We build them up.
We revel in them.
And then, all too often, reality dashes them.
We hold them – the expectations and the actual – side by side and look for flaws, not unlike the drawings in the Hallmark magazines of our youth.
And we curse reality, bemoan our bad luck or grow angry at those who contributed to the failure of the imagined.
But maybe we’re directing our outrage the wrong direction.
Maybe it’s not reality that needs to change, but our expectations of it.
And now, more than ever before in history, we have very high expectations of marriage. Men and women no longer operate in defined domestic spheres, opening up vast swaths of terrain open to negotiation and yes, expectation. We are serenaded with romantic stories with all of the rough edges Photoshopped into perfection and we grow to expect our marriages to play out in kind. We expect our men to be emotional and our women to be equal wage earners, yet we don’t yet know how to negotiate the changes that ensue. We have lofty personal goals at the time of marriage and expect the marriage will support those goals. We marry young and carry the expectation that the chosen spouse will still be a match 50 or 60 or even 70 years down the line.
Expectations are not inherently damaging; they act as guides and as goals, especially when they reflect areas where you have control. Expectations become dangerous when they grow too strong and too broad, making assumptions about the behavior of others or of the stars.
The following are some of the potentially destructive expectations of marriage along with ways to shift those predictions into the realm of healthy and realistic:
He/she is my soulmate and will anticipate and meet all of my needs.
It used to be the expected norm that men and women would have many of their social needs met through same-gender friends. In our busy and transient lives, adult time with friends often gets shifted aside with the result of the spouse bearing the brunt of the social needs. It’s unfair and unrealistic to expect one person to meet (let alone anticipate) all of your needs. While most partners agree certain needs should only be met within marriage, there are many others that can be found through friends, classes or groups. If your spouse shares ALL of your interests, you are married to a mirror, not a person.
He/she will change after marriage (or the birth of a baby, or after the completion of school, etc.).
This is a dangerous expectation because it bases present decisions on imagined future results that are not under your control. Major events WILL likely change your partner, but the change may not be in the direction you wanted. Make your decisions based upon the current day and the core traits that help one to navigate to change (adaptability, communication, perseverance) rather than hope alone. He or she may change but don’t assume.
The way things are in the beginning is the way they’ll always be.
The beginning of a relationship acts much like Photoshop; we filter out the negative and enhance the positive. Enjoy it. But don’t drown in it. Reality, when it comes, can be a bit of a shock, but it also carries with it the potential deeper trust and intimacy. Everything changes. To expect otherwise is to live in disappointment.
Good relationships don’t require effort and/or intention (i.e. work).
ANYTHING worthwhile in life requires effort. And that includes marriage. It shouldn’t feel like you’re slaving away in the salt mines every day but it also won’t always be a day at the beach. Know that some days will be harder than others and that, if done well, the work you put in will pay dividends in your marriage. A marriage that needs effort doesn’t mean it’s not good; it just means that it is a union between two humans.
We will grow together through life’s difficulties.
I wish this was always true. But statistics prove otherwise. Marriages are more likely to fall apart during times of strain: death or illness of a child, infertility, unemployment. We expect that the way we feel and the way we demonstrate those feelings about the event in question is the same way our spouse feels. There are no magic salves for relationships weathering crisis, but you can strive to make sure you are a strong team before the wave hits.
So, what are realistic expectations of marriage?
A partnership built upon shared goals and values that operates with mutual respect and fidelity. A marriage that is not perfect and two people who accept imperfections in themselves and their partner. A union that does not meet all of your needs but that acts as a safe haven where you can be vulnerable and intimate. A merger of two people who are willing to take responsibility and work for the betterment of both.
Marriage can be wonderful. But it won’t ever be perfect.
Make sure your expectations are in line.