“I was expecting you to wash the dishes and do laundry because you love me.” – a stereotypical expectation from a newlywed wife.
“I was expecting you to ask me to do it.” – a stereotypical expectation from a newlywed husband.
Unmet expectations lead to contempt and conflict. Expectations in marriage go unmet for one of two reasons:
- It is too early in your marriage to expect that thing.
- You haven’t expressed the expectation.
Keaton was bummed to learn that Sawyer would not be born walking and talking. She wanted someone to run and jump and play with. The first time we talked about it, she said: “when I was a baby, I walked and talked, so Sawyer will too.” (Note that she also gave herself more credit than she deserved).
Some newlyweds fall for the same starry-eyed, blue sky expectations. Just as you cannot expect a newborn to walk and talk, so you cannot expect some things early in a marriage. They will come if you communicate well.
Newlyweds are not the only victims. Couples married for a long time aren’t so starry-eyed, but they do get complacent. That is why it is important to maintain your marriage.
Here is a short list of toxic expectations in marriage. I’ve kept the discussion one sided. You are the one reading this, not your spouse. You cannot change your spouse, but you can change yourself.
If you read articles about marriage, use them to change yourself, not to send your spouse on a guilt trip.
Expectations of your spouse to read your mind
This is an expectation that “common sense” already tells us is bad. The problem is that common sense must be uncommon – especially in new marriages.
No one is telepathic. Say what you think. Say what you feel. Make it safe for your spouse to do the same.
This is the most basic toxic expectation. All the others are variations on this theme.
Expectations of your spouse to speak their mind
You might have married to someone who is blunt and outspoken. If that is your case, then this part does not apply to you. If that is not your case, it takes a lot of trust and safety for shy people to share their thoughts.
If your spouse is naturally shy, you will have to work harder to create safety for them to share their thoughts.
If there is pent-up hurt between you, you must repair the hurt to create safety.
Expectations of your spouse to know your heart when you haven’t shared your mind
You might do the wrong thing for the right reasons. At least in Western cultures, we expect some grace when that is the case. This is “the end justifies the means” thinking.
If your spouse does not know the thinking behind your actions, they do not know your motives. If they do not know your motives, they cannot give grace.
Your hands do things because of what came through your head from your heart. The link between hands and heart is the head. The link between behavior and emotions is thinking. Share your mind so that your spouse can know your heart.
Expectations of your spouse to share their heart when you haven’t heard their mind
This is the other side of the coin for the expecting your spouse to know your heart. If you haven’t made a safe space for your spouse to share their thoughts, they will not share their emotions.
You have no right to feel distant from a spouse that you have alienated.
Expectations of your spouse to “just know”
“Why didn’t you pick up milk on the way home?”
“I didn’t know we were out of milk.”
Expectations of your spouse to “just trust you”
Love might be blind. Trust is not. Saying, “just trust me” is actually saying one of these:
- “I don’t trust you to agree with me. I can make you the villain for not trusting me. If you disagree with me and I take it personally, then I’m the villain.”
- “I don’t want to share enough information with you for you to trust me. If I do share, I’ll get caught doing something I shouldn’t have been.”
- “I don’t have the skills to communicate with you about this.”
Expectations of your spouse to deliver on your blind trust
No matter how alike the two of you are, you have mutual strengths and weaknesses. If you both have all the information that goes into a major decision, then you both have a chance to manage risk. If one person holds all the cards, you are not playing the game together.
This does not mean that you need to micromanage every little thing. It does mean that you need to be part of major decisions.
Expectations of your spouse to distinguish needs from wants
Even when you share basic values, you may set different priorities. You have different personalities. What you see as a non-negotiable need, your spouse may see as a want. Make sure they know the difference.
Be clear about your needs, or you are as responsible for your unmet need as your spouse. Sometimes it takes reminding. There is a point where reminding goes too far, but it is usually okay. Give the amount of grace you expect.
- What other toxic expectations have you noticed in yourself?
- Which of these hits home for you?
- What are you going to do about it?