Expectations hold immense power. They are the assumed sum of our desires. They are what we expect to get out of a situation. In marriage, if one person is expecting to get something out of a situation that the other person doesn’t even know they are supposed to give… disappointment from unmet expectations will inevitably occur.
When we don’t manage our expectations, we buy into the lie that our husbands and wives are responsible for meeting all of our wants and needs, and that they should automatically know exactly how to do that.
Practicing expectation management is one of the most preventative and proactive things that you can do for your marriage.
Managing expectations, facilitates unity, connection, satisfaction, and win-win situations. Well managed expectations are clearly communicated. Poorly managed expectations can create conflict, hurt, division, and disappointment. This is because, at the core, they are assumptions. They were never clearly communicated.
If you’ve been married for any length of time, you have likely experienced the disappointment associated with unmanaged expectations. You know… those moments when what actually happened, was different than what was supposed to happen (your ideals that you never vocalized).
The degree to which reality fails to meet our expectations is the degree to which we will feel disappointed.
For example, this happened literally last night… Audrey was really tired from working, writing, and teaching Barre3. I was not as tired as she was, so I thought I’d plan an evening with some friends to get our minds off work. However, Audrey was hoping to have a glass of wine on the couch in her PJ’s watching an episode of The OC. We both enjoy each of these evening options, so I assumed that my option would be enjoyable for Audrey. However, as a result of the day’s circumstances, Audrey’s expectation was that I would know to favor her option. My expectation was that Audrey would want to go hang out with our friends. Our misinterpretations, and unarticulated expectations, birthed an unnecessary argument that perhaps you can relate to…
Some expectations are fundamentally bestowed on us from the moment we say, “I do.” For example, Audrey expects me to be faithful to her, to love her, and to put Christ first in my life, and in our marriage. (Matthew 19:6, Malachi 2:14-16, Ephesians 5:33, Genesis 2:24) I expect the same from her. We expect that we will take care of each other, spend time with each other, and communicate with one another. While these expectations are clear without needing to communicate them, others (like my former example) are not so clear….
They need to be communicated.
There are two forms of expectations; personal and situational.
Personal expectations are what we expect from ourselves. How we measure ourselves up to who we want to be, how we want to act, what we want to look like, the life we expect to live.
Situational expectations are exactly that, situational. They are the measuring of our expectations vs. reality concerning an event, decision, commitment, holiday, movie, weekend, day off work etc.
This article will be discussing situational expectations in the context of marriage.
So how do we manage these potentially dangerous assumptions (our unclear expectations)? What strategies can we adopt in our marriages, so that our expectations create unity, instead of division?
Based on my own reflections, and watching friends and family members experience the ramifications of poorly communicated expectations… I’ve come up with 4 strategies that I think will help develop healthy expectation management.
Strategy 1. Communicate your hopes, wants, and needs
In order for your expectations to be met, your spouse needs to know what your expectations are. Seems obvious…. But so many people (myself included) keep their expectations to themselves, yet then expect their spouse to meet them.
“Expectation management” is basically a way of saying communication.
Whenever Audrey and I are on our way to a party, get together, or event, one of us takes a moment to ask the other, “What are your expectations for this?” This question helps us establish what each of our hopes, wants, and needs are for the given circumstances.
Maybe one of us wants to leave early, maybe one of us really wants us to spend time with their parents, maybe one us want to be more passive and the other wants to be more active, maybe we want to do different things afterwards…. You get the idea.
This question helps us both understand each others ideals.
You may be thinking, “But Jer, is it my responsibility to satisfy all of my spouse’s ideals?”
But, your desire should be to love your spouse, be selfless towards their wants and needs, and have compassion for them. When/if your spouse’s ideals (expectations) are not fulfilled, you will be better equipped to do the next best thing, because his/her expectations (even if they seem unpractical) were made clear to you. Communicating your hopes, wants, and needs, given certain circumstances, will help you and your spouse come to an agreement on each other’s expectations, and how to best meet them. (usually just knowing what they are is enough)
Basically, we need to communicate, specifically about our expectations.
Strategy 2. Be clear before birthdays and holidays…
Marriage assumptions can be cancerous…
Holidays and birthdays are the most dangerous when it comes to assumptions…. We tend to dream up perfection. We expect them to throw us that surprise party, to take us to our favorite restaurant, and to plan a flawless day… but if we don’t let our spouse in on how they can live up to our vision, we can’t expect our vision to be met. Even if you feel silly doing it, you have to be clear about what your birthday, anniversary, Christmas ect. expectations are.
For example, let’s say it’s your birthday and you are hoping to do something private and intimate with your spouse. You have been spending a lot of time with friends lately, and you’re looking forward to a peaceful night alone with your loved one. Not knowing this, your spouse (in an effort to love you well) plans you a giant surprise party! You’re probably feeling frustrated, maybe angry, disappointed, and bummed out. On the other hand, your spouse is thinking they are a hero for planning you this party! *insert fist pump* They want to feel appreciated, but instead you lash out on them… This is a result of unmanaged expectations.
If you don’t articulate your expectations, then how can you justify your bitterness, frustration, or anger when they aren’t met?
You have to be clear about your expectations, give your spouse a chance, and then give them grace. We are all on a journey of learning how to love each other well.
Strategy 3. Discuss unmet expectations and praise met ones
The expectation game goes both ways.
We want our expectations to be met by default, but do we try to meet theirs by default? Are we wanting to meet their expectations as much as we want them to meet ours?
In the words of a good friend, “Happily Ever After” is built on a lifetime of choices that say, “I love you” rather than choices that say, “I love me.” – Matthew L. Jacobson
When your spouse does meet your expectations, you must be willing to gracefully let them know. Tell them you appreciate them. I’m not a parent yet, but I do know that praise for doing good, is more effective than punishing for doing bad.
A person who feels appreciated will always do more than expected.
Make your spouse feel appreciated, even when they do things that don’t meet your hidden expectations! That way, next time you get the chance to communicate your expectation, it is more likely to be exceeded, than unmet.
May your marriage be marked by building up, not tearing down.
Strategy 4. Remember, your marriage is on a journey
We are all working to build a beautiful marriage. A marriage that is fun, exciting, challenging, and worth it. A marriage that we want to come home to, or stay home for, and this takes time.
Expectations will fluctuate, just as our needs do. When your spouse lets you down (or you let them down), be willing to discuss why, so that it is less likely to happen next time. Be quick to listen when they come to you disappointed. It’s important that we don’t get defensive too quick. *guilty*
Remember, they are feeling what they are feeling for a reason. Defensiveness is usually a means to defend pride. Don’t let pride prevent your marriage from thriving.
Intentionally working towards a thriving marriage requires us to be willing to communicate and listen. The more your practice it, the better you get. The journey to becoming better expectation managers is worth it.
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