Dear Dr. Grace and Dr. Muehlhoff,
You’ve talked about lowering our expectations for marriage, meaning don’t have unrealistic, over-the-top expectations that our relationship or our spouse can never meet. In regards then to lowering our expectations, is it appropriate to set marriage goals like 1) not fighting over money, 2) not yelling, 3) being an active listener, or 4) having more sex? Is it realistic to set a goal such as not yelling so much? What do you think?
A Podcast Listener
We think it’s great to sit down for a conversation and come up with goals for your relationship.
However, it’s how you bring it up that’s going to be key. For instance, we would suggest something like, “I would like it if I argued and yelled less. I’d like it if I didn’t raise my voice as much. I want to work on those kind of things.” The key is to be gracious and not accuse your spouse of always being the one to raise his or her voice.
Psychologists say it takes 21 days to form a new habit, but we never want to give each other the grace to start a new habit. We want change right now. We have to remember though; it’s taken years to form that bad habit. So while it’s great to have goals, you have to extend grace to each other when the goals aren’t met (and they’re not always going to be met!). Especially if it’s a bad habit that you’ve slipped into as a couple, you simply need to give each other grace.
Also, you’ll want to regularly encourage each other by taking small steps and then reinforcing and affirming those small changes as they happen. Acknowledge each other’s efforts by saying something like, “Wow, honey, you’re doing such a great job! You’ve really kept your part of our agreement, and I appreciate it.”
So absolutely, set standards, set some goals, talk about what changes you would feel comfortable with, and then be gracious with each other when you fall a little bit short.
Christopher Grace serves as the director of the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships and teaches psychology at Rosemead School of Psychology. He and his wife, Alisa, speak regularly to married couples, churches, singles and college students on the topic of relationships, dating and marriage. Grace earned his M.S. and Ph.D. in experimental social psychology from Colorado State University.
Tim Muehlhoff is a professor of communication at Biola University and author of several books, including I Beg to Differ and Marriage Forecasting. His most recent publication, Defending Your Marriage, speaks to spiritual warfare in marriage and how to equip yourself to defend your relationship. For the past 18 years, he and his wife, Noreen, have been frequent speakers at FamilyLife marriage conferences. Muehlhoff regularly writes and speaks for the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships. Follow Dr. Muehlhoff on Twitter.