As I have mentioned previously, I did not have much life experience under my belt when I was engaged. Years of watching romantic comedies and dreaming of my own Prince Charming left me with my head in the clouds and my heart aflutter. Amid a lovey-dovey time in our relationship, Eric told me he wanted his future wife and family to abstain from eating pork and shellfish. He had his reasons (and still does), and he shared them with me. My response of agreement came quickly and without much thought.
Captain and Tennille must have been in the same phase of their love story when they sang Love Will Keep Us Together. It is nice to think that nothing else matters if you have love. The love we hear about in romantic songs and watch in movies is often a feeling – the emotional and chemical drive we feel when we are in a new, exciting relationship. Love in its mature form is extremely sacrificial and not always a pleasure. When preparing for marriage, we envision ourselves happily meeting our spouse’s expectations and vice versa, but eventually what we thought would be easy turns out to be a daily choice (and, at times, a struggle… eastern North Carolina barbeque, I will always love you!).
Last week, we discussed the importance of first, discovering your marriage expectations, analyzing them, and rewriting them to avoid unrealistic demands. Now that we have uncovered some of our expectations and analyzed whether they are realistic, let’s talk about meeting our partner’s expectations (i.e., desires):
- Be real about your passions and energy level. Avoid pretending you are up for something when you really are not. Your significant other may have a passion for climbing mountains, but if you hate walking up and down the aisles at the grocery store, climbing mountains may not be high on your list of potential hobbies. Instead of saying, “I will never climb mountains with you” (or, “I would love to climb mountains with you someday!” [while knowing in truth that you may never]), you can say, “I cannot see myself enjoying that hobby, but I will start with some short hikes and see if I can work my way up to something more difficult. However, chances are slim I will be your Mt. Everest buddy.” Will this admission cost you a relationship? Honestly, there is a chance it could if your partner is looking for a mountain-climbing life partner. But take it from someone who has been on both sides of this fence: it is better to be completely honest with yourself and your partner than to create expectations you cannot or will not fulfill. Unless you have true limitations holding you back from trying something new, at least experience what your partner expects (i.e., hopes, desires, etc.) from you. Try to make (or eat) that dish. Try that sport you never thought you would like. Go to that concert. Attend that political fundraiser. Fold those towels the “right” way. ~smile~ After you give it a solid attempt, be real with yourself. Can I do this? Will I resent having to do this for years to come? Am I up for putting myself out into the world in this way? Take time alone to process before you talk about your personal findings with your boyfriend or girlfriend.
- Talk about your current skills and desired skills. This overlaps with our last point. When Eric and I were getting to know each other, he had specific plans to pursue a career in relationship counseling with an emphasis in premarital counseling. At the time, I was in school for relationship counseling and assumed I would head towards marriage counseling. My interest in relationship counseling was high (in retrospect and honesty, perhaps my interest in a relationship was higher), but my skill level was not. Letting him know I was interested in counseling was a good start, but my interest did not mean I was going to be a good counselor or co-counselor. A better way to approach Eric would have been to express my interest while being upfront about my lack of skills. So, let’s go back to that mountain. If your partner is an avid mountain climber, be open about your interest level but also be extremely clear about your skill level. If you have no desire to climb mountains, say so. Be willing to give hiking/exercise/rock climbing a try, but own your interest and skill level from the beginning. I am in good shape overall, but I have never done any type of rock climbing in my life. In the past, it never interested me much and it may never interest me much in the future. Honesty often comes with initial disappointment, but it keeps couples from placing unrealistic expectations on each other and unrealistic demands on themselves. It also shows a clearer picture of what life together will look like, and it illuminates how much effort each person will need to put into the relationship. No one gets everything they want from a spouse in marriage; but, when there are too many differences, a life together will be one frustration or disappointment after another.
