12 Common Marriage Expectations
Alisa Grace - October 12, 2015
The handsome husband and I were not married very long before I began to realize that mowing the lawn was not a high priority on his to-do list. Everyday I would pull up in front of our little rental house and groan because (to me) it looked like an abandoned shack with weeds and grass ankle-deep. Our neighbors would give us the evil eye as we would come and go in the mornings (or so I thought). So occasionally I would toss out a hint here and there, noting how tall the grass was growing. Surely he would get the hint and get out there to mow the lawn!
After a while, I noticed that this lawn issue really began to bug me. “Why won’t he just mow the stupid lawn?” In fact, one time I was seven-months pregnant, and he arrived home to find me mowing the lawn (I know, NOT a great idea on my part). He rightly asked me to come inside the house and told me how embarrassing it was to him for me to be pregnant and mowing the lawn in front of the whole neighborhood.
Can you see the cycle of conflict we were caught up in? Why was it that I expected him to mow the lawn regularly? In fact, why did I expect him to mow the lawn at all? Did I ever share with him that this was my expectation of him as the man of the house? Was it even a realistic expectation?
You might guess that I grew up in a home where my dad loved to manicure our yard every weekend. So without thinking about it, I just assumed that my husband would do that as well. And we soon discovered that the lawn wasn’t the only unspoken expectation that either of us had.
The thing with expectations is that we usually don’t even realize we have them until they are not met. This is particularly true of newlyweds. Once you say “I do” and start living together on a daily basis, that’s when issues begin to surface. Yet, all too often we fail to even talk about them, which usually results in conflict.
"The thing with expectations is that we usually don’t even realize we have them until they are not met."
And it’s certainly not limited to newlyweds. In fact many couples discover and even develop new expectations throughout their years together. And while some new ones may develop over time, there are some common expectations that seem to surface regularly for all couples. See if you might identify with some of them listed below.
12 Common Marriage Expectations
- Money: Spender vs. Saver? Will we join our bank accounts? Who will manage our money? What will we spend our money on? When do we need to check with the other before spending? What are our savings goals?
- Sex/Romance/Affection: How often will we be sexually intimate? What’s OK in the bedroom and what’s not? Non-sexual intimacy vs. sexual intimacy? Are PDA’s (public displays of affection) ok? Cuddling?
- In-laws/Extended Family: How much time will we spend with them weekly, monthly, yearly? How involved will they be in our relationship? How will we divide holidays between yours and mine?
- Kids: Discipline styles? Activities: Which ones and how much? How much time away will we take from our kids weekly, monthly, yearly? Which of us will stay home with the kids or will we put them in childcare? Who will provide childcare – a daycare or family? What kind of schooling?
- Holidays/Celebration: How, where, when with whom will we celebrate? Are birthdays/anniversaries a big deal? Will we celebrate Valentines Day? If so, how?
- Chores: Who does what? Do we fall into gender stereotypes? Are we ok with that? Will we hire someone to do them?
- Organized vs. Disorganized: Tidy vs. messy? Structured vs. free spirit? Planner vs. spontaneous?
- Entertainment/Vacations: Differing vacation/relaxation styles? For date nights, will we go out or stay home? Vacay or staycay? Hotel vs. camping? Mountains vs. tropical beach? Movie vs. museum vs. ballgame? How will we spend our down time: Productive or mindless?
- Communication: Talker vs. quiet? Differing styles: internal processor vs. external processor? Are we emotionally available to each other (e.g., available, responsive, engaged)?
- Conflict Styles: Avoider vs. pursuer? Passive aggressive vs. direct?
- Spiritual: What is a “spiritual leader”? Who will be the spiritual leader? Where will we go to church? How much will we be involved/volunteer? Will we pray together? Quiet times together? If so, when? How often?
- Work/Career: We will ever work overtime? Will we travel for work? If so, how much is ok? Are we willing to relocate if necessary? Does work-related stress spill into home-life? Will we both have a full-time career?
Problems develop because we assume the other person shares our expectations. But when something doesn’t go the way we think it should, we feel frustrated, disappointed, even angry.
“Well of course we’ll spend the holidays with my family first and then yours. It just wouldn’t be Christmas for me if we didn’t!”
“Did she leave her clothes on the bedroom floor again? The clothes hamper is right there.”
“Why can’t we leave the kids with your sister and get a weekend away together?”
It is also important to identify where your expectations come from. Our family-of-origin is primarily responsible. We assume everyone does it that way because that’s how it was done in our family. Culture also exerts a strong influence on our expectations. To borrow a line from Iron Man, “That's how Dad did it, that's how America does it, and it's worked out pretty well so far.”
We are not saying that all expectations are necessarily bad. We all have them. The point is we need to be aware of them and talk about them.
7 steps couples should take to address unmet expectations
According to marriage and family therapist Willa Williams, here are seven steps couples (and anyone else, for that matter) can take to turn the nightmare of unmet expectations into a genuine opportunity to grow their relationship and become teammates again!
- Identify your expectations as well as your partners’.
- Try to see each other’s perspective. Validate your spouse’s perspective and acknowledge that it is not necessarily better or worse than yours – it is just different, and that’s OK.
- Be willing to compromise. Set aside your own desires and work to meet your mate’s expectations, especially when they’re different from your own. This is the perfect opportunity to put Paul’s words into action:
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others..” – Philippians 2:3-4 (ESV)
- Determine what are deal-breakers for you versus things you can compromise on.
- Collaborate together to determine how “we” want to handle these issues in “our” family from now on. Decide to approach it as teammates – not adversaries.
- Identify a solution that will make it a win/win for both of you. (Remember, if only one of you wins, you both lose). If it can’t be a win/win, then find a way to equally compromise or take turns compromising.
- Then, come back together after a specified amount of time, evaluate your solution and discuss how it went for each of you. Then make adjustments as necessary.
“Thank you for mowing the lawn each Saturday this last month (acknowledge the effort). I know it’s a lot of work for you on your day off, so I really appreciate that you did it (show appreciation). How did it go for you? Was it helpful for me to do the edging while you mowed (willingness to compromise)? Is there anything you would like to do differently this next month (ask for feedback/input)? ”
By being aware of your own expectations, as well as your spouse’s, and showing a willingness to not only compromise, but to put your mate’s preferences ahead of your own, you’ll avoid the frustrations and pain of unmet expectations and actually build a closer, stronger relationship.
Alisa Grace ('92) serves as the co-director of the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships where she also co-teaches a class called "Christian Perspectives on Marriage and Relationships." While she speaks and blogs regularly on topics such as dating relationships, marriage, and love, she also loves mentoring younger women and newly married couples, speaking at retreats and providing premarital counseling. Alisa and her husband, Chris, have been married over 30 years and have three wonderful children: Drew and his wife Julia, Natalie and her husband Neil, and their youngest blessing, Caroline.