What Every Married Couple Should Know About Expectations and Boundaries

How do expectations and boundaries affect marriage?

We often hear these terms used in regard to relationships, but what do they really mean? In a nutshell, expectations are the spoken and unspoken assumptions you make about how something should be, or how someone should behave. Boundaries can be put in place to maintain expectations or respond to behaviors.

Let’s dig a little deeper into each of these.


Your expectations, and your spouse’s, can have a profound impact on your marriage. Expectations reveal our hopes for what our lives and relationships will look like. They also tell us so much about what we value.

It hurts when your spouse can’t, or won’t, meet your expectations. The good news is that often, we can take charge of our expectations and make adjustments as needed. Let’s look at a few ways to do that.

Prepare to set and adjust your expectations early on.
All married couples need reminding that sometimes, expectations must be flexible. This is especially true for newly married couples, whose views of how certain things “should” be can sometimes clash with reality. When you fail to adjust your expectations as needed, you’re setting yourself up for building resentment and contempt toward your spouse. You can read more in 3 Things You Need to Know About the First Year of Marriage.

Understand how your expectations could be impacting your spouse.
If you have unspoken expectations, or if you make incorrect assumptions based on those expectations, that could hurt your relationship. When you silently will your spouse to do something you won’t ask for out loud, you don’t give them a fair chance to try. The same goes for assuming they know what you want when you haven’t voiced it. Take a look at How Expectations and Magical Thinking Affect Your Spouse for more in-depth detail.

Recognize and deal with resentment before it festers.
Unmet expectations can lead to significant resentment. If you’re already feeling resentful of your spouse, it’s important to address it. Don’t let resentment transform into contempt, which is harder to overcome. If you’re looking for more detail, this article might help: I Resent My Spouse. How Do I Overcome It?


Boundaries can serve to protect and strengthen our relationships. Having healthy boundaries in (and for) your marriage goes hand-in-hand with healthy expectations. While boundaries are important for protecting your marriage from negative outside influences, you’ll want to start from within. Here are a few important things you can do with strong boundaries.

Protect yourselves from infidelity.
Setting healthy boundaries that help protect your marriage from an affair should be one of your top priorities. Guarding against infidelity is multifaceted; you’ll need to agree on boundaries for yourselves, plus decide how to handle third parties like opposite-sex friends. You can find some actionable ideas in We Want to Protect Our Marriage From Infidelity. What Should We Do?

Build a healthy work-life balance.
When work and life become too blended, it’s difficult to maintain a healthy marriage. This is true for couples in all living and working arrangements. We’ve gathered some ideas for this balancing act in My Spouse and I Work Together. How Do We Separate Business From Life?

Plan for possible crises.
In the best-case scenario, setting boundaries will keep your marriage healthy. But sometimes, we need to set boundaries in order to heal from a crisis situation. One such case is addiction, which we break down further in My Spouse Has An Addiction – What Can I Do?

Ready to make your marriage stronger than ever before?

If you’re ready to build a healthier relationship, you need a guide. Our book, Strengthen Your Marriage, will help to lead you toward greater peace, understanding, and communication in your marriage. Take a look and pick up your copy here.

How do you and your spouse handle expectations and boundaries in your marriage? We’d love to hear your feedback in the comments.


  • Barbara Cowal says:

    This post barely touches the issue of boundaries. Implementing boundaries for appropriate, respectful, loving treatment – in other words, knowing your own value – is a fundamental issue in most relationships. We may expect our partner to be truthful, listen to understand, refrain from blame, touch us affectionately, affirm us in public and private, express thanks … yet many of these fundamental expectations are not met over time. How do we ensure healthy boundaries even within the context of what is supposed to be our most intimate relationship? How do we give when we don’t get? How far does this go and when do we stop – and how do we leave the door open without losing our own self? Fidelity alone is not a relationship. Staying for the kids is not nurturing your spouse. Refraining from anger is not active listening. Our relationships need so much more to be healthy even with the best of intentions.

    • Kate says:

      You put this so well. I especially liked how you compared implementing boundaries to knowing your own value. Knowing what is best for you and being able to communicate that with your spouse is so important for setting healthy boundaries. And while I agree with what the blog says about sometimes having flexible expectations, I think too many people never actually state what their expectations are in the first place! Or, they state it in the very beginning and then never bring it up again. I kind of wish we had more of a culture of stating what we want outright. “I want to hold your hand” or “I want you to tell me you love me more”, and when those expectations aren’t met seeing a therapist or talking it through why. A lot of our expectations are not that big—I want you to meet my basic needs for emotional intimacy—and I wish there was more of a culture of meeting that unconditionally, without having to be asked.

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