Marriage Expectations: Everything You Need to Know

by | Last updated Apr 17, 2024

Marriage is a beautiful journey with the potential for immense growth, love, and fulfillment. But even the strongest marriages can be challenged by the weight of marriage expectations—both spoken and unspoken. Understanding what we expect from our partners and ourselves within the context of marriage plays a vital role in laying a foundation for a healthy, long-lasting relationship.

In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at marriage expectations, exploring:

  • What they are
  • Common expectations in marriage
  • How to build healthy foundations
  • The dangers of unrealistic marriage expectations
  • How to manage unmet expectations
  • The importance of open communication
  • When couples therapy might be beneficial

Understanding Marriage Expectations

Marriage expectations are formed by past experiences, cultural influences, family dynamics, and our own personal desires. When we get married, we bring with us a complex set of these expectations, which are unique to us. Some are conscious, others may lurk subconsciously. While some expectations might align perfectly with our partner’s, it’s inevitable that others will clash.

The Most Common Expectations in Marriage

Let’s look at some of the most common expectations that surface in marriages:

  • Emotional Intimacy: The desire to feel loved, understood, valued, and secure.
  • Communication: Open, honest communication without judgment or defensiveness.
  • Affection and Physical Intimacy: This could range from hugs and kisses to sexual needs and desires.
  • Support: Both emotional and practical support during successes and challenges.
  • Shared Values and Goals: Alignment in core beliefs and visions for the future.
  • Quality Time: Making time for meaningful connection amidst busy lives.
  • Financial Responsibility: Talking about money together to understand your financial responsibilities.
  • Household Responsibilities: Fair division of household chores and childcare.

Relationship Expectations Specific to Marriage

The commitment of marriage brings with it a distinct set of expectations that go beyond the earlier expectations in a relationship. These include:

  • Core Emotional Needs:
    • Unconditional Support: The expectation of being each other’s champion, particularly during challenging times.
    • Deep Understanding: Feeling truly known and accepted by your partner, flaws and all.
    • Prioritization: The expectation that your partner considers your feelings and needs as paramount above others.
    • Consistent Affection: Physical and emotional expressions of love that strengthen the bond.
  • Building a Life Together:
    • Shared Life Goals: Expectations around where to live, career paths, financial aspirations, and whether to have children.
    • Commitment to Growth: Anticipation that both partners will actively work on personal development and support each other’s growth.
    • United Front: The expectation to present a unified stance in decision-making and in interactions with the outside world.
  • Shared Partnership:
    • Household Management: Expectations regarding the division of chores, domestic responsibilities, and overall household standards.
    • Financial Partnership: Expectations of financial transparency, shared decision-making, and aligning saving and spending goals.
    • Conflict Resolution: Expectations of respectful and constructive handling of disagreements and the use of healthy conflict resolution strategies.
  • Family Dynamics:
    • In-Law Dynamics: Expectations around frequency of contact, boundaries, and handling potential conflicts within extended family systems.
    • Maintaining Friendships: Balancing time with individual friends alongside building a shared social circle as a couple.

Building a Foundation of Healthy Marriage Expectations

While navigating expectations is part of a healthy marriage, there are some expectations that shouldn’t be compromised:

  • Mutual Respect: Everyone deserves to be treated with kindness and dignity.
  • Emotional Safety: Feeling safe and secure in the relationship is fundamental.
  • Basic Needs: These include things like emotional and physical support, honesty, and fidelity (unless mutually agreed otherwise).

Healthy marriage expectations pave the way for a mutually respectful, resilient partnership. Here’s how to begin building the foundation for healthy expectations in your marriage:

  1. Self-Awareness: Take the time to reflect on your own expectations. Ask yourself, “What am I bringing into this marriage? Are my expectations rooted in reality? Can I adjust them if needed?” Consider downloading my free Relationship Expectations Worksheet, which can serve as a valuable tool for this self-reflection process.
  2. Open Communication: Create a safe space for you and your partner to share your expectations openly. Honest, non-accusatory conversations are crucial.
  3. Compromise: Marriage is about partnership. Be willing to find middle ground and adapt expectations where necessary.
  4. Flexibility: Life is unpredictable. Be ready to adapt expectations when circumstances change, be it job changes, kids, or health concerns.