- Discuss ways you plan to accommodate your partner. Last week, we talked about discovering your expectations, writing them down, determining how realistic they are (with the help of your partner), and then reworking them to make them realistic. This week we recommend taking a similar approach with your significant other’s expectations. After reviewing each other’s expectations/desires list, jot down ways you plan to accommodate your partner’s wishes. If there is an expectation you flat out refuse, now is the time to talk about it. I will not visit your parents every single weekend. I am not going to do competitive watersports with you. Eric and I did not do this exercise when we were dating, but if we had, I could see Eric expecting the following (to name a few): a wife who will go to church with me, a wife who will cook and maintain a clean home, a wife who will partner with me to help couples prepare well for marriage, and a wife who will normally sustain a gentle and respectful demeanor. After reading his life, I would probably have responded something like this: Of course I will go to church with you. I’ve gone to church all my life. I am not much of a cook yet, but I will learn as I go. Mom started me on housework young, so I can clean. I am a nice person most of the time. I don’t think you have much to worry about regarding me being respectful. Sure, I planned to go to church with Eric, to cook for him, clean for us, and be gentle with him. Before marriage, all of that sounded easy to me. This is why we do not recommend stopping at this step. Go beneath the knee jerk response of, “yeah, I can do that,” and look at the expectation more clearly. Then head to the next phase…
- Work on ways to turn your theoretical plans into workable plans. As mentioned above, Eric wanted: a wife who will go to church with me, a wife who will cook and maintain a clean home, a wife who will partner with me to help couples prepare well for marriage, and a wife who will sustain a gentle and respectful demeanor. My next step is to take each expectation I think I can meet and draw up a plan for meeting it. Eric’s first expectation was for his future wife to attend church with him. Do I plan to attend church with him? Yes. How often do I plan to attend church with him? Seven out of every eight Sundays. How will I prepare to meet this expectation? I will go to bed an hour earlier on Saturday nights. I will work on housework and schoolwork four to six hours each Saturday so I am not too stressed to attend church on Sunday. I will become involved in ministries which provide additional accountability for me. This exercise gave me the chance to face the sacrifices involved in meeting this expectation and to rethink my initial halfhearted response.
- Take your plans out for a spin and see if they are truly realistic. By now you have read each other’s lists, talked about ways to meet each other’s expectations, and even created plans for doing so, but here is where the rubber meets the road. As much as is possible for this point in your relationship, put your plans into action. Go on those two-hour Saturday hikes and see how it goes. Roll out that church attendance protocol. Visit those future in-laws every weekend for a while. After going through these motions for a season, you will have a much better idea of what is and is not realistic for each other. From here, be honest about the expectations you no longer believe you can meet.
The first step in dealing with expectations is simply admitting we have them. They are there. Some are hidden and some are obvious to everyone. Secondly, we must search for the hidden ones, discover them, and own up to them. After that, we decide if they are realistic by discussing them with our partners. Then, we determine if and how we can fulfill those expectations. And, finally, we set out on a lifetime adventure hoping to bring happiness to our partners and fulfill many of their desires along the way.
Some Preparation is Necessary
The more we know about our own expectations and our significant other’s expectations, the better we can equip ourselves. No one can be fully prepared, but couples can avoid some outrageous fights and deep pitfalls by doing some preparation before engagement and marriage.
When you look into the eyes of that amazing creature with whom God blessed you, remember that he or she has also spent a lifetime, consciously and unconsciously, thinking about marriage and forming hopes, dreams, and opinions about it. For as much as you hope your loved one will work to bring happiness into your life, be just as eager – or, even more so – to bring joy into his or hers.
In the end, remember to show grace to each other. You are marrying a sinner, and he or she is marrying a sinner too. There will be no perfection. Opportunities to forgive each other will spring up daily. When it is hard to give your energy and time to your spouse, and fulfilling his or her desires is the last thing you want to do, remember that in loving your partner, you are honoring and glorifying God.
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8, ESV)
For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14, ESV)
Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. (I Corinthians 10:24, ESV)
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. (I Corinthians 13:4-6, ESV)
Keep breaking free!!!
What do you think about your partner’s expectations?