On their honeymoon, Ed and Renee spent hours gazing into each other’s eyes — contemplating how they’d spend their next 50 years. They decided to write those plans down as a road map for the future.
But before long, those plans hit several speed bumps.
Ed lost his job.
Renee was diagnosed with diabetes.
Habits that seemed cute at first became annoying.
When they had a son, Renee decided to stay home — which tightened the family purse strings. Ed worked more to compensate, further reducing their time together. When she voiced concern, it only seemed to irritate him.
They still loved each other. But this wasn’t how either of them had written the script on their honeymoon.
You might find yourself wondering if your early dreams of marital bliss were more illusion than reality. Why isn’t marriage turning out the way you planned?
In premarital counseling, couples often explore their expectations of marriage. But what does that mean? Are expectations the way you think your marriage will look, or the way you want it to look? The two can be very different!
People draw their marital expectations from two wells. One is courtship. If dating was wonderful and starry-eyed, why would you expect marriage to be otherwise? If spending 20 hours a week brings us such joy, you might think, more time together as husband and wife could only be better!
But think back to your courtship. Wasn’t it largely a mirage?
What did you do when you didn’t want to be alone? You got dressed up and did fun things together. What did you do when you were tired of talking? You went home. How did you deal with financial decisions? You made them on your own.
When you were dating, there were some built-in escape valves in your relationship. Now that you’re married, there’s no other home to go to. Your spouse’s finances are yours, and vice versa.
By its nature, courtship allows a couple to live in denial. Marriage makes that posture much more difficult to maintain.
The other well of marital expectations is the marriage you saw firsthand when you were growing up.
That relationship provided one of two images for you to view. Either the marriage didn’t seem worth duplicating, or it did.
Even if the marriage you saw was conflicted and unhappy, you may have believed things would be different for you. Without that hope, the decision to remain single would have seemed pretty appealing. But simply raising your expectations won’t make your marriage better than that of your parents. You need to face past hurts and disappointments, perhaps with the help of a counselor or pastor. That may not have the same thrill that romance does, but it makes it more likely that you’ll experience a fulfilling and romantic marriage.
On the other hand, you may have been fortunate enough to see a model of marriage worth replicating. For that you can rejoice! But there’s a pitfall there, too. You may be locked into thinking that the way you saw Mom and Dad relate is the only healthy way for a marriage to function.
For example, let’s say that your parents were both even-tempered; decisions came easily for them. You or your spouse might be more opinionated and need to discuss matters longer. That’s okay, even though it’s different. There are many styles in marriage that can be healthy.
Parents can affect your marital expectations in other ways, too. That was true with Tom and Jill.
Tom’s expectations about marriage weren’t being met. Through reading and counseling he finally recognized that those expectations were an effort to cope with a painful childhood. Growing up, he’d often been under his mother’s controlling thumb. He’d brought into marriage a vow that he’d never get close enough to his wife to let her control him as Mom had. As a result, he’d never gotten close enough to truly connect with Jill.
Tom had to work through his hurts before he could begin to relate to Jill in a more meaningful way. The two of them met periodically over coffee with a seasoned couple in their church, learning what they might expect in each new stage of marriage.
They still have struggles. But Tom is learning more about God’s expectations for their marriage. Unless he depends on God for the ability to love Jill, he doesn’t have a prayer to make it happen. He’s also learning that by staying true to his marriage, he’s growing in ways he never thought possible.
Tom brought his own expectations to marriage, but God had a better idea.
If your expectations about marriage have been unrealistic, it’s time to challenge them. But if you do, and still have concerns, consider the possibility that the problem might not be your expectations. You might have a problem in your marriage.
Harboring unrealistic expectations doesn’t mean that everything else in a marriage is on track. Your qualms might be slightly off target, but they could be early warning signs about issues that will cause more trouble if you don’t resolve them. Talk about them with your spouse in a respectful way; see whether the two of you can address them. If that fails, look to a pastor or counselor for help.