Expectations are necessary for all relationships. Without expectations, it would be impossible to function in a normal and healthy manner. It is important for a couple to recognize how expectations are communicated, how they function to make a relationship healthy or unhealthy, and how they are processed. If a couple doesn’t communicate their expectations in a clear, concise manner, they leave the door open for resentment, anger, and disappointment. With that in mind, here are five questions about expectations every couple should consider:
How are expectations communicated?
Verbalized—Verbalized expectations are when you explicitly state what you want or need from your spouse, or what each of you will do within the context of the relationship.
Projected—Projected expectations are not vocalized because you believe your spouse should instinctively know to do or not do something based on your own beliefs or life experiences.
Projected expectations are often unfair (how can your spouse do something he/she doesn’t know they are supposed to do?) and lead to resentment.
How are expectations expressed?
Roles—Role expectations are deciding who will do the physical tasks within the relationship (who takes out the trash, who manages the money, who takes care of the kids, etc.).
Character—Character expectations are the intangible qualities that are necessary for maintaining safety in a relationship (trust, integrity, faithfulness, etc.).
Character expectations are often exhibited through roles.
How are expectations perceived?
Unrealistic—Unrealistic expectations are when you expect too much out of yourself or your mate. This can come in the form of unrealistic expectations about one's skills and abilities, available time, access to resources, etc.
Realistic—Realistic expectations may (and sometimes should) still challenge you or your mate, but they will not create a level of wants that leads to perpetual disappointment or frustration.
Unrealistic expectations create pressure, diminish the quality of the relationship, and normally end in frustration and/or disappointment.
How long do expectations last?
Ongoing—Ongoing expectations are expectations that last throughout the relationship and will not change (For example, I expect my spouse will always be honest with me, or I expect my spouse will not cheat on me).
Seasonal—Seasonal expectations are expectations that are dependent on a particular stage of life or event, but may not be present for the entire relationship (For example, when a new baby is born, the husband may have to take over some of the roles the wife was normally expected to do prior to the new arrival, or when one spouse’s health declines the other spouse may need to readjust his/her expectations of mobility, or self-care, or intimacy, etc.).
Always be aware of the emotional needs that accompany both ongoing and seasonal expectations.
What do expectations reveal?
Love—Expectations that come from a place of love seek what is best for the marriage—what will lead to good communication, healthy conflict resolution, and an ongoing desire for personal self-evaluation and improvement.
Control—Expectations that come from a place of control quickly become intolerant, unforgiving demands that are forced on your mate to satisfy your own selfish nature rather than bless the marriage.
Loving expectations draw you closer to your mate as you draw closer to God. If you are not drawing closer to God as a couple, you may be seeking control rather than demonstrating love.
In a safe, strong relationship, a couple will regularly re-visit their expectations of each other, particularly during significant stages/changes in life. Having a healthy understanding of expectations allows for better communication, conflict resolution, decision-making, connectedness, intimacy, and spiritual growth. How long has it been since you and your mate honestly asked, “What are you expecting?”