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Health for Your Marriage: Expectations

I have been asked the question, “Can you help my marriage,” or some version thereof more times than I would like to admit over the past few months. My heart has been very burdened by these questions, because I see marriage as an incredible gift from God. I do not think that Gina and I are unique or different. I do, however, know that we were equipped with some reliable tools that have carried us strongly for our 13+ years of marriage. Are we perfect? No, but we actively strive for health in our relationship. I am going to take the next batch of weeks to try and give some pointers about how you can find health in your marriage with these time-tested principles.

Today’s pointer: Change your expectations.

When I speak with couples, I find that one of the major problems is expectations. I don’t mean that you should lower your expectations and settle for someone who is a hot mess, but what I do mean is that husbands and wives have all sorts of expectations - many of them which are never clearly communicated - and those expectations, when unmet lead to marital strife and hardship. The solution is not necessarily for your spouse to try harder to meet your expectations, but to reevaluate your expectations together.

As people, we have both foolish expectations and unrealistic expectations.

Foolish expectations are silly decisions that we continue to make over and over again and are still surprised by the results. This could be anything from eating a dozen chocolate chip cookies every night yet wondering why you can’t lose weight to having your default mode of communication be screaming at your spouse or kids and then wondering why nobody likes you. Although we wouldn’t call these things expectations, they actually are. For some reason, deep down, we think that this time my screaming will actually work to bring health into my home or that this time a dozen cookies won’t raise my cholesterol and the scale. These expectations are foolish.

We also have unrealistic expectations. Let’s pretend for a moment: It’s been a long day at your work, you are driving home and cannot wait to relax. In your mind you are picturing a clean house, dinner coming right out of the oven, and the children finishing their homework quietly. When you walk in through the front door, however, it is not as you had expected. Dinner is thawing in a hunk of ice on the counter, the kids are watching TV instead of doing anything moderately productive, and your spouse is nowhere to be found. Nobody greets you when you come in, laundry is still in the hamper, and the tension level in your heart slowly begins to rise.

In this situation, you created a set of expectations in your mind which were rigid and inflexible. When those expectations were unmet, tension crept in. You haven’t considered all the variables. What if your spouse is just as tired as you are? What if the kids have been giving him or her a hard time since they got home and have been everything but compliant? What if you never actually told your spouse and your kids that this was an expectation for your family - you just assumed that they should know it?

Now play that out over a few days or weeks. Each night you get angry at your spouse and your kids, even if you don’t say anything and just stomp around and sigh. Each night your spouse gets frustrated at you because you are being standoffish and they cannot understand what is wrong. One of you begins to withdraw because the environment seems unfair and insensitive. As one of you withdraws, the other comes on stronger to pursue. Together, you are destroying your marriage one day at a time.

Here is the problem: You cannot control if your expectations will be met. You can only control how you will react to unmet expectations.

Your marriage is filled with expectations: how much time you will spend talking with your spouse, who will cook dinner, who will pay the bills, how much money you should spend before discussing it, frequency of making love, chores, getting up with the baby and so on and so forth.

Do you know what your expectations are? Are they realistic? Have you shared them with your spouse? Have you communicated them with gentleness or defensiveness and anger?

What if your expectation in marriage was that you and your spouse would, together, strive to - by God’s grace - build love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control into your marriage, replacing those expectations with whatever unrealistic ones you have set up now? Would that make a difference? You bet it would!

Here’s some homework: Sit down with your spouse, read this article together, and talk about your expectations. The next time you get in a fight - pause and ask, “What expectation of mine is not being met that is causing me to react with such anger right now?” Wrestle through that together - often humbling yourself in the process - and see your marriage take baby steps towards health.