If you’re anything like me you’ve held your fair share of expectations. Things “must” be this way. Life “should” be fair, etc… Marriage can be a breeding ground for expectations and are just another form of a demand. Sure, expectations are great when they get met. The problem with living life and your marriage by expectations is that sooner or later they will not get met and then you’re in trouble. The majority of marriages struggle greatly when it comes to failure of expectations getting met.
I can hear it now, “marriage shouldn’t be this difficult”, “my partner should know me by now”, “they should only be attracted to me!”. Yeah, good luck with all that.
Healthy couples learn to manage their expectations
I understand that we all have preferences and values that we live our lives by and that we hope our partners are on the same page, but that’s much different from those things being absolute. The truth is marriage is tough. It’s a hard path to merge your life with someone else and face life together no matter what it brings your way. Healthy marriages tend to have several things in common; they tend to have realistic preferences for the way that the marriage runs (e.g. my partner is only human and can make mistakes). They tend to be resilient because they can avoid getting stuck on unmet expectations. They usually roll with the punches and see difficulty in the marriage as a challenge to overcome rather than a sign of failure. Healthy marriages tend to manage their expectations.
Now, it’s not too unreasonable to expect that your partner be monogamous. However, just because you expect it doesn’t mean it will happen. When couples try to salvage their marriage after an affair, one important piece is to accept that the partner cheated. Move past the expectation or demand that they “shouldn’t” have cheated, and focus your energy on that you “wish” they wouldn’t have and the healthy sorrow that follows from such an acknowledgement. The grieving period could then take place and the couple could work towards mending the relationship.
We all have the right as humans to demand and expect things and it’s quite human to do so.
The problem lies in the consequence of holding expectations and then not having them met. The dissonance can be quite jolting and usually takes some time to heal from. If we approach our marriages in a reasonable way, letting go of rigidly held demands and unrealistic expectations, we set the stage for growth and acceptance.
An alternative to rigid demands are conditional demands. Conditional demands are more balanced and are focused on consequences. An example would be, “IF you don’t remain monogamous, THEN I will not stay married to you”. Conditional demands acknowledge that the partner can choose what they want but that consequences will follow. Some of you may be thinking to yourself that this is merely a matter of semantics. You’re right!
Language is the symbolic representation of our internal state, or how we feel. What we tell ourselves in our heads and what we tell others are our thoughts. The conversation in our head can lead us to the feelings we experience and the behaviors that follow. When I work with couples that have demands I first work on helping them change their language, both towards themselves and their partner. By becoming conscious of your language and working to change it, you work towards changing how you feel.
Marriage can be challenging and can be even more so when you throw unrealistic expectations/demands into the mix. Give yourself and your partner a break and allow each other to be human. Don’t be afraid to express what you want and what you hope to get from the relationship.