“But, I don’t have any expectations.” Has anyone ever told you that? Someone Eric and I love dearly tries to convince us of this “fact” often, but I am not ready to believe it. ~smile~ So far, I have not met a human being who does not have at least a few expectations of others or life. We expect our neighbors to drive with common sense and not hit our children. We expect doctors to provide medicine and accurate diagnoses when we are sick. We expect the sun to rise in the morning. Even those with the lowest of expectations can find something they expect out of this world, no matter how small or insignificant.
Expectations are not altogether bad. It is good to have healthy expectations of ourselves and others – just as it is healthy to offer grace and understanding when we (or others) do not meet our expectations.
Expectations were like fine pottery. The harder you held them, the more likely they were to crack. – Brandon Sanderson, The Way of Kings
However, it is quite risky to ignore your expectations. Evaluate them and determine if they are positive; but, please do not pretend they do not exist. Early in a relationship, it is tempting to act like you are cool with everything – even to the point of convincing yourself you are.
Now: Oh, you smoke? That’s cool. / Later: When are you going to quit those stupid cancer sticks? Are you trying to make us all sick?
Now: Sure, I love death metal. Who doesn’t, right? / Later: Turn that junk off. You are giving me the mother of all headaches! Self-centered jerk.
Now: Yeah, I’d love to do 10:15p movie with you. / Later: Seriously? I hate going out after dark.
Discussing expectations early in your relationship can save you and your future spouse a lot of grief. It is tougher to deal with your partner’s expectations when they appear unexpectedly than when they are discussed and examined rationally. As our annual theme this year is Simplify, we are seeking to simplify the expectation conversation. Rather than staring blankly at each other over coffee and asking, “So, what are your expectations?” we recommend sifting through the questions below and doing a bit of pre-discussion homework. Preparing first will make this conversation with each other a lot more fruitful!
- What are my values? Many of our expectations are formed based on our value system. Before determining our expectations, it is important to list out our values – punctuality, honesty, honoring commitments, not wasting food, treating animals like family, etc. If you value close family relationships, for example, you will expect your partner to participate in family gatherings; or, at the very least, not complain when you spend time with your family. If he or she comes from a looser knit family, your significant other may not understand your value or be willing to adopt it. The more values you share in common, the easier your relationship will be in the long run. So, start soul-searching and unearthing your values now before the ring is on the finger, the invitations are sent, and the cake is purchased. (Don’t know where to start? Google “list of values” and click on a result to get started.)
- What are my expectations? Chances are you are unaware of more than half of your own expectations. They lay dormant until a situation arises which calls them forth.
Because my dad was the one who always cut the grass in our family, I grew up with the expectation that men always did the outside work. Had you asked me at sixteen years old if outdoor work was man’s work, I would have laughed and said, “Of course not. Anyone can work outside.” But, deep, deep inside, I expected my future spouse to take care of the yard – even though I did not necessarily realize it at the time. My world was rocked when I grew up and married a man who has a low tolerance for being outside for periods of time. He still takes care of the yard, but not in the way I imagined: he hires it out. ~smile~ He would rather earn money doing what he loves (e.g., working with couples) so he can pay others to do the work they love (e.g., mowing and landscaping).
Another expectation I had going into marriage was that we would remain close to extended family. I grew up in the same town as my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. We attended the same church, went to each other’s birthday parties, and were together on holidays. If one person was moving, we all were moving. Eric grew up several hours away from his closest extended family. Typically, he saw them annually during a major holiday (Thanksgiving or Christmas). So, it is no surprise that remaining close to extended family is not as high on his expectation list as it is on mine; however, making local friends is much more important to him than it is to me.
For Eric, his mom was a good housekeeper and cook who always kept a clean kitchen. So, Eric went into marriage expecting a clean kitchen and good food from his wife. Little did he know that keeping a clean kitchen and planning new recipes were (and remain) two of my biggest struggles.
After discovering your hidden values and writing down all the values you can think of, start listing your expectations beneath each value. This exercise will take some time and mental energy, so do not feel compelled to tackle it all in one sitting.
- Are my expectations realistic? Sometimes, we expect more from others than we expect of ourselves. Anytime Eric speaks to me in a manner which is anything less than completely neutral or sweet, it offends me. It is tempting to expect Eric to always, 100% of the time, talk to me as if I am the most amazing gift he has ever received outside of eternal salvation. Meanwhile, if he interrupts my TV show for the second time, I sigh… pause it… and shoot him a disapproving look as if he has interrupted brain surgery. (Depending on what I am watching, maybe he ~smile~ I have been on an E.R. re-run kick lately!) Before we expect something from others, we should ask ourselves, “Could I live up to what I am expecting from my partner?”
