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Unmet expectations can destroy a marriage. Become aware of yours so you can help your spouse know and understand them, too.

Everyone has expectations for marriage and the way they think their partner should behave. We envision the perfect spouse with certain characteristics and abilities and we often carry over those expectations from the experiences we had growing up. In particular, how our parents acted in their marriage profoundly affects the way we think husbands and wives should act.

[Related: How’s Your Marriage Doing?]

The problem is that issues can come up when our expectations become assumptions and they don’t match up with the person our partner is. Having these unrealistic expectations can deter relationship’s overall success. But don’t worry, there are ways to avoid carrying these expectations into a relationship.

#1 Be Aware of Your Expectations

Often we are not even aware of these unrealistic expectations, but if we take some time to think about how we grew up and the way our parents’ roles operated, it can shed some light onto what we may expect in a partner. Did mom always pay the bills? Did dad always do the dishes? These things can vary dramatically from one household to another and even more so across cultures. Looking at our experiences and identifying things that were expectations in the household we grew up in is a good first step.

[Related: 3 Steps for Understanding Expectations]

#2 Discuss Your Expectations

Your spouse does not and will never have the ability to read your mind. If you do not actually sit down and talk about your expectations, they might never recognize a role that you expect them to take in your marriage. If you have certain expectations for things like birthdays, anniversaries, and family vacations, discuss them openly and honestly so that you can work out differences.

#3 Lower Your Expectations

People never fit perfectly into a box, and no spouse will ever meet the other person’s exact ideal for a mate. And equally as important, no spouse will ever serve the role of an entire community. Even just fifty years ago in the US, people relied on community for all varieties of support and a sense of belonging. Now, however, that sense of community is waning and couples are relying on their spouses for greater support. But we cannot expect the supportive environment of an entire community to be fulfilled by a single partner. So lower your expectations for your spouse and seek out others in your community for friendships, mentorships, and other supportive relationships.

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As you discuss these ideas with your partner, be open to compromise and serious discussion. As 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 describes, love is not selfish, so you need to be willing to make changes to your own expectations and open to the strengths and expectations that your partner has as well.

Talk About It
  1. What is your initial reaction to this topic? What jumped out at you?
  2. Read 1 Corinthians 13. What does it say about both the complexity and the necessity of love?
  3. What are some expectations you have or had regarding spouses? Where did those expectations come from?
  4. What are some unrealistic expectations you have for yourself in marriage? For your spouse?
  5. What are some ways you can start a productive conversation about expectations with your partner?
  6. Who are some members of your community or family who you can lean on for support and relationship?
  7. Write a personal action step based on this conversation.
This topic is adapted from the Biola University YouTube channel.