How to deal with unmet expectations in marriage

About one year ago, Kristen and I took a kidless vacation to Atlanta to visit some friends and places we used to frequent when we lived in Georgia. We had a great time, except for the fact that we were reminded of the importance of establishing expectations before getting away. While we both enjoyed our time, we returned with different perceptions of our getaway. Kristen enjoyed it, while I came back moderately frustrated.

Kristen (who is typically more introverted) scheduled and enjoyed meeting up with a bunch of old friends. I (generally more extroverted) came back exhausted and frustrated. If we’re getting away without kids for a few days, the last thing I want to see is other people (slight exaggeration). It was great being with our friends, but because we had not established good expectations before the trip, we walked/flew away with very different experiences. After 13 years of marriage, we should have expected (pun intended) we would be on different pages about our plans for our time away.

In part one of this series, I shared a few of the sources of our expectations. We have expectations about almost everything in life, especially in relationships. Our unmet expectations often lead to conflict and dissatisfaction in all relationships, but especially in premarried and married couples.

Read this now: What ‘marriage is work’ really means

Today, I want to share a few reasons why our unmet expectations (regardless of the source) lead to frustrations. I’ll wrap-up by sharing three better ways to manage our expectations.

Typically, we experience unmet expectations for the following three reasons (thanks to Scott Stanley and his book A Lasting Promise for his insights on this topic).

1. We are unaware of our expectations.

We have expectations, but often we are not aware of them. We just assume this is the way things are always done, and if the other person doesn’t do them our way, it is either wrong or even sinful! For instance, we all have expectations of what Christmas should look like; when we open gifts, what we eat on Christmas morning, what order we open stockings and gifts, how much to spend, and many more. Because we are often unaware of our expectations, we assume there is only one normal way to do something: our way.

2. Our expectations are unreasonable.

We might be fully aware of our expectations, but they could be unreasonable and unrealistic. For example, most husbands and wives have expectations about how many times a week they will have sex. Those numbers may be unreasonably high or low and often vary significantly for men and women. Or, for the Kedersha family, we have unrealistic and unreasonable expectations of how much we will accomplish in any given weekend. By the time we finish soccer games, grocery shopping, church, and birthday parties, we barely have any time left to accomplish anything. Sunday evening rolls around and we find ourselves frustrated at how little we accomplished. Our expectations are often unrealistic.

3. Our expectations are unspoken.

We may be aware of them and they may be reasonable, but we do not verbalize our expectations to our significant other because we assume they think and believe the same things we do. Why verbalize something that should be obvious to the other person? We are not mind readers and to assume our spouse can read our minds is often misleading and arrogant. We need to take the time to communicate our expectations with one another.

The better way to manage expectations is to:

  1. Become aware of what you expect.
  2. Become reasonable in your expectations (through God’s word and community).
  3. Get in the practice of speaking/communicating your expectations to your spouse. You must take time to know what you expect and verbalize your expectations to your spouse.

Our trip to Atlanta was really great. But, we have learned the hard way to make sure we discuss expectations with each other before a vacation, before the week or weekend away, and even on a daily basis in order to minimize frustration and to better serve one another in marriage.

The goal here is not to have the same expectations. This expectation is simply unreasonable. You are two unique human beings, each created in the image and likeness of God, with great diversity of background, personality and experiences. You become aware, you become realistic and you speak your expectations in order to better serve your significant other. Put their needs before your own (Philippians 2:3-4).

What do you do when you and your significant other differ in your expectations of one another?

How often do you take the time to communicate your expectations with each other?

What is one thing you can do this week to become more aware, more reasonable, or more communicative in your expectations?

Now read this: Ask your spouse this question every day

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