Unrealistic Expectations in Marriage

Unrealistic marriage expectations can lead to disappointment and resentment. Here are a few common ones:

  • Mind-Reading: Expecting your spouse to know exactly what you need without ever having to say it.
  • Fairytale Romance: Thinking your marriage should mirror the idealized relationships in movies or books.
  • Perfection: Expecting your partner (or yourself) to be flawless.
  • Constant Validation: Needing your spouse to always be your biggest cheerleader, sacrificing their own needs.

The Impact of Unmet Expectations in Marriage

When core expectations go unmet, a cascade of negative consequences can ripple through a marriage. Here’s how:

  • Resentment: The Silent Killer When one partner chronically feels their needs aren’t being met, a simmering bitterness can set in. This resentment erodes goodwill and makes positive interactions harder.
  • Emotional Distance & Withdrawal: Feeling unheard or unvalued can lead to one or both partners retreating emotionally. Conversation lessens, affection wanes, and the sense of being a team fades.
  • Decline in Intimacy: Resentment, hurt, or lack of emotional connection can significantly impact physical intimacy. It may be difficult to talk about sex with your partner, especially as it becomes less frequent, less satisfying, or even a point of conflict.
  • Increased Conflict: Unmet expectations breed frustration, which can manifest as nagging, criticism, defensiveness, or outright arguments. This cycle further damages communication and trust.
  • Loss of Trust: If promises go unkept or needs are repeatedly dismissed, a fundamental trust in the partnership weakens. This makes it harder to feel safe and secure within the marriage.
  • Considering Alternatives: In extreme cases, chronic unmet expectations can leave one or both partners wondering if they’d be happier outside the relationship, leading to thoughts of separation or divorce.

Important Considerations:

  • Not All Marriage Expectations Are Equal: Unmet expectations about daily chores differ in significance from unmet needs for core emotional support.
  • Communication Breakdown: Often, it’s not the expectation itself, but the lack of communication or attempted resolution that does the most damage.
  • Individual Responsibility: While both partners have a role in meeting marriage expectations, it’s important to avoid falling into a victim mentality. Taking ownership of your communication is key.

What Can Be Done?

  • Honest Self-Assessment: Are your expectations realistic? Are you expressing them clearly?
  • Open Communication: Create a safe space for non-accusatory discussion about unmet needs. Focus on “I feel…” statements, not blaming.
  • Seeking Compromise: Rarely will all expectations be fully met. Find ways to partially meet each other’s needs or alternate fulfilling them.
  • Work Together to Create Intimacy: While communication is the corner stone of setting and resetting expectations for marriage, activities to increase intimacy in the marriage can be a fun and healthy way to broach a topic that is difficult for many couples.
  • External Support: If communication is stuck, couples counseling can be incredibly helpful in learning new skills and breaking destructive cycles.

When to Adjust or Let Go of Marriage Expectations

There are times when adjusting or letting go of an expectation is necessary for marital harmony. Ask yourself:

  • Is my expectation realistic? Can my spouse (or I) reasonably fulfill this?
  • Is it fair? Am I asking too much of my partner?
  • Is it causing undue harm? Does holding onto this damage our relationship?

Letting go of expectations is not about giving up on your needs, but it may require re-envisioning how your marriage can fulfill them. Here are some tips:

  1. Mindfulness: Be aware of your thoughts and emotions as they relate to expectations. Practice noticing without judgment.
  2. Focus on What You Can Control: You can’t control your partner’s actions, but you can control your responses. Focus on your own choices and reactions.
  3. Acceptance: Accept that your partner is a separate person with limitations, as are you.
  4. Redefine the Expectation: Can it be modified? Can you somehow find a different way for that need to be met?
  5. Express Gratitude: Focus on the things your partner does provide, fostering a sense of appreciation.

How to Communicate About Marriage Expectations

Here are a few key strategies to help you and your partner have productive conversations about marriage expectations.

  1. Choose the Right Time and Place: Avoid these talks when either of you is stressed or exhausted. A calm environment is better.
  2. “I” Statements: Focus on your needs. Instead of “You always…,” say “I feel…” or “I need…”
  3. Active Listening: Be fully present, avoid defensiveness, and try to understand your partner’s perspective.
  4. Emotional Validation: Acknowledge and respect your partner’s feelings, even if you don’t entirely agree with them. This fosters trust and a sense of safety.
  5. Seek Common Ground: Where can you compromise or find solutions together?
  6. Be Patient: These conversations often need to happen over time, not in one sitting.
  7. External Help: If communication stalls or feels too overwhelming, consider seeking the help of a couples therapist.

Two Frequently Asked About Marriage Expectations

In this section, I want to give a more detailed explanation of two specific marriage expectations that come up quite frequently in the couples therapy, but don’t quite fit into the other sections of this article.

