Building Better Marriages
By Rob Furlong
Clarifying expectations is vital
I have been reading and thinking about expectations in the context of marriage, and what interests me in the definition supplied by the Oxford Dictionary is the conviction that an expectation is something that is virtually certain, based on what someone believes.
ex¦pect|ation (noun) A strong belief that something will happen or be the case.
Every relationship is influenced by expectations – parents and children, husbands and wives, close friendships – and when expectations are not met tensions begin to surface.
"You didn't call me on my birthday – don't I matter to you?"
"Your school report tells me you are not trying – why can't you apply yourself like Melinda?"
"We have missed the garbage pick up again – why can't you remember to put the bins out?"
An author I read recently pointed out that "we expect other people to know what we want before we say it" and this is where expectations create problems in relationships.
Karen and I learnt early in our marriage the value of clearly communicating our expectations to each other in loving ways, even in the seemingly insignificant things.
I am a bit OCD when it comes to the way I like to have my shirts hung in the wardrobe – all in the same direction which makes it easier when you take them out – so imagine my surprise when I discovered that the girl I married hung them in there any old way!
I had a choice. I could simply "suck it up" and learn to adapt or I could have a potentially embarrassing conversation with my then young bride and explain to her my preference. (I say embarrassing because I genuinely feared that she would think I was some sort of pedantic, shirt hanging wardrobe loony!)
So I approached her sensitively, explained that it probably seemed silly to her, that I was not angry but would she mind if...? And her response? She had a quiet, understanding laugh about it (we both did), thanked me for telling her and said she didn't mind hanging them my way at all.
The way we both approached that seemingly insignificant situation has become a foundation for our marriage that we have both endeavoured to build upon for over 34 years. That does not mean that we have always got it right but the commitment to be clear with each other in communicating our expectations in loving and humble ways is stronger than it has ever been.
How do we clarify expectations?
In her marriage enrichment program, The Third Option, Pat Ennis points out expectations in a relationship "are only valid when they have been mutually agreed upon" and to clarify expectations couples need to ask some important questions:
"Did either of us know that we had this expectation?"
"Is it reasonable?"
"Have we told each other about it or have we just assumed the other person should know?"
Such questions are important when considered in the light of the definition that I gave at the top of this page. If I have a "strong belief" that Karen should respond in a certain way and I think it "will happen", what happens to me emotionally when she doesn't do as I expected?
I might become angry, hurt, disappointed...or all of these! But if she is unaware of my expectation, if I have not clearly communicated it, then who is at fault? Instead of living in a fog of perpetual disappointment because I think she keeps on letting me down, I must take the time to lovingly and graciously communicate my expectations to her as well as asking myself if they are reasonable and something that we can both agree upon.
Unclear and unreasonable expectations can profoundly damage any relationship so taking the time as a couple to share and agree on each other's expectations will not only enrich your marriage, it just makes good sense!