Becoming Self-Aware in Marriage: How to Identify Unmet Expectations and What to Do Next
Your expectations powerfully define your experience in this life.
As one of my favorite authors Anne Ortlund says,
“Life is determined by what happens between your ears.”
Or as my mother-in-law aptly puts it,
“Life is all about expectations.”
Yet so many of us muddle through life not knowing ourselves, not understanding that we hold expectations of those around us, which may or may not be truly justified. And which may or may not be actually spoken.
Nonetheless, since we’re unaware of their existence, we allow them to hold unyielding power over our happiness.
We are in bondage to these things of our own creation.
We don’t realize that the reason for our dissatisfaction has more to do with us than within those very people and situations. And this is perhaps never more true than in our marriages.
Throughout the past almost-six years of marriage, I’ve had many a hard-fought, tooth-and-nail, internal battle with my own expectations of my husband.
No matter how justified or unjustified they may be, I assume that they are stone-clad realities because I feel them. I think them. I was raised that way. It’s difficult to take a step back from that and reconsider their true imperativeness to my happiness.
And, while my husband is a more-accepting person than I, he too has had to let go of or talk through many of his own unmet expectations with me. It’s a two way street.
Finding the middle ground has been a lengthy process, but an essential one for our relationship.
The first step in this process of becoming self-aware is to discover exactly what expectations you hold and how they’re affecting your marriage. The most important to identify are those that are not being met.
Here are some questions to ask yourself.
Questions to Ask Yourself when Examining Your Expectations
- What do I expect my spouse to do that is not happening? (i.e. ask me questions about my day, anticipate my needs and serve me without being asked, pitch in more with housework, take responsibility for the kids needs when we’re both present, etc.)
- Why do I believe my expectations are justified? (Think about your rationale, your family of origin, what your friends’ husbands do for them)
- Why does my spouse have different expectations? Give this an honest examination, trying to see things from his perspective, or just ask him.
- Is my spouse fully aware of my unmet expectations? Sometimes we fail to actually make these known, but still get quite put out when they’re not met.
- Is it reasonable for me to consider changing my expectations to match reality for a more peaceful internal life and relationship? I know our “inner selves” strongly rebel against this idea because we feel so justified, but sometimes we need to reconsider for everyone’s best interests.
Once you’ve reflected on these five points, you have three primary courses of action.
Three Main Courses of Action
1. Fully let it go and accept “reality”
This is appropriate for any expectations you feel called by God to lay aside. Maybe you are constantly miffed that your husband doesn’t put away his laundry in a timely manner, but maybe God would have you make a conscious choice to serve him by doing this for himmoving forward.
You can accept this role and receive freedom in your marriage from “unmet expectations.” You can give up your “right” to nag or be passive-aggressive or frustrated about something that’s ultimately not worth it.
You can serve your husband selflessly and know that God is honored by that choice. It’s what He has done for us. He rewards that.
“Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” Luke 6:38 (ESV)
For more on this read A Call to Selfless Serving: Keeping an Eye on Eternity
The times when I’ve chosen to do this, it’s been easy to see that those unmet expectations were, in fact, not so big a deal as I had first thought. However, that conclusion never comes until after I have consciously chosen to lay them aside.
2. Have an honest conversation with your spouse
Just because you know your expectations doesn’t mean you should necessarily change them.
This exercise might be most beneficial in giving you and your husband language to have the conversation and build understanding of one another.
Hopefully through talking in an humble yet honest way, you’ll be able to reach a mutual agreement and both make changes.
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” James 1:19 (NIV)
3. Gain self-understanding
There are some expectations that cannot and should not be given up (such as the expectation of marital faithfulness). I also know that there are some marriages with deep issues that will not be solved through a simple conversation.
If that’s you, realizing the role expectations play in your life can still be both empowering and comforting, even if there is no immediate course of action but to pray.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5
What role have expectations played in your life and marriage?