Not What I Was Expecting: 6 Ways to Develop Healthy Marital Expectations

Last Saturday, I sat with some great friends and enjoyed some frozen yogurt while sharing stories of early “moments” in marriage where we may not have been at our best. First, I’m glad to have relationships where Anne and I can get together with others and laugh (still laughing about the Spam story). Laughter is a medicine to your soul (Prov. 17:22). It’s a necessity for a healthy emotional state. Secondly, it’s such a necessity to have relational outlets for you two to go out with two others (or more) and see how “normal” you are and how “normal” your journey (mistakes, successes, realizations, etc) are. Sometimes we get blinded by our “issues” and feel we are on an island by ourselves. Friendships let us know that we are not alone. We have others to journey with.

But walking away from that conversation, my mind when to the stories we heard, as well as the ones Anne and I shared, and realized that many of them had to do with one thing: expectations. Because if expectations are not navigated through correctly, it can develop a massive amount of disappointment…especially early in marriage.

Have you ever been let down? You’re probably picturing someone right now who has compromised your hope/expectations, and thus, giving you the feeling of disappointment. But understand: We’ve all been there. Anne and I visited “disappointment” often in our marriage, because, well, we’ve never been married before.  Our expectations came from the only references we had: our family and upbringing. Some of you may have been married before and carry a whole other level of expectations that, you may not realize, have manipulated your thoughts and emotions. Regardless of where they come from, we need to work hard at attacking unrealistic expectations so that we can walk in marital health.

Steven Furtick once said, “Frustration is born when our expectation doesn’t match our experience.” It’s a really great quote. I’ve adapted that into a teaching that I have shared (and drawn out) for so many couples to simply say:

Disappointment is the chasm between what we expected and what we experienced.

So many don’t want to admit it, but marriage, by design, is supposed to have disappointments. Why? You are different in so many ways. From being different sexes to the social differences of your upbringing. Your differences will naturally produce some disappointments. My heart today is not to completely eliminate them. I don’t think it’s possible. But perhaps we can close the chasm between what you are expecting and experiencing and create a way to navigate through them in a healthy way.

1 – Be willing to lay your expectations down and, perhaps, admit they may not be realistic. Humility produces a moldable marriage by showing that you don’t have to have your way AND the fact that you don’t have everything figured out. Proverbs 11:2 says, “Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” Humility to your heart likens to what farmers do to their fields in the spring; they churn the soil preparing it for seed, growth, and harvest.

2 – Set aside influences of discontent. From media, to family, to friendships, what are the sources of discontent? What is influencing your expectations that have you in a place unhappiness, envy, and displeasure?  It’s hard to feel full when you have outside sources trying to convince you that you are empty.  Proverbs 13:25, says “The godly eat to their hearts’ content, but the belly of the wicked goes hungry.” Why? Because their satisfaction isn’t based upon what fulfills their lives but what satisfies a moment.

(NOTE: This is where Anne and I have discovered our fullness in Christ.  Because if you do not find your fullness/contentment in Christ first, you will place expectations on your spouse, and others, they were never equipped to meet.)

Do you have outside influences of discontent? Keep them at arm’s length and draw near to Christ. This leads to #3…

3 – Increasing your exposure edifying influences. I’m not talking about chasing just what makes you “feel good.” I’m talking about pursuing resources and people who can mentor you into healthier expectations that will fill you with hope. Think about the sun. The more exposure you get to it, the more of an effect it’ll have on you (vitamin d, builds the immune system, can cure depression, etc.).  Edifying influences that build you up will have the same effect.

4 – Get rid of the critical tongue.  The Gottman Institutes says criticism is “a wish disguised…a negative expression of real need.” What needs to be done is to shut off the valve of criticism and to take responsibility for change.  Instead of unloading all blame for unmet expectations, you begin to own it and help shoulder the responsibilities of developing a healthy expectation. Critical spirits fractures the oneness between you and your spouse.  Introspective and humble hearts heal, fortify, and grow your marriage with realistic expectations.

5 – Form realistic goals together. This can’t be done by one or the other. By forming expectations that have been thought through AND prayed through by the BOTH of you, you will help set your marriage up for a journey of hope. Have periodic sit-downs to not just cast vision for what to expect but also as a look back at how those expectations have been, or are being, met. Some great areas to look at and develop healthy expectations: Quality time together, home responsibilities, spiritual life, sexual relationship, money management, and parenting.

6 – Keep talking. I believe couples face more disappointment than they need to experience because they have a “set it and forget it” with their expectations. Don’t stop talking and shaping/adjusting what to expect.  Communication is the oil of the engine of marriage. And the more you tend to what makes your marriage flow, the better you will traverse through issues of expectations and experiences and, thus, see less and less disappointment.

Today, start closing the chasm of disappointment by developing healthy expectations that will lead to healthy experiences. It begins by shaping your mind and communicating your heart. Don’t lose hope.  See your marriage through the eyes of God. Proverbs 23:18 says, “There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.” 

If you have Christ, you already have more than enough hope in Him. Embrace it. Walk in it. 


Thanks for letting me ramble…

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