Are Your Expectations Helping Or Hurting Your Marriage

I didn’t get married until my thirties.  I was the girl who got lost in fairytales as a child and grew up with an emblazoned picture in my mind of what my marriage would look like.  I imagined a slightly demure pursuit like the one between Edward Ferrars and Elinor Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility, mixed with a little bit of the passion and drama of Wuthering Heights.  In the end I hoped we would get along like Ma and Pa Wilder from Little House on the Prairie, walking off into the sunset at the end of our lives.

I know —not exactly a realistic picture of marriage.  In many ways I had entirely unreasonable expectations for my poor husband to live up to. An expectation is, a strong belief that something will happen; the feeling, anticipation, or expectation in the prospects for the future. 

I believe all of us, if we’re honest, come to the table with expectations of what our marriage will be, what it will notbe (usually based on our childhood), along with hopes for what our spouse will heal, fix, fill, or complete in us.

We believe:

  • It will be easy to transition from single to married.
  • I’ll never be lonely again.
  • I won’t be bored anymore.
  • We’ll never argue. 
  • He’ll change after we’re married, in the ways I want him to. 
  • He’ll know how I feel and what I want; I shouldn’t need to tell him. 
  • He’ll do chores the way I want them done.
  • Sex will always be great.

Gary Thomas, author of Sacred Marriage, says, We have to stop asking of marriage what God never designed it to give — perfect happiness, conflict-free living, and idolatrous obsession. Instead,he says, we can appreciate what God designed marriage to provide: partnership, spiritual intimacy and the ability to pursue God — together.

If you are waiting on someone else to make your life meaningful and happy, you will almost certainly be gravely disappointed, says Todd Clements and Kim Beair, authors of First Comes Love, Then What? When you learn how to be truly happy alone, you’ll begin to be the most successful in every relationship.

Every marriage is made up of broken individuals living in a broken world. Yet if we allow Him, God will use our marriage as the canvas to heal us, teach us, and transform us as individuals.

The truth is:

  • Getting married is a big Change. It takes time to adjust to your new roles and to each other.
  • One person cannot satisfy all your needs for companionship. Maintain friendships with others.
  • You are responsible for keeping yourself entertained and interesting. It’s not your partner’s job.
  • Conflicts occur in close relationships. You can learn to manage them well.
  • “What you see is what you get.” Don’t expect your spouse to change basic character traits or habits.
  • They can’t read your mind. If you want your partner to know something, you should to tell them.
  • It’s better to give and receive graciously than to get all even-Steven about what’s “fair.” 
  • Your spouse’s standards and ways are likely to be different from yours. This is okay. Accepting our differences is a part of building a healthy, cooperative partnership. 
  • Sex should often be great but not every single time. Good communication helps here too. 

If you identified with any of the beliefs at the beginning of this article, you most likely hold some unrealistic expectations for your marriage.  You’re not alone —such beliefs are widespread. In my clinical practice I see the damage unrealistic and unhealthy expectations can create in marriages, yet I also see the powerful transformation that occurs when spouses learn to free each other, accept each other, and actually enjoy their differences. 

Psalm 62:5 (NKJV) tells us, My soul, wait silently for God alone, For my expectation is from Him.

If you struggle with knowing how to create healthy expectations, I’ve created two of my best resources for couples, including a Marriage Expectation Worksheetas well as a Marriage Health Quiz to help you assess the health of your relationship and learn to develop healthy expectations for each other. They are FREEwhen you subscribe to my weekly newsletter and will empower and equip you to discover the spiritual, emotional, and relational healing and wellbeing you’ve always desired!

Here are four things you can do to develop healthy expectations for your marriage that will bring you the connection and intimacy God has designed for you.

1. Acknowledge that you have expectations.

            Individuals who either refuse to abandon their laundry list of unmet expectations or who have never allowed themselves to hold any in their relationships find themselves disconnected from a key stabilizing force that, if used properly, can yield tremendous joy and intimacy.  

            We cannot change what we cannot acknowledge.  Whether realistic or unrealistic, we each carry expectations for the marriage and for our spouse. In reality, not all expectations are bad or unhealthy, yet acknowledging their power can determine the stability, contentment, and satisfaction in our marriages.

