The trash is overflowing. The check engine light has been on for weeks. The dishes are piling up. You have a free night coming up and no plans have been made. You thought marriage would fix your problems, yet you find them magnified. Phones, emails, and text messages rule over conversation and quality time.
Expectations. We all carry them, and never more so than in the context of marriage. They can be powerful, but can also go very wrong. When they are realistic and communicated in a healthy context, you will typically find a marriage that is thriving. When unmet, unrealistic, and unending, conflict is inevitable and likely often.
We begin setting expectations for marriage before we are even married. The way we grew up, the picture that we have of what marriage will look like, and how we expect marriage to impact our lives all come to a head the day we say, “I do.”
Marriage is a beautiful God-given gift, but we must realize the role that our expectations play in the health and happiness of our relationships. Let’s consider a few things that can help us overcome unmet expectations in marriage.
1. Understand that your marriage takes work.
It’s time to take some inventory. Think about the things that you put the most time, energy, and money into. Chances are those things are thriving. Maybe you pour your heart into your work and leave nothing for your spouse and family. Perhaps you spend countless hours on a hobby you love. Your golf game may be strong, but your marriage seems to be hitting a wall. You may be hours into your favorite show on Netflix, but profess that you don’t have time for a regular date night.
You might say that your marriage is the most important thing to you, do your actions reflect that? If your actions paint a different picture, it’s time to reassess priorities. The bottom line is, marriage takes work and preferably not just major maintenance when it has broken down. Marriage is a daily dying to your own desires for the betterment of our spouse and family, and to do that takes intentional effort. If you want your marriage to thrive, simply put, you must invest the time make it grow.
2. Know that, “It’s not what I thought it would be,” isn’t a way out.
Marriage will likely never be exactly what you thought it would be. Every problem area you had prior to getting married is bound to be magnified once you are married. Habits that you thought were cute in your spouse prior to getting married are suddenly not so cute. And not only that, but old habits die hard.
Marriage is a lifelong commitment of “for better or for worse.” There will be phases where it’s not quite what you thought it would be. Nearly 50% of marriages end in divorce in this country. If that statistic doesn’t alarm you, it should. It’s far too easy to give up when marriage isn’t what you expected it would be.
Do you want to leave a lasting legacy for your family? Hold fast to that commitment of marriage. It won’t always be what you expected, but it will be worth unwavering commitment through good times and bad.
3. Speak into your spouse who they are, not what they aren’t doing.
Most of our relational problems can be avoided with a little proactivity, and there should be nobody that you know better than your spouse. Our words carry power (the Bible says the power of life and death), so why not choose to speak life into your spouse daily? Remind them of who they are, not what they aren’t doing. It is a positive practice for both of you.
Think about the reasons that you married your spouse, and what it is you love about them. Remind them of that often; encourage them to be the person God created them to be. You’re on the same team and trust me, you’re stronger together than you are apart! Remember that 50% divorce statistic? There is an attack on marriages in this country, and it’s painstakingly easy to drive a wedge in between two people over seemingly small things.
Be proactive. Remind your spouse who they are, why you love them, and who they are destined to become. There’s a good chance this will kill unmet expectations even before they start.
4. Establish marital roles.
There are practical way to manage expectations. So many of our unmet expectations are small in the grand scheme of life. So what if the trash is overflowing or the dishes are piling up? Is that really something to fight over? Likely not, but it’s inevitable that these small offenses pile up over time.
In today’s progressive society, the idea of establishing marital roles may sound a bit old school to some. But before you roll your eyes, it is still worth considering. Think about how you grew up. Did your parents have established roles and responsibilities? My guess is yes, and that you have carried those over into your own marriage. Maybe your dad could fix anything from the car to the toilet, and your husband doesn’t have a handy bone in his body. Maybe your mom kept the house squeaky clean, and your wife seems to have missed that gene. Regardless of what your life growing up looked like, living with that norm for eighteen plus years has most certainly has shaped your expectations in marriage.
We’re not suggesting that you and your spouse need to take on what “traditionally” are male and female duties around the house. But we are suggesting that setting very clear expectation in this area will save you a lot of everyday strife and unmet expectations.
5. Grace, grace, grace
We all love grace and mercy for ourselves, but not always for everybody else. This is true in our marriages! When it comes to unmet expectations, if you’re the offender, our guess is that you appreciate grace when it’s given. “Do unto others,” as they say. Give your spouse the benefit of the doubt first. Extend grace. Address the situation for what it is in a calm manner. We all fall short, forget, and mess up. Extend grace first, ask questions later. It just may turn those unmet expectations upside down.
If you’re finding yourself facing unmet expectations and disappointment in your marriage, you’re not alone. Your marriage is a gift and worth fighting for. So instead of the same old reactions, consider managing those expectations from a place of love and respect. Your marriage is meant to thrive, not just survive!