live when he moves in a few weeks.
I was surprised when he asked me about cable hook-ups because I assumed that he assumed we wouldn’t have TV when we married. It was an underlying conflict for me because I felt unsettled about how we would spend our down time in marriage. I always felt like he looked down on me a little bit for having so many shows I watch when there are better ways to use my time.
But we had never actually talked about it. We hadn’t communicated our expectations, and those led to assumptions.
I challenge you to make a list of your expectations and share them with your significant other. Even if you’re single, it’s still a helpful exercise to know what your vision is for marriage and learn to clearly communicate what you will expect from your spouse.
What would you say are some of your reasonable expectations?