2.  Discover and clarify what your expectations are.

            Do a personal inventory. What do you personally expect in the various areas of your marriage? Do you have expectations for roles and responsibilities; expectations for respect? What about how you will communicate or resolve conflict? What are your expectations surrounding work, parenting, sex, faith, or finances?

            Since each of us comes from different backgrounds and home environments, we cannot assume that we are automatically going to be on the same page as our spouse, even though we love them deeply.  To discover and clarify your personal expectations will help you take the next step and…

3.  Share your expectations with your spouse.

            I encourage you to get the Marriage Expectation Worksheet to help you and your partner work through each step in discovering, then sharing your expectations for each other, as well as your expectations for yourselves. Many individuals like defining what they want their spouse to do for them, but some are reluctant to look within themselves and hold themselves accountable in their relationship.  

            Share your heart for the other with the other.  Don’t expect them to be a mind-reader, tell them what you desire from them. Be kind. Listen to each other. Determine if what your mate is asking is realistic or unrealistic.  This will help you…

4.  Create mutual, realistic expectations together.

            When expectations get cut to the floor, it creates space for us to pick them up and rebuild them with greater determination. Discovering new, more realistic expectations can reenergize your marriage and reignite intimacy.

            Pray together.  If one thing doesn’t work for you and your spouse, have another conversation and try something else. If both parties are working towards a solution, and putting in the effort, expectations meeting reality is not a hard goal to achieve.

Marriage is a beautiful, complex gift from God. Yes, there are hard times. There will always be growing pains, tension, and irritation, but God knows that it takes growing pains to grow.

Don’t run from the pain, don’t avoid the discomfort.  God wants to build and create something in your marriage that will be a shining light in a world of darkness, something that will breathe healing and hope into the lives around you —something that will make His name famous. 

And isn’t that what marriage is all about anyway?

I’ve included my two best marriage resources – my Healthy Expectations Worksheet and my Marriage Health Quiz for FREE when you sign up for my weekly newsletter. Discover the spiritual + emotional + relational wellbeing and abundance God has for you! Get Yours Now!!

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Don’t we all want a little peace?  My heart for this community is to provide just that – a needed refuge from all the burdens that weigh us down, some encouragement and inspiration to keep us weary travelers moving forward on our journeys, and some practical advice to help each of us navigate the challenges of life and relationships.  Whether in our parenting, our marriages, our faith, or the broken places in our hearts, this place is for anyone who dares to reach beyond the hopelessness that surrounds us and embrace a lifestyle of emotional abundance and peace!  

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  1. Your key audience seems to be married folks, but what an awesome reminder for singles such as myself! I am dating and often wonder if he’s “the one;” addressing expectations before the altar is critical. Thanks for this timely blog!

    • It is a needful reminder for everyone in relationship, Candice! We can all bring unhealthy or unrealistic expectations into our relationships, which can ultimately doom them to failure. Making sure we have a healthy perspective for what we expect (and perhaps shouldn’t expect), keeps us open, connected, and strong in our relationships – whether we are married or not! Thanks for stopping by:)

  2. Lisa, this is such an important topic! I know I struggled with unrealistic expectations for the first years of my marriage, and it’s something I still need to keep in check. These are wonderful suggestions!

  3. Such wisdom here! It’s so true that a spouse will not satisfy all your relational needs. I’ve experienced the need for good girl friends, and my husband is always so encouraging when I express the need to just have some time with friends. Thanks for sharing your wisdom here!

    • Emily, It sounds like your husband has a great understanding of expectations and is wise to encourage your relationships with friends. How needed!!! Blessings to you both:)

  4. Excellent. We will use this in future pre-marital counseling. Thanks for expanding the topic for me.

    • Amen, Beth! So glad this takes one small step in bringing awareness and understanding to such an important topic. I wish my husband and I had this understanding when we were going through premarital counseling! Blessings!

  5. My husband and I have been married for almost 40 years. We have grown in love, faith and trust over the years. As God has become the center of our marriage, we have been able to handle life stresses in a much more beautiful way. We rely on Him. Listen before speaking is a great blessing in any relationship. 🙂

  6. Great tips and advice! We get so many of those expectations from the media we see. The Disney princesses and finding their prince charming and riding away into the sunlight is what I imagined as a little girl. Being married 20 years has shown me that marriage is hard work!

