Expectations are set by our standards and judged by our perception. Given that our standards can be flawed and our perception distorted, things can get ugly in a hurry – especially in marriage. We expect something we should not, we perceive that our expectations are being ignored, and we have clashes of different expectations.
Usually both husband and wife have expectations that exceed what their spouse is doing. One wants more neatness/order, one puts more value on family mealtime, or one thinks evenings should be kept quiet. When expectations are not met, there is disappointment, resentment, or anger. We tend to take it personally, seeing it as a slight or an attack. It’s difficult to see what our spouse is doing, or not doing, is a result of their expectations. Even more difficult is considering our spouse’s expectations as valid as ours.
In order to have a good marriage, differences in expectations must be resolved. At first, it may seem okay, but over time things pile up. Sometimes this result in an explosion of anger over something small – the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. Other times the piling up of unmet expectations leads to slowly drifting apart – a less obvious but more dangerous reaction.
The first task is to get all expectations on the table. Don’t just look at the big stuff, both of you need to share all your exceptions no matter how small or unimportant they may seem. If one of you tends to dismiss your own feelings or needs this will need to be addressed. Things not deal with can grow into big issues if ignored.
Once you have both shared all your expectations, deal first with differences where one of you feels there is an issue of right and wrong. I don’t mean right as in the whole civilized world knows this is the right way to hang the toilet paper – I mean right based on morality, sanitation, safety or sanity. For example, messy is one thing, garbage rotting is another. Liking to sleep 2AM to 10AM is odd but not unhealthy, wanting to sleep only four hours a night is a problem. These right/wrong things will go back to the underlying standards, and dealing with them on that level is the way to go.
Dealing with the things not based on right and wrong is more difficult. Maybe more difficult is classifying things as not about right or wrong. It’s human nature to feel that our way is the right way. Even if there is no moral, health, safety, or sanity reason for our way to be right, our way is still inherently better – in our own minds. It’s easy to think our spouse would be better off doing it our way, and so we call it loving to push them to do it our way. We can then tell ourselves it’s not about us getting our own way, but about wanting what is best for them. Don’t fall into this trap! What is best for you is often not what is best for her, and forcing her to do it your way is far from loving!
So what do you do when something is really just a matter of preference? My suggestion is to try to divide your expectations into those things you can live without and those that are necessarily to your mental or emotional well-being. Then look at the list of things you say you must have – is it a very big list? If it is, you are being unreasonable and making it very difficult for your bride. If she is, by nature, given to very few strong preferences, you might be okay – but it’s still rather unfair and you need to be aware of and thankful for her ability to go with your flow most of the time. Note I said her ability – because this is in fact a function of personality and temperament. If your bride is not able to go with whatever most of the time, you will need to work your “must have” list down in size.
Once you are down to the list of clashes where you each need something different, the real hard work starts. Can you each move a bit and meet in the middle? Is there a third alternative that is not either of the two or a compromise of the two? Can you take turns “getting your way?” Can you each sacrifice in a couple of areas? This is a very difficult thing to work through, but you will both be happier in the end, so keep at it.
Related: Dying to my preferences.