Why You Need to Discuss Expectations Before Getting Married and What Drives Them. The #1 Driver is Painful, Literally!!
We all have expectations. In fact, you have an expectation in reading this post. You may expect to learn something, you may expect for it to be lame, or you may expect that you won’t even finish reading the whole thing. More importantly, you have expectations for your relationship. Marital satisfaction rises and falls on expectations as well. When two individuals decide to step into marriage, they both have expectations in every area of the marriage.
Let me introduce you to Mike and Amy (not their real names so if that’s your name don’t jump to conclusions. I’m not passive-aggressively calling you out personally or on behalf of one of your family members who doesn’t really like you much. You can sort that out at the next family gathering). In just their first year of marriage Amy is already convinced that Mike doesn’t love her and she is ready to call it quits in their marriage. After digging a little into why she feels Mike doesn’t love her we were able to identify a handful of things that he either does or doesn’t do which leads her to believe this. I’ll give you just a couple as we tie their experience back to expectations.
One thing Amy mentioned was that when Mike gets home from work he greets the dogs who run to his feet and then he usually grabs something to drink and sits on the couch in front of the tv. You may be nodding your head thinking sounds about like our house. For some people this may not be much of a big deal but for Amy this is devastating. Why? Because she has an expectation that a husband who loves their wife would naturally come in the door from work, walk straight towards his wife, kiss her on the forehead and embrace her. That’s what love does in Amy’s world of expectations. This unmet expectation for her causes hurt, frustration and makes her question his love for her.
Another of her frustrations that was mentioned in counseling was that Mike doesn’t call or text her when he is going to be home from work a little later than normal. For Mike, his assumption is that if he is home 30-40 minutes late she’ll just know there must have been traffic, a last minute phone call or a meeting that went long at the office. Amy’s expectation is that if you care about someone, like your wife, you would just know to call or text them if you will be a little late so they won’t worry about you. And, she may even be cooking dinner so it would be cold if she planned for a 5:30 arrival and Mike didn’t make it home until 6:00. Amy’s unmet expectations of how a husband who loves his wife would behave was causing her to question the relationship.
You too have expectations in minor and major categories. In the minor category will fall expectations around things such as how you squeeze the toothpaste, which way the toilet paper pulls, how often you use a towel after the shower before replacing, which cabinet your bowls and cups should go in, and whether you leave the faucet running when brushing your teeth or shut it off to conserve water. Unmet expectations in these areas may be a little annoying but aren’t usually going to lead to great conflicts in your marriage. If they do, you may want to rethink living with another person who likely won’t think like you in every area. The minor categories are not the deal breakers. These are the areas where you communicate your desires but often learn to compromise or overlook the offense. At the end of the day, everything can’t be a big deal.
The second category are those things that fall into what we would call major expectations. Here’s the thing about major expectations. They are usually tied to either your pain or your priorities. Either way, this means you’re not going to operate very well in the relationship when the other person is messing with your major expectations. Unmet expectations in the major category will lead to conflict every time. Because everyone has different pain points and priorities it would be impossible to give an exhaustive list of major expectations. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples to give you an idea of how these operate in relationship and why it’s so important for a couple to express their expectations prior to marriage.
Pain Driven Expectations
We’ll start with pain. Maybe you grew up in a home where your father was absent or was very cold and unemotional. You cannot recall a time in your life where he said that he loved you. Because of this pain, you have an expectation that your husband would frequently express his love for you in both word and deed. When you finish a phone conversation with “love you”, you expect him to reciprocate with “love you too.” When you or he arrive home to him or he arrives home to you, you expect for him to initiate a connection with you. This may be a hug, kiss or simply to address you first by asking how your day has been. There is nothing wrong with these expectations. I know many couples that have similar expectations of one another. The difference between a regular expectation and one driven by pain is that when the expectation goes unmet it opens a past wound making it more painful than it normally would be. When your husband fails to greet you or acknowledge his love for you the way you had hoped it resurrects the feelings you had as a child who felt unloved, marginalized, unimportant and unworthy. Now, instead of just being disappointed that he didn’t meet your expectation, you are questioning his love and concern for you.
Priority Driven Expectations
The second driver of major expectations is your priorities. Another way to view your priorities is to see them as values. The things you value most in life will drive expectations you have of your spouse in marriage. Let’s say for instance that family is a value (priority) for you. This means that you prioritize your family of origin and extended family. You communicate with them frequently, help each other out when there is a need and spend much of your free time and holidays with them. Since family is a priority you will naturally expect that your spouse support and share in that value. You will expect to spend Christmas with them. You will expect your spouse to support you if you would like to financially help a close relative. You will expect that your spouse be okay with family stopping by the house to say hi or stay with you for long weekends with they are able to visit. Now imagine the conflicts that might occur when your spouse decides they would like to take a winter vacation to Mexico over the Christmas break that you had planned on spending with family. Or maybe you would like to “loan” your sister $2000 because she is in a difficult situation but your spouse says they are not in support of doing that with your finances. Any behavior your spouse exhibits that fights against your family priority is sure to cause serious conflict in the marriage.
These are just a couple of the many expectations that you and your future spouse may have of one another. Unmet expectations are one of the reasons a lot of couples end up feeling hopeless and begin questioning their relationship. This is why it is so important for couples moving toward marriage to make sure they are clearly communicating the expectations they have of one another in any and every area they can think of. You can’t expect your future spouse to know how to meet your expectations if they don’t know what they are because you haven’t communicated them. Many people set their future spouse up for failure by not being honest about their expectations, which doesn’t give them the ability to honestly tell you whether or not they can or would be willing to meet the expectations.
Before you even consider getting married, I would encourage you to sit down by yourself and make a list of expectations you have for your spouse in every area you can think of. If you don’t know where to start, the following categories may spark some thoughts and get you going. Finances, roles in marriage, parenting and discipline, vacation, family, household cleanliness, dinner, jobs, and friendships.