You know those weeks when the same problem/topic/ issue keeps popping up everywhere you go, and you just can’t get away from it? Well, the issue that keeps arising this week is expectations, and more specifically unmet expectations. For me, this has come up at work, at home and in my walk with the Lord.
As I have frequently done premarital preparation with a couple or taught a premarital seminar, whenever it’s time to discuss expectations, one of my favorite points is that the definition of a disappointment is an unmet expectation. Although simple and straightforward, it is powerful and has significant impact on a relationship and future marriage.
Let’s start with expectations in regards to preparing for marriage. Whether we realize it or not, we all have a multitude of expectations entering into marriage. These range from simple household tasks like who cooks, cleans, mows, pays the bills, does the laundry and even if the toilet seat should remain up or down. (Side note: Fellas, it’s not worth the battle. Just put it down and save yourself a lot of trouble!) This can also include the more relational aspects of expectations such as that your spouse will bring contentment to your life, will be your encourager and cheerleader, and will help you grow more into the image of Christ.
Let me be clear that, in general, having expectations is not a bad thing nor is it the cause of disappointment. It is an unmet expectation that leads to disappointment. From what I have found in my own life, and through research, is that expectations typically go unmet because they are unrealistic. And unrealistic expectations can be defined in one of two ways: 1) The expectation is unspoken and thus unknown, and 2) The spoken and known expectation either can’t be achieved or is unhealthy for the relationship. Although there are always exceptions, your disappointments/unmet expectations will likely fall into one of these two categories.
Why is this so important?
Can you imagine if you walk into the first several months of your marriage, if not the first few years, and for the majority of that time, you find yourself disappointed? At what point would you start doubting if you should have even married this person? Wouldn’t you be absolutely overwhelmed and discouraged by constant disappointment? I have unfortunately seen this more than I would like to admit in the couples I have worked with over the years. What is so fascinating, and even troubling about this, is that within the scenario described above, the reality is that the marriage itself is more than likely healthy and on the right track. It’s our unmet and more than likely unrealistic expectations that cause doubt and frustration.
What do you do about this? You can begin with identifying the expectations you have for your marriage. And you don’t even have to be engaged, let alone dating anyone, to do this!
Have you ever thought about the expectations you have for your marriage other than that it’s going to be great and you’ll be together forever? Once those expectations are spoken or written down, you then have the chance to make sure that they’re realistic: think win/win, where you’ve both talked about it and feel great about that specific expectation. A good question to ask: “Is this healthy for my future spouse and marriage?”
If you think that your spouse is going to, as Jerry Maguire once said to his lady, “You complete me” (for you youngsters, the pre-crazy Tom Cruise as sports agent), then you need to realize that a spouse who fits you well will definitely complement both your strengths and weaknesses, but there really isn’t completion or ultimate fulfillment in marriage. That’s the role of Christ in our lives. It’s these types of things we need to think about and figure out before, during and after we marry.
I would like to say that once you get this figured out, issues with expectations will never be a problem. As I’ve found this week, though, these principles don’t just apply to your marriage.
Just in the last few days, I have spent a lot of time clarifying, defining and establishing expectations with colleagues. And I just found out that the potential buyers I “expected” to purchase our house have no such plans. Talk about disappointment, stress and difficult emotions. Was it realistic to expect that? I don’t know. What I feel is that it was a tough blow to my plans for our lives, and I’m trying to sort through the disappointment. I’m trying to take those things I know in my head (i.e. God has it figured out, trust in the Lord with all your heart, etc.) and asking God for them to permeate my heart.