Managing Our Marital Expectations

by James Rudy Gray

James Rudy GrayRecently a pastor shared with me that he nearly called it quits in his marriage several years ago. "Why?" I asked. He replied, "What I thought marriage was supposed to be like wasn't what it had become." He confessed that his expectations for marriage were not realistic.

Unrealistic expectations can leave a person disillusioned, discouraged, and even depressed. Every person brings certain expectations into marriage. Some of them are reasonable and scriptural. Others are cultural, familial, or just plain selfish.

A major drop in marital vitality occurs when the expectations a person brings into it are not met. The problem is that most people who bring these expectations almost always fail to communicate those expectations to their mates. Expectations can rarely be met when a person does not even know what the expectations are!

If expectations are discussed during the courtship and engagement period, some important adjustments and changes can be made in the expectations. A husband needs to know what his wife expects of him and a wife needs to know what her husband expects of her. Both need to be honest and realistic about their marital expectations. The expectations need to be discussed, evaluated, and then adjusted. If the expectations are unrealistic, open and honest communication becomes even more important.

In addition to unrealistic expectations, couples typically have differing expectations. These can lead to major turmoil if they are not addressed and compromised. Compromise is the golden rule in marital relations and this is especially relevant when it comes to differing expectations. He may expect his wife to cook the evening meal every day. She may expect to eat out most evenings because she works and does not get home in time to have a meal prepared. By discussing their expectations, they may be able to reach a compromise in which both give up something and both get something.

Differing expectations can grow out of different personality types. For example, a young couple had a four year-old son. Both parents worked. Both were introverts. She worked as a receptionist; he was an engineer who worked virtually alone every day in front of his computer. At the end of the day, he wanted to talk. She didn't. To make matters worse, when she got off work, she picked her son up at the day care center, came home, and started supper. He did not help with the evening meal. She was an introvert who was running on empty motivational energy. Their marriage was strained and they couldn't figure out exactly why.

In counseling, it became evident that she needed some recharge time before she could have enough energy to really be present for her family. The counselor suggested that the husband pick up the son, go home, and be responsible for the evening meal. He could buy it or make it, etc. His responsibility was simply to put it on the table. She was told to come home and spend about one hour alone. She could read, pray, nap, etc.

The couple had about five hours together before they went to bed. They were expecting so much from the marriage but they were so far apart in their motivational energy.

The husband agreed to try the experiment. After 30 days, both were excited about the new level of life and energy in their relationship. By taking away one hour, that left the couple with four hours of pretty good time together. Without taking away the one hour, they had five hours of strained and tired time together.

Expectations can be stumbling blocks that trip us up in our marital journey or they can be opportunities that open the door for clearer understanding. In almost every case, expectations will need to be changed, adjusted, or altered in some way. These changes can be more easily made when individuals are married to their mates, not to their expectations.

Expectations can be good for a marriage-as long as they are not unrealistic and unchangeable.

James Rudy Gray is certified as a professional counselor by the
National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the
American Association of Christian Counselors. He pastors
Utica Baptist Church in Seneca, S.C.

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