Posted by: Debbie Loyd | May 24, 2011

Great Expectations

We all come to marriage with happy expectations. In fact, it’s our belief in the potential of the relationship that brings us to the altar. We expect faithfulness, respect, and love, and we expect our love to last. Expectations can also be a source of conflict in marriage for a couple of reasons. First, some expectations are unrealistic. Second, couples often have differing expectations.

Let’s look at the first aspect: unrealistic expectations. Our expectations come from several sources:

  • The media (movies, books, songs, etc.)
  • Our experiences growing up and what was modeled for us.
  • What we would like to have*
  • What we think we deserve*

The problem with many romance movies and books is that they portray unrealistic expectations such as:

  • My partner should be able to know what I need.
  • I shouldn’t have to work for love or to be trusted.
  • My partner should be emotionally available to me whenever I need him or her.
  • We shouldn’t have to work at feeling sexual desire for each other; it should come naturally or not all.
  • If I’m not happy in my relationship, it’s my partner’s fault.
  • True love conquers all.
  • There is one and only one right person in the world for each person to marry.


The second area of difficulty is differing expectations. As important as similarities are in the beginning of a relationship, each individual is unique, with his/her own personality, interests and values.  Our spouse will not always think like us or be like us. Each has grown up in a different family who has modeled different expectations. Often, these are so familiar to us that we don’t even recognize them as such. Talking about differences in expectations is a way of preventing and/or resolving conflict and can be a wonderful way of getting to know each other more deeply. It can be a very loving thing to understand and meet some of our partner’s expectations. Exploration of expectations can also be an impetus for personal discovery and growth.

When I work with premarital couples, I encourage them to explore as many areas of expectations as possible. Identifying and discussing expectations is crucial. Here are a few areas:

  • Careers
  • Money & finances (budget, spending habits & criteria, separate or joint accounts, saving, borrowing, credit cards, how much each can spend without consulting the other, etc.)
  • Friends & socializing & entertaining
  • Intimacy
  • Health, Exercise, & Diet
  • Children & parenting
  • Home (Household tasks, location, furniture, decorating, degree of cleanliness & orderliness, pets, etc.)
  • How time will be spent (Free time, hobbies)
  • Holidays and Vacations

New expectations can arise at crucial turning points in marriage, such as when you buy a home, plant your first garden together, become parents, deal with a major illness, etc.**  As you can see, the dealing with expectations is never complete. As we sort out expectations, deciding which are realistic and which are unrealistic, which ones we can meet for our spouse and which are most important for us, and as we resolve differences, our marriage grows. It is well worth the effort.

*credit to Greg Baker (pastor, counselor, and author)

**credit to Sari Harrar and Rita DeMaria, authors of The Seven Stages of Marriage

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