“Truly loving another means letting go of all expectations. It means full acceptance, even celebration of another’s personhood.” ~Karen Casey
In a previous article, Premarital Counseling: Questions to Ask Before You Get Married, we examined five essential questions to help couples prepare for the gifts and challenges that come with married life.
Today we are going to delve a little deeper into one of the questions discussed in the Premarital Counseling Questions article:
How do you envision married life?
Your answer to this question is partly based on your hopes and dreams, and largely based on the relationship expectations you learned throughout your life.
Identifying and understanding how your relationship expectations impact you (and your spouse/partner) is an important step in preparing for marriage. Relationships are more fulfilling when our expectations are met, and frustrations mount when our expectations are not realized.
Why Are Expectations So Prevalent?
Expectations are beliefs which help you anticipate what will happen in your life. They give a sense of control (or the illusion of control) and predictability to our lives, at times helping us prepare for what is likely to unfold. For instance, expecting that your husband will react defensively about a particular issue can help you approach the subject in a sensitive way.
Where Do Your Relationship Expectations Come From?
We all have expectations about what love and married life will be like—your expectations about how life is and how life ought to be will have a powerful impact on your marital experience.
Your relationship expectations are shaped by the influential relationships you experienced and observed throughout your life (e.g., how your parents interacted with each other; how they dealt with you; the messages you received about love and married life, as well as your early dating experiences all go into forming your relationship expectations).
And it’s not just past experiences that impact your expectations: The information you choose to focus on and surround yourself with also influences your expectations/opinions about marriage and relationships (for instance, surrounding yourself with friends who hold pro-marriage attitudes compared to friends who are cynical and bad-mouth committed relationships).
Is It Bad to Have Relationship Expectations?
Expectations are not inherently good or bad. Marriage/relationship problems can arise, however, when your expectations are unrealistic, rigid, or set you up for failure. Couples find themselves in a bind when their expectations are not consistent with one another’s. This is especially troublesome when you didn’t realize that your partner holds an expectation significantly different from an expectation that you value highly.
For instance, you expected that you and your partner would attend religious services each week and that the two of you would share a spiritual connection that would deepen intimacy.
However, down the road, you realized that your partner held radically different expectations and that s/he has a take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward spirituality. The key here is not to try to change your partner’s mindset (since you really can only ever guarantee a change within yourself), but knowing these expectations beforehand will prevent major conflicts and disappointments that result when different expectations are sprung on you. Couples also get into trouble when they hold the expectation that their expectations are set in stone and will never change or grow or evolve. Since people change and grow and evolve, so will expectations.
Let’s get back to our question, How do you envision married life?
To help you tease out your response to this important question, I’d like you to reflect on 5 more premarital counseling questions:
1. Think about and describe a particularly difficult or unhealthy relationship you were exposed to as a child. What specific relationship expectations could you imagine that someone would learn from this relationship?
2. Based upon your response to the previous question, what negative expectations might you hold and what negative relationship pattern(s) might you be vulnerable to repeating in your own marriage/relationship—especially when you’re under stress?
3. Out of all the marriages/relationships you’ve observed throughout your life, which relationship stands out as the best and why?
4. What specific relationship expectations did you learn from these positive relationships (about communication, conflict, intimacy, sharing, etc)?
5. Which specific aspects of this positive relationship would you like to emulate in your own marriage? And what steps can you take to do this each day?
Take your time in answering these questions (and share them with your spouse/partner). As any marriage/couples counselor will tell you, the clearer you and your partner are about each other’s expectations, the more likely healthy communication and harmony will be part of your union.
Planning to marry or in a new relationship?
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Wishing you and your relationship all the best!
Dr. Rich Nicastro