Learn how to identify the two most dangerous expectations in marriage and open the door to a healthy relationship with your spouse.
On day one of our honeymoon, I was looking forward to relaxing. For me that meant reading and having deep conversations with my new wife. After our crazy season of wedding preparation, I assumed Diane would feel the same way. But she wanted to hike and explore and go places and was convinced that’s what I wanted to do as well. In the end, we went for a long hike and had a deep discussion about expectations. We addressed them early enough that they didn’t threaten the well-being of our new marriage.
Clear expectations open the door to healthy relationships. But when we don’t communicate or handle our expectations well, they can wreak havoc on our marriages. Let’s consider two of the most dangerous expectations in marriage so we can identify them when they pop up and deal with them in a healthy way.
Unrealistic expectations of yourself
“I found a great throw pillow on sale today,” Diane told me. “It’s the exact color we’ve been looking for to go with the living-room couch. It was $30, but it’s marked down to $6. Do we have enough money in the budget to get it?”
“Yes,” I lied. “Of course.”
We didn’t have $6. It was early in our marriage, and money was tight. Since I handled the finances, Diane was just asking if we could afford to get the pillow. Yet I assumed that if I told her the truth, she would be disappointed — not just that she couldn’t buy the pillow, but in me as a provider as well.
I believed that because I was the husband, I should be good at handling money. In truth, I was terrible at it, but I tried to cover up my inadequacy, which made everything worse.
I put our finances at risk because I expected I could be a perfect husband, and that was more important to me than being honest with Diane. Worse, my wife wasn’t getting to know the real me because I was hiding behind a false image of myself. I could never meet my own expectation in marriage, but rather than let it go, I clung to it — until she learned the truth when checks bounced and creditors called. That led to tough conversations that were embarrassing for me, but it also forced us to be honest with each other.
I had to admit that I wasn’t good with finances. My gift was creativity, but Diane was gifted with logic and order. So she took over the budget, and we both relaxed. I came to realize that not being able to handle our finances didn’t mean I wasn’t a good husband or provider.
Our spouses don’t need us to be perfect; they just need us to be honest and authentic. Had I been up-front with Diane about our finances and my failure in managing them, we could have worked out a solution together rather than waiting until the truth seeped out and the problems were bigger and more consequential.
Unrealistic expectations of your spouse
The first time I put away the dishes in our new home, I didn’t tell Diane I had done it. I wanted her to notice and tell me how amazing I was. But she didn’t notice, and I was hurt. Then I got quiet, hoping she would figure out what was wrong. She didn’t notice that either.
Expecting our spouses to be mind readers can lead to untold misunderstandings and arguments, withdrawal and a loss of intimacy. Fortunately, I slowly realized that being a mind reader wasn’t in Diane’s skill set. By placing that expectation on her, I was disrespecting her. She needed me to honor her by communicating exactly what I wanted her to know, understand or do.
When we moved into our current house 15 years ago, we noticed how dated the baseboards looked. We replaced them one room at a time but never got around to the guest room. The room needed new carpeting, so we figured we’d update the baseboards then. But finances got tight, and the old carpet remained.
One day, I noticed those baseboards had never been painted. I decided to tackle them even though we still hadn’t replaced the old carpet. So I pulled back the furniture and gave those baseboards a fresh coat of white paint.
When Diane came home, I didn’t wait for her to notice. I simply said, “Could you come into the guest room so you can ooh and aah over the baseboards I painted?”
She grabbed my hand, and we walked into the guest room together. She slowly looked around and playfully said, “Ooh! Aah!” Then she followed up with a genuine compliment: “This looks like a totally different room. The new paint lightens the whole place. You did a great job. Thanks!”
It was direct. It was fun. And the respect and praise I received from her lasted several days. Why? Because I told her exactly what I needed.
Simple solutions for expectations in marriage
We can neutralize these dangerous expectations in marriage by applying two simple solutions. First, we need to adjust our expectations of ourselves and our spouses. I’ve learned that I don’t need to be perfect to be a good spouse. I love my wife best by being myself with her. I also honor her when I share what I’m thinking instead of expecting her to be a mind reader.
The second solution is to communicate openly and honestly with each other. It takes some humility, but once we start connecting authentically, conversations about expectations become easier. Engaging in real dialogue with our spouses helps us learn what each person really desires. That builds trust, which is the foundation of any healthy relationship. It starts with a simple statement like “Hey, honey, let me tell you what I’m thinking” or “Can I share with you what’s going on?”
When a couple get married, two separate people become one (Matthew 19:5). Expectations in marriage can divide us and ultimately harm our relationship if we don’t talk about them. But sharing our expectations and listening to each other with an open mind draws us closer and safeguards our love.
© 2022 Mike Bechtle. Used by permission. All rights reserved. This article first appeared in the October/November 2022 issue of Focus on the Family magazine as “What Do You Expect?”