    • Yes, Julie! We marry with images of Belle in our hearts and minds. God is so faithful and patient to show us that His picture of a princess is far better, even though is can be hard. Have a great week!

  7. Jessica Goyette

    February 5, 2019 at 8:38 AM

    This is excellent, Lisa! I feel as if every little girl goes through that unrealistic expectation list. I’ve been married ten years now. It’s still largely difficult, especially factoring in we are unequally yoked. One thing I’ve come to learn over the past year, and am still learning is the only One who can fill all my needs and desires is Jesus. He is my Friend, He is the Lover of my soul, my Safety, my Refuge. It’s unrealistic and unfair to put this burden on our also-a-failing-human spouse.
    I recall a line I read a while ago, and I can never remember quite how it went but it was along the lines of our marriages are to showcase God’s love for His church. I think of how He had the prophet Hosea is it (I’m drawing a blank) love Gomer, the unfaithful spouse, who represents so perfectly us (the grass isn’t always greener on the other side). I’m so grateful for the love of Christ that seeks me and loves me.
    Excellent blog.

    • Amen! I am so thankful that God is patient to love our little-girl-selves and grow us up into mature women who can look to Him for our expectation. I love the words you used- Friend, Love of my soul, Safety, Refuge. I also love the story of Hosea and how redemptive His love can be. Blessing to you, friend!

  8. This is such a helpful post! I have been married only for 2 years, but these suggestions are something that I will keep in mind going forward. I also am looking forward to talking to my husband and clarifying what are realistic expectations are. Clarity in that area can be lost in the craziness of day to day life! #dreamteam

  9. We married later in life, and I’ve had to own my part of being set in my ways and expectations! Thanks for all the tools and tips. Motivating and encouraging – it’s not always fun or comfortable, but it is refining.

  10. I think a lot of the ideas women are fed in fairy tales and movies are quite detrimental to marriage. Keep your friends, keep your hobbies and find middle ground.

  11. When my grandson had been married a few months, I asked him how it was going. His answer was profound. “The things I thought would be easy were hard, and the things I thought would be hard were easy.”

    He and his wife are two young people surviving their expectations–and thriving because of commitment.

    Great post. God bless!

  12. Amen! Every marriage struggles, and yet we do such a disservice to each other by never talking about it. So that leaves us looking around and thinking that everyone else has it together. Great advice here!

  13. All such wonderful advice on how to strengthen your marriage. Realistic expectations are important. So is flexibility. You were smart to wait until you were older and wiser to get married. Bill and I married when we were both 21 – young and dumb! Commitment to each other and to God is the essential ingredient!

  14. Lisa, this is so good. I think it’s incredibly important to keep our expectations in check and also to communicate them (and understand our spouse’s expectations in turn) so we can try our best to love our spouse right. It also always helps me to remember my husband is not my savior (as madly in love with him that I am). Jesus is.

  15. Awesome Post! My wife and I will be celebrating 28 years in June and many of the tips and instructions that you have written are perfect. We are now learning how to be parents to Adult Children. Definitely a new season one that we have leaned on the Holy Spirit a time or two to learn our place and how to step back. God Bless and once again Great Post!!

  16. So much wisdom here. Thank you for sharing with us. I wish I had had you 20 years ago, it would have saved me some self inflicted heartache. 🙂

  17. The longer I live, the more I watch and the more I observe, I believe a certain level of maturity is needed for marriage. I thank God every day that I wasn’t raised in an environment of fairytales and that even though my parents didn’t do everything right, they definitely gave me a realistic view of what God wants for marriage. Now, whether we choose to lean into his plan or not and reap the benefits of it is completely up to us.

    I’m unmarried and glad about it. Singleness has given me a great time to learn about myself while learning about marriage by watching the marriages of those around me. It’s the reason I write so passionately over at my blog.

  18. Great guidance in this topic. I’d say all married couples at some point have to go through unmet expectations, after all we are uniquely flawed! Excepting some of each others flaws and loving them in spite of those are a part when it comes to an unrealistic expectation. I went through a study years ago about learning to yeild your rights, not just in marriage but most definitely needed in marriage. I know my marriage, which is a 2nd marriage is a work in progress but God has restored so much and you’ve given me some added things to reflect on, thank you!! Visiting from MOH linkup

  19. Thankful for this post, Lisa.

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