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Dealing With Unrealistic Expectations In Marriage

by Greg Baker  
4/21/2010 / Marriage

Everyone has expectations. I met a guy once who argued that point. He told me that he had no expectations in life. I challenged him with, "You go to school right? If you answer all the questions on a test, do you expect the professor to give you an A?" He was quiet for a moment, and then sighed. "Well," he muttered, "I guess I do." He did. He does. And so do you.

Everyone has expectations of things. In marriage, we enter it expecting certain things. No one looks at someone else and says, "If I marry you, I'll be so utterly miserable that I'll want to quit on everything. Will you marry me?" No we expect things. We expect our mate to be faithful to us. We expect our spouse to love us. We expect our friends to back us up. We expect things from the government, from our boss, from our coworkers, and from life itself. We are full of expectations.


1. From our own desires. From things we want, or like to have.

2. From what we think we deserve. Even the Declaration of Independence says we deserve some things. Most people think this way too.

3. From what we are used to. We all grow up differently. But we all grow up a certain way. That 'way' becomes familiar, and normal. We come to expect that.

4. From observation of potential. Gambling is an example of this. Casinos feed this expectation. You know that the odds are against you, but you know there is a potential that you can win. You see others winning. So you play expecting to eventually win. But on a more practical note, you observe a friend's generosity, and you come to expect the same level of giving in the future.


A common scenario that I deal with in my Church is this: She is a clean freak. Her mother was a clean freak. She grew up with everything in its spot, in its proper location. She can't abide untidiness. But he grew up in a rather sloppy environment. It wasn't filthy, but clutter was the norm. They get married. Not too long after the honeymoon, a common scene can be witnessed at their house. He comes home after work, dumps his shoes in the hallway, tosses his jacket on the back of the couch, plops down on a chair, opens the mail, and then leaves all of it on the end table. Not too many months later, she's fit to be tied. She's nagging him, yelling at him, calling him a slob, a pig, and so forth. The problem: their expectations don't match.

If she is a 10 and he is a 1 they've got a huge problem. This disparity in expectations will only drive her crazy. He'll feel pressured, and begin to wonder what he got himself into. A little clutter, in his opinion, is no big deal. So why is she making it so? He loses his sensitivity, and before long neither can say a civil word to each other.

Problems always crop up when there is a disparity in expectations.


Scenario: He is an 8. She is a 3.

1. He could lower his expectations to where she is. This usually doesn't work. But he can lower it to, say, a 5.

2. She can raise hers to an 8. But that is probably too much for her to manage. She'll be overwhelmed. She could, however, compromise and raise her expectations of herself to a 5 and work on it.

3. If you can't fix it. Don't complain about it. If she is simply incapable of doing better than a 3, anything that you do will only make things worse. Learn to live with it.

4. Any progress ought to be praised. If she tries hard and makes a 5 and he still complains about it, she'll give up. She will feel that she tried, but that he didn't even notice, or that he doesn't even care. She won't try anymore after that. She'll do what she's always done.

5. Compromise. This has already been mentioned in #'s 1 and 2, but so much of a successful marriage or relationship is compromise. Find a middle that is acceptable to both of you. It may not be ideal for him, but his acceptance of her effort will please her enormously.

6. Talk about your differing expectations. Try to understand the reasons-see above-and build understanding. He is much more apt to be lenient if he understands where she is coming from. She may be more interested in improvement if she understands why he feels the way he does. Learn to express yourself.

7. See a mediator or counselor. Not a friend or relative-that rarely works. Someone impartial who has the relationship's best interest at heart. Let them give ideas on a compromise, or other possible solutions.

8. Make sure your expectations aren't flat out unrealistic. It's not fair to expect something that she can't possibly do. Don't look for perfection, look for progress.

These should give you enough insight to make a dent in these differing expectations. God bless you.

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