How Expectations and Magical Thinking Affect Your Spouse

In every marriage, each spouse has their own set of expectations, either spoken or unspoken. These could be regarding the relationship itself, or expectations for one another as individuals. Either way, what we expect of one another can inform much of our relationship, for better or worse.

If you and your spouse have experienced conflict over your expectations for one another, you aren’t alone. Expectations go hand-in-hand with something we call magical thinking. In other words, that means making assumptions about one another, rather than seeking the truth from our spouse.

Expectations and magical thinking can impact your spouse in a variety of ways that ultimately strain your relationship. The good news is, we can help! If you’re trying to navigate the murky waters of expectations in your marriage, read on.

Unspoken Expectations Strain Marriages

While it’s not a bad thing to expect positive outcomes from your relationship, having unspoken expectations between the two of you can really put a damper on your marriage. That’s because unspoken expectations inevitably lead to conflict.

When we have a specific expectation of our spouse that we do not voice, they are unlikely to be able to fulfill it. And when our expectations go unfulfilled, we grow increasingly resentful. Resentment can lead us to internalize our frustrations, until one day, they finally explode on our unsuspecting spouse.

Unspoken expectations can also lead to magical thinking. Those are the conclusions we draw when we expect something from our spouse that we believe should be a given.

Magical Thinking Leads to Assumptions

Have you said something to your spouse like, “I shouldn’t have to ask you to take the laundry to the laundry room! You should just see it and know it needs to be done!” Or, “Why do you need to hear that I love you all the time? Aren’t my actions clear enough?”

Or perhaps you have jumped to conclusions about what’s going through your spouse’s head…rather than asking them first. Making assumptions leads to broken expectations and hard feelings. In fact, it can perpetuate a cycle of broken expectations that we become increasingly unwilling to voice.

The truth is, none of us are mind-readers. It’s unrealistic to expect one another to simply absorb and understand what the other wants. So how do we overcome this problem?

Communicate About Expectations

Good communication is one of the most important features of a strong marriage. If you’re struggling with the expectations you have for one another, then it’s time to get back to your core communication. Improving your communication means you will be able to not only talk about the things you’d like to see in your relationship. It will also help you weed out those pesky magical thoughts and assumptions that are feeding your unmet expectations.

Be gentle with one another as you go through this process, and remember that we are all human. Communicating your expectations will also open you up to negotiating those expectations. Be honest with one another, and figure out what works best for you as a couple. With patience and honesty, you can overcome unspoken expectations, magical thinking, and assumptions and build a happier marriage.

Ready to Build a Stronger Marriage?

If you’re looking for a guide to help you build a happier and more fulfilling marriage, Strengthen Your Marriage can help. This insightful guidebook helps married couples to navigate their relationship, strengthening it in the process. It pairs with our SYMBIS+ assessment for a full view of who you are in your marriage, with deep insights into how you relate to one another. Pre-order your copy here.

How do you and your spouse navigate unspoken expectations? We’d love to hear more!


  • Mike69 says:

    What is the appropriate response to a spouse, when you have spoken your expextations at your engagement, she accepts the ring, then sometime later stops holding up to those expectations you thought she accepted? And you know you spoke clearly the expectations of maintaining fitness and exercise and dressing to please you.

    • Ron Shaw says:

      Hey Mike,
      You asked, but this is probably not the answer you were hoping for.
      There is a difference between expectations and conditions. It seems that your fiances appearance is really important to you, so much so that you stipulate her performance in these areas “to please you”. Too many times we men view women as our “trophy” to be displayed on our arms. (You’ve heard the term “trophy wife” haven’t you?) How does that align with Jesus’s command to love our wives with the self-giving that He does for His bride, the church?
      We tell ourselves it is for their own health and good, but when does our good will turn to our “helping” whether they want it or not? God has given each of us free will to choose what is best for ourselves, and if we men choose to love a women to the exclusion of all others, we do Not get to remold her into our idea of the “perfect wife”. That is not Agape Love. We need to love her as she is and trust that God will lead her to make the best choices. Spiritual leadership is not dictating, it is showing by example, but allowing the other person the right to choose for themselves.

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