If I’m honest with myself, I entered into my first marriage with many of these misconceptions. These beliefs made recognizing and admitting to any cracks in the marriage a proposition too scary to face because any faults would threaten my assumptions.
And I’m not alone in these inflated expectations of marriage. Over time, matrimony has shifted from being an arrangement of mutual practical benefit to carrying the burden of meeting most of our social, emotional and physical needs. Could it be that one of the reasons for the increasing divorce rate is the corresponding rise in our expectations of marriage?
A good marriage begins by understanding what is meant by a “good” marriage, by having a realistic picture of what you can expect from your marriage, your spouse and yourself.
It starts here…
Idealistic Expectation: Getting to know your spouse happens before marriage.
We are often counseled to wait a specific number of years – usually 2 or 3 – so that we have plenty of time to get to know the person we are about to marry. It is often assumed that once you have seen the person at their best, at their worst and survived a road trip together that there is no mystery left.
Realistic Expectation: Getting to know your spouse is an ongoing process.
In a marriage of any duration, you are effectively married to several people as your spouse changes over time and as you learn more about them. If you believe that you have learned all there is to know about them and you effectively close your eyes and shut your ears to new information, you may just wake one day to discover that you are married to a stranger.
Idealistic Expectation: I expect my spouse to be my best friend.
I had this expectation of my ex, especially once we moved across the country together. I wanted him to be husband, lover and bestie, all rolled into one neat package. Expecting your spouse to be best friend is a large burden for them to carry. Furthermore, narrowing your circle of influence is limiting to both you and your partner. It’s one thing to have your partner be a best friend. Something else for them to be your only best friend.
Realistic Expectation: I can expect my spouse to be one of the most important people in my life and to have our relationship occupy a more intimate space than any other relationship.
It is completely reasonable for you to expect that your spouse is “your person.” They are the one you list as an emergency contact, the first you call with important news and the one you return home to each day. Additionally, it is entirely appropriate for your spouse to be your most emotionally intimate relationship and for there to be more shared with your spouse than anyone else. After all, there is a reason that you cannot be forced to testify against your spouse in court:) That being said, it’s also important to maintain close friendships outside of the marriage.
Idealistic Expectation: I expect my spouse to never hurt my feelings.
With this expectation, we become primed to take every slight, every cross word, personally. Yet the reality is that ANY two people that spend significant time together will inevitably hurt each other’s feelings. Often unintentionally.
Realistic Expectation: I can expect my spouse to not act out of malice or with an intent to manipulate.
Your marriage should be a safe space, both physically and emotionally. It’s one thing to push your spouse’s buttons at times, and something entirely different to strive to make them feel inferior or rejected. You can enter into marriage with an expectation that your spouse refrains from abusive behavior and that an effort is made to spend more time operating from a place of kindness than of crossness.
Idealistic Expectation: My spouse should be able to tell when I am upset.
This expectation can lead to a toxic cycle. It begins when one partner becomes upset at the other and responds by actions (for example, withdrawing) rather than words. The initial slight becomes amplified with the belief that the other person should be able to correctly identify the emotional state and even the reason for the reaction.
Realistic Expectation: I can expect that my spouse will take an interest in my general well-being and to make an effort to be observant.
Your spouse is not a mind reader. It is not fair to expect them to know what you do not say. That being said, it is fair to expect them to care about your emotional and physical state.
Idealistic Expectation: My spouse and I should have similar interests.
I sometimes get strange looks when I engage in an activity with someone other than my husband. It seems to be assumed that we should accompany each other of any adventure, despite our independent interests. Yet if I dragged my husband to a botanical garden, we would both be miserable. I would rather attend with a plant-minded friend while he tinkers with his Corvette and then we can reunite and share the good feelings that arose independently.
Realistic Expectation: My spouse and I can have similar life goals and beliefs yet achieve those in different ways.
My now-husband and I are both passionate about helping people. I fulfill my altruistic drive by writing; he meets his by teaching people how to fight. On the surface, these activities could not be more different even though they are aligned in their larger meaning. And having separate lives enriches our life toegther.
Idealistic Expectation: My spouse should be able to meet my needs.
I made the mistake in my first marriage of expecting my husband to help me recenter after a rough day at work. It was effective, but is also handicapped me and my emotional independence. I now find that the more I make sure that my needs for stress reduction and restoration are met apart from my marriage, the better spouse I can be.
Realistic Expectation: I have to take responsibility for making sure my needs are met in an honest and healthy way.
The only time it is appropriate to expect another to meet all of your needs is during infancy. After that, it becomes your responsibility to make sure your requirements are met. It is perfectly reasonable to turn to your spouse for some of your needs. But also ensure that you have other resources that you can turn to.
Idealistic Expectation: My spouse should never disappoint me.
Disappointments will happen. It doesn’t mean that your partner is evil or doesn’t love you. It means they are human.
Realistic Expectation: Although disappointments are inevitable, I can count on my spouse to not betray me.
There;s a difference between disappointments and betrayals (although sometimes we can treat the minor infractions as major missteps). Betrayals, with their deceptions and intentionality, speak to a lack of integrity.