One thing I see with couples, regardless of whether they’re recently married or have been together for years, is that they build up quite a few expectations and assumptions about each other. While some of that is okay, the majority of those assumptions are unrealistic and lead to a greater chance of disappointment and frustration that will hurt the marriage.
A perfect example is a story I like to tell about a newlywed couple who both come from very different backgrounds. The wife grew up in a family where her father was Mr. Fit It. It didn’t matter if a door latch was broken or the lawnmower wouldn’t start. He could fix it. So when his daughter got married, she assumed her hubby could do all the same things. The problem was that he couldn’t. His father was an executive and always hired someone to come fix stuff.
Sadly, these expectations and assumptions caused a lot of issues. She was getting increasingly frustrated because her husband wasn’t as handy as she expected. She saw him as lazy. Meanwhile, he saw her as being constantly naggy and mean, even unrelenting. But once they understood each other’s expectations, they were able to talk through them together and find some compromise.
Can you relate to the problems they are experiencing?
We all come into a marriage with expectations. Some are defined, and some are not!
Unhealthy expectations and assumptions and the desires that go with them are among the biggest reasons we become disappointed and hurt in our relationship. And many of us don’t even realize it.
Perhaps we think we’ve already learned everything there is to know about our partner.
Or, we truly believe that love is all we need for a happy marriage.
Better yet … you also believe nothing could cause you to question your love for your partner.
While great sentiments, they simply aren’t realistic. Marriages change. People change — even the ones you are closest to. More importantly, we all have influences in our lives that we simply aren’t aware of about one another. As the story above proves, our family influences mold us into much of who we are and how we see and understand relationships. Your parents, or other family members, for the good or bad, have been an example of what marriage looks like. So what happens is you go into your marriage expecting one thing only to get something completely different.
When the gap between your expectations and reality becomes too big, the result is disappointment, stress, anger, resentment, frustration, and worse, emotional disconnection.
GAP = DISSAPOINTMENT, STRESS, DISCONNECT
So what’s the answer?
Adjust your Expectations
This is easier said than done, but the antidote is three actionable steps:
- Lower or adjust your expectations (make them more realistic)
- Adjust your reality
- Deal with disappointments in a healthy way
We tell couples we work with that they have to get in there, roll up their sleeves, and ask each other questions. Get to know one another — even if they think that they know everything! You are both different, and you both have different realities that have created interesting expectations, however, the best way to do that is to have safe and open conversations. Remember, open your heart and mind and get interested and curious about understanding your spouse’s differences.
Here are just a few questions you may want to consider discussing together:
- What do you admire about your parents’ relationship?
- In what ways would you like your marriage to be different? What would you change?
- What from your parents’ marriage would you want to keep?
- Are there things from your family of origin you would like to keep, implement?
- Why did you want to marry your spouse?
All we are saying here is that many couples do a lot of what I call mind-reading. They have expectations or assumptions about each other that they heard or saw. They carry that on for a long time and eventually start reading things in their life and relationship through those filters. As a result, the things you argue about the most, usually have hidden expectations inside them. Expectations need to be understood, expressed and be an ongoing part of your marriage. If you follow this lesson, you’ll have the safe and connected marriage you both deserve.
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Did we leave anything out? What are ways you and your spouse overcame unrealistic expectations and assumptions about each other? How did you feel once you got answers to your questions? Please send us a quick email and help us keep this conversation going. mike@MikeandSusanDawson.com.