He: “Marriage isn’t what I expected. I didn’t expect a big honeymoon or anything; I just thought she would make life a little easier for me. Instead, when I come home from the office, all she wants to do is to gist or …”
They (thinking): ‘’Our marriage isn’t what it’s supposed to be.”
Does that sound familiar?
We all have expectations in life. When not met they bring disappointment. We tend to look for someone to blame. Some expectations we bring to marriage carry a potential for disaster, yet, denying their existence is not the solution. Some of our expectations surface quickly, while others lie dormant beneath the surface.
We have expectations about rules, about roles, and about marriage in general. Is it wrong to have expectations? Are our expectations realistic? How do we ensure that we are on the same page with our partners? These and other thoughts will be ongoing topics of discussion in this series of blog posts.
I encourage you to answer the thought-provoking questions on www.thewomanofvirtue.org/relationships to assess where you stand on the expectations channel. It will help you to determine if your expectations are too low, high or realistic enough. There is also a huge benefit of going through them together with a partner or a friend and look at individual statements where you are in agreement or where you differ.
Every partner brings to marriage a host of conscious and unconscious expectations—many of which remain unfulfilled.
Tunde and Nkechi, who’d been married four years, each had a clear image of what life together would be like. They never discussed it; they simply assumed the other had the same picture in mind.
“I expected married life to bring more stability and predictability to our lifestyle,” Nkechi said. “To me it meant working in the garden together.”
“I wanted our marriage to be exciting and spontaneous, not routine and boring..,” Tunde said. “To me it meant riding my BMW motorbike together.”
One person had expectations of stability and predictability; while the other, of excitement and spontaneity. Their expectations clashed, leading them to wonder if their marriage was a mistake.
At some stage of our relationship, we get to this critical and defining moment, where we come to the realization that our expectations of each other and of marriage are not the same, and in some cases, even contradictory. Plaguing every unsatisfied couple is a vast assortment of expectations about what marriage should be, juxtaposed with the reality of what marriage is.
These are some reasons why:
1. We form conscious and unconscious ‘images’ of our partners and what it would be like married: While growing up, we form conscious and unconscious images and scenarios in our minds of the kind of person we will settle down with and the roles they will play. Our families of origin contribute to these images, positively and negatively. Books, novels and television also contribute to the images and impressions in our minds. Other couples we have observed also contribute to these images. We begin to form expectations of our partners from the images and impressions that we have subconsciously built over the years.
2. We assume we both have the same images and expectations: Both we and our partners assume that because we are in love with each other and we ‘click’ so well, we must have the same expectations about each other and our life together. We assume that the other person has the same expectations we have in mind.
3. We do not discuss our expectations with each other: This may be due to several reasons. Some of us just assume that they are the same and thus, no need for discussions; some, out of fear of conflict just let it slip by. Most of us, because we simply do not know how to communicate these expectations and we do not want to appear to be overbearing, too forward or too eager, do not discuss them. For some, our cultures also play a large role in communicating our expectations. Thankfully, things are changing and hopefully, posts like these will open up interesting dialogue.
In order to keep little problems from becoming big ones, (remember the weeds!)
- Don’t believe the myth of identical expectations: No matter how much you love each other and how much of soul mates you are, you will have different expectations.
- Be aware of your unspoken rules: The reflection questions below will help in identifying some of them
- Communicate your secret expectations and make your subtle rules known. As you begin to voice your clashing unspoken rules, you and your partner can create a balance of relationship rules you can agree on. The key word here is communicate, which I will speak more about in a later post.
- Build your own expectations together:
In our next post, we will be digging a bit deeper into causes of conflicting expectations, matching principles with practice, and offering some more practical advice and tips on setting and communicating our expectations. In the meantime, continue on the road of self discovery by reflecting on the following questions. Feel free to reflect on the one most appropriate to your situation, and it’s a great way of starting your discussion of expectations with your partner. Peace.
For Further Reflection
- What were biggest expectations about marriage and how is that working for you? What expectations have been met and which ones were just pipe dreams?!
- What role did your culture and childhood perceptions play in those expectations?
- What can you share about the influences that have made the most difference in your marriage? Why are they significant?
- Did you buy into the fairy tale of marrying the “perfect mate and living happily ever after” before you tied the knot? Explain which parts of the fairy tale is a myth and which part is true of your marriage?