- What is driving these expectations (and is it healthy)? Some expectations are perfectly healthy. When we get married, we expect our spouses to be true to our wedding vows; we expect respectful treatment; we expect our partner to grow in maturity and wisdom. But, sometimes our expectations come from a wounded, disillusioned, or unrealistic place. Perhaps a parent instilled certain expectations into us which feel like laws which were handed down from God Himself, but are only preferences such as, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” Sometimes trauma or past hurts cause us to adopt unhealthy ideals such as exceptionally conservative (or liberal) sexual views, extreme frugality, or refusal to seek proper health care. After you list your values and the resulting expectations, go through each one and evaluate what is driving each expectation. Is it healthy or unhealthy?
- Will these expectations bless or stress our relationship? Not all expectations are positive, even if they appear to come from a good place. In the past, our clients have made comments like, “I expect him to have dinner with the family every night after we are married,” or, “I expect her to be available for sex at least three nights a week.” Having dinner together is wonderful for bonding and Scripture tells married couples not to abstain long from sex so that neither person is overwhelmed with temptation (cf. I Corinthians 7:5). But, sometimes people have to work late. Or, sometimes we are sick or stressed and not in the right frame of mind for sex. When expectations become law, they eventually cause resentment. My friend is in town and asked me to have dinner with him. Are you seriously going to give me an attitude for missing family dinner one time? I have not slept well for five nights and I have an important exam coming up. I know we agreed on three times a week, but I am so overwhelmed. Am I just a sex outlet to you? When discussing expectations, it is important to extend grace and to expect occasional hiccups.
- Would I resent these expectations if my significant other placed them on me? Every woman wants to feel cherished and valued by her man; and, one of the sweetest ways to love on a woman is by talking to her kindly. Harsh words and tones communicate disgust, annoyance, and significant lack of appreciation. Several years into our marriage, I confronted Eric about a situation in which he was unkind and unloving towards me. Though I cannot remember the details, I know it must have struck a chord for me to put the emotional energy into addressing it. Eric listened and we ended the conversation on a positive note, but one of his comments stood out to me. He said, “You make it seem like I can never mess up and that I have to be perfect at all times” (in this area). Maybe it is silly, but that sentence was a revelation to me. It did not occur to me that I was placing such an expectation of perfection on him – or, at least, that he was sensing that expectation existed. Yes, I love it when Eric speaks to me in dulcet tones, but I am also married to a human who gets stressed, tired, hungry, and distracted. He is not perfect, just as I am not perfect, and we need to leave room for grace in our expectations. If Eric expected me never to lose my cool and to always speak with respect, he would frequently be We fail. That is why we need a Savior. If Eric wanted me to be perfect – in any category – I would most definitely resent it and grow weary (and angry) of having to walk on eggshells.
- How do I react when friends and family do not meet my expectations? When I was about sixteen, I made sleepover plans with one of my dearest friends. We agreed she would come over at 6pm and I was looking forward to an evening of laughter and fun. When 6 o’clock rolled around, she was nowhere to be found. When 7 o’clock rolled around, she still had not arrived. Finally, at 7:30p she pulled up in my driveway and said she still needed to go home and get her stuff. Somewhere between 10p and 11p that evening, she pulled up with her stuff in hand. I totally handled it – on the outside; on the inside, I was in a full-blown How could she leave me waiting all night? How inconsiderate could she be? Though I did not lose it that time, I am willing to bet something unkind would have slipped across my lips had it happened again shortly thereafter. She violated my value of always following through on agreements, so my reaction was extreme frustration with a side of anger. I probably violated her values of understanding and flexibility. How we react to friends and family when they violate our values and expectations is often how we will react to our future spouse – only, he or she will get the most passionate, unbridled version of our displeasure. ~smile~ It is important to know yourself. Know how you tend to react when someone does not meet your expectations. From there, work on your approach to future violations. How do you want to react in those moments? What would get your point across without causing irreversible damage to the relationship?
A somewhat unnerving but necessary group of post-discussion questions is this:
- Are our expectations of each other compatible?
- Are we willing to meet each other’s desires?
- Based on what we value, are we a good match for each other?
- Is marriage the best idea for us?
After combing through your expectation lists, and after a night or two to think, consider the above group of questions. And then…
- Is moving forward in our relationship wise?
Love is grand; but, what most people feel at the beginning of a relationship is infatuation or limerance. Love is a choice we make every day. Sometimes, it is an easy choice. Other times, it takes every ounce of our will and God’s grace to keep love afloat. The more a couple has in common, the easier their relationship will be over the years. When the magnetic attraction starts losing power and reality of who we are starts setting in, expectations rise to the surface. Couples who work through their values and expectations before tying the knot have a much better chance of avoiding the shock many newlyweds encounter instead of asking, “Who is this crazy person I married?”
No matter how cute and happy a couple we meet, we always recommend listing, reviewing, analyzing, and discussing values, expectations, and desires. Why? Because we want to see those smiles continue long after their wedding day. ~smile~
What are your values and your expectations of your future mate?