How Often Should Married Couples Go Out Separately?

Maintaining a sense of individuality within a healthy marriage is crucial, and sometimes that means fulfilling expectations by having time alone. Spending time separately allows both partners to recharge, pursue individual passions, and nurture friendships outside of the primary relationship. This can bring renewed energy and enthusiasm back into the marriage.

However, finding the ideal frequency of solo time requires open and honest communication about expectations in marriage. Here are some key points to consider:

  • Individual Needs: Introverts may naturally require more alone time to replenish their social energy. Assess your own needs and openly share these with your partner, setting expectations from the start.
  • Honesty and Transparency: Discuss not only the frequency (“Once a week feels right to me”) but also the nature of those outings. Sharing if you’ll be seeing friends, tackling errands, or engaging in a hobby builds trust and sets clear expectations within your marriage.
  • Balance and Compromise: If your ideal frequencies don’t initially align, find a middle ground that honors the needs of both partners. This is where healthy compromise is crucial for fulfilling everyone’s expectations in marriage.
  • Check-Ins: A quick text or call while you’re out demonstrates that you are still connected to your partner, even while enjoying individual time.
  • Re-evaluation: Life circumstances evolve, and so might your need for separate outings. Periodically reassess what’s working and adjust accordingly to manage marriage expectations proactively.

Cell Phone Rules for Married Couples

Technology can be a wonderful tool, but it can also encroach on quality time within a marriage. Establishing boundaries regarding phone usage is essential for fostering connection, avoiding distractions, and managing expectations in marriage. Here are a few guidelines to consider:

  • Designated Phone-Free Zones: Identify specific times or spaces where devices are off-limits. These could include:
    • Meals: This creates a space for meaningful conversation and connection.
    • An ‘Unplugged Hour’: Perhaps the first hour after getting home from work or before bedtime, promoting focused interaction.
    • Dates & Outings: Create fully device-free dates to prioritize your relationship and maintain those healthy marriage expectations.
  • Practicing Mindful Presence: When spending time with your partner, minimize checking your phone for non-urgent matters. Avoid the habit of constant scrolling, demonstrating to your partner they have your full attention and respect for your marriage expectations.
  • Respecting Privacy: Have an open discussion about boundaries and expectations regarding access to each other’s phones. Avoid secrecy and snooping, as these behaviors erode trust and contradict healthy marital expectations.
  • Bedroom Boundaries: Consider minimizing late-night scrolling in bed. This can disrupt sleep patterns and may displace intimate connection. If phone use before sleep is necessary, consider doing it separately so expectations in marriage around intimacy can still be met.

Remember, every couple is unique. Experiment with different strategies and find a compromise that feels respectful and supportive to both of you. Revisit these “rules” regularly, adjusting them as needed to ensure technology remains a tool, not an obstacle, within your marriage.

The Role of Marriage Counseling in Managing Expectations

Marriage counseling can be an invaluable asset when couples struggle with expectations. Here’s how it can help:

  • A Neutral Space: Counseling offers a safe space to explore expectations without fears of judgment.
  • Improved Communication: Therapists can teach couples effective communication skills and guide difficult discussions.
  • Reframing Expectations: Counselors can help you pinpoint unrealistic expectations and learn to reframe them constructively.
  • Understanding Underlying Needs: Sometimes, expectations point to deeper unmet emotional needs. Counseling can help uncover the root causes.
  • Building a Support System: A therapist can work with you both individually and as a couple to navigate these complexities.

Additional Tips for Managing Expectations in Marriage

  • Regular Check-Ins: Have brief discussions about how you both feel the relationship is going. This allows for early adjustments.
  • Appreciate the Little Things: Notice small gestures of love and support your partner offers; express gratitude regularly.
  • Make Time for Fun: Laughter, shared activities, and lightheartedness help nurture your relationship!
  • Celebrate Milestones: Anniversaries, birthdays, and personal victories should be acknowledged and celebrated.
  • Seek Ongoing Learning: Read relationship books, take courses, or listen to podcasts together; keep the learning process alive.

Final Thoughts

Expectations are a natural part of marriage, and it’s common for them to evolve throughout your journey together. By practicing self-awareness, open communication, flexibility, and a willingness to re-evaluate expectations, you and your partner can create a marriage that supports your individual needs while fostering a deep, loving connection. Remember, a strong marriage takes continued effort from both partners, but the rewards are well worth it!

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