Our wedding day felt like a blur, as my hubby and I giddily anticipated spending the rest of our lives together. We envisioned love, passion, fun, adventure, friendship, growth, accountability, babies, and a flurry of other idyllic blessings. The last thing on our minds was the possibility of contending with unmet expectations in our union. Like many newlywed couples, we figured that the love we sensed so strongly would ensure that we had a dreamy, fulfilling marriage.
The mere fact that marriage is the union of two imperfect people means that each of you will fall short of each other's expectations from time to time. Your spouse may forget your birthday or your wedding anniversary. This does not mean that you got hitched to a mean, unloving spouse. On the contrary, it often means that you are married to a full-fledged human being, complete with their fair share of flaws, just like you.
Unmet expectations are often a breeding ground for resentment in marriage. Spouses may start feeling like they got the short end of the stick. When God designed marriage, he was fully aware that he was commissioning two imperfect people to become one. For this to happen, he was not going to take away their weaknesses. But as the two imperfect people sought to live in obedience to his will, he would enable them to become one despite their shortcomings.
Here are five thoughts to consider when dealing with unmet expectations in marriage.
Your spouse, just like you, is imperfect. No matter how willing they are to bend over backwards and enthuse you, ticking all your boxes, they are bound to flop at some point. They will forget to call or text you when things get too hectic at work. They may be too exhausted in the evening and sneak into bed before you get home. Spouses need to bear with each other’s failings and consistently forgive one another.
“bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13).
Paul implores us to forgive and bear with each other whenever we have complaints against each other. Unmet expectations translate into complaints, and Paul gives us the perfect antidote. His antidote may not be pleasing and easy for us, but it's God's will for us. Additionally, forgiving and bearing with each other does not come off as a suggestion but rather as a command in the above scripture. Scripture uses the word “must” when talking about forgiveness. Because marriage is the closest human relationship, spouses are bound to disagree and bump heads every so often. But just as Christ bears with our failings and forgives us over and over, we too must bear with and forgive our spouses.
Forgiving does not mean that we allow a spouse to abuse us. Matthew 18:15-20 offers us a path for dealing with someone who injures us and those steps involve calling out injustice and holding one another accountable. Jesus even mentions boundary setting that includes separation if there is not repentance.
It's important to toss out any unrealistic expectations you have in marriage. We are each raised with unspoken assumptions about who should do what, or what the "normal" approach is to a given topic in your family. But every family is different, and your assumptions are not a given. Sometimes we forget that our spouses have no capacity to meet all our needs and live up to our idyllic expectations. Our spouses can’t be expected to know our minds or meet all of our needs. You will have to negotiate new ways of doing things that are not that same as the way you grew up.
Perhaps as a husband, you expect that your wife will always be cheerful, dolled up, and have a hot meal ready every evening. Perhaps as a wife, you expect that your knight in shining armor will always be at hand to meet your needs and remove life’s hurdles. Or perhaps you expect you will do every task together, fifty-fifty. But none of that is a given. Be prepared to consider that your own assumptions about normal is not universal.
Scrutinize your unmet expectations and separate the wheat from the chaff. Find out which are realistic and focus on those. For example, it's realistic to expect that your spouse will be faithful, respectful, and harbor no secrets from you. Spend your time and energy on realistic expectations and discard the rest.
Does your spouse know that you relish getting out for a date night or lunch each week? Have you let them know that it would mean the world to you if they accompanied you on an outing? Sometimes we get flustered about unmet expectations yet we have never articulated our needs clearly to our spouses. We expect that our spouses know us so magically well that we shouldn't have to voice our needs and desires, yet only God knows our hearts and is capable of caring for all of our needs.
Sadly, your expectations may remain unmet till you state them clearly to your spouse. Two cannot walk together unless they are agreed (Amos 3:3). It's unfair to expect your spouse to read your mind and figure out what floats your boat. Instead, spell it out clearly to them.
Every evening, Suzy’s dad would round the whole family up for bible study at the dinner table. When Suzy got married to Dave, she expected that he would be the one leading their household in bible study. Seven years later, Suzy was still waiting for the day Dave would take up “his” role. One day Suzy spewed out her frustrations to her best friend, who challenged her to go ahead and kickstart the study. Suzy was surprised by the result that Dave actually enjoyed it and offered to lead his family through the study three days each week.
Do you feel exasperated as you wait for your spouse to fulfill an unmet need in your marriage? Are you in a position to close that glaring gap? If it's within your power to provide something missing in your marriage, go right ahead. Many of us get into marriage expecting our spouses to serve us but God wants us to prioritize serving them. Our master Jesus declared that He did not come to be served but to serve (Mark 10:45). Adopting a servant attitude in your marriage will inject life into your relationship.
“For He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness.” (Psalm 107:9)
When all is said and done, only God can satisfy the human soul. Your spouse can meet your needs somewhat, but only God can infiltrate the recesses of your heart and fill up the voids. So instead of expecting your spouse to meet all your needs, make sure you are seeking God first through prayer, reading the word, and in fellowship with other believers.