By Maria Simpson | April 26, 2021

Marriage Communication 101: Great Expectations?

hands touching

"Expectation feeds frustration. It is an unhealthy attachment to people, things, and outcomes we wish we could control, but don’t."

Dr. Steve Maraboli

I forgot my second anniversary. That’s right, only two years into marriage and it completely slipped my mind. My mom texted me the day before asking what my husband and I had planned.

Oh no, I thought in a panic.

couple huggingIn my defense I had taken a fall two weeks prior and had surgery on my ankle. The day before my anniversary I was drugged up on complete bed rest. I think that’s a valid excuse, and luckily, so did my husband. He is a laid back kind of guy anyway, but more importantly, he is fantastic at meeting people where they’re at and giving them the benefit of the doubt. We both have dreams of special anniversaries spent at a hotel, with a great meal and a concert, and someday we will do those things. But for now reality has imposed limitations on us like temporary physical handicaps, money restraints, children, giant dogs, and now, COVID. So we content ourselves with what I like to call crayon cards: cards made out of a folded piece of plain white paper, doodled on with crayon-scribbled love notes so sappy you feel thirteen again. And, yes, that is what we both got for our second anniversary.  It was perfect.

Marriage can be hard enough without the complications of disappointed expectations. It takes sacrifice, give and take, and compromise. Throw in Hollywood expectations on weight, glamor, and romance, mixed with the misleading pictures and messages on social media, and you are setting your partner and yourself up for a whole lot of unnecessary disappointment and frustration. Whether we are measuring ourselves to these impossible standards, or we are pitting our partners against them, we are forgetting that we aren’t married to a movie or a carefully crafted and heavily filtered still shot. We are married to a person who is human, just like we are. 

"When you release expectations, you are free to enjoy things for what they are instead of what you think they should be."

Mandy Hale

Here are some tips to keep your expectations grounded in reality:

Decipher between want and need.

While our wants can get lofty and irrational if gone unchecked, our needs tend to be pretty simple and stable over time. I want a million dollars, every year for the rest of my life, but I need much less to live comfortably. I want a lot of things besides more money, both lofty and irrational, but what I really need is safety in my home, a sense of freedom in my life, and peace in my heart. 

Understanding who we are and what we need to feel content with our reality is vital. Take some time to figure out what your basic needs are. This could be a fun activity to do with your partner, friends, or family.

  • couple kissingMake a list of all the things in your life that make you happy, both big and small, all the way down to listening to music or a daily/weekly indulgence of chocolate or Mexican food.  This list should fill a paper. 
  • Go through the list and find the common themes. Most of the things we think we need come down to two to three common needs. One of mine is a need to feel free. I love to travel, run, and be ensconced in the beauties of nature. All of these things inspire a sense of sweet liberation from the travails of daily life. When I broke my ankle two years ago, weeks on my back doing none of my favorite things, forced me to dig a little deeper on my list. What else makes me feel free? Creativity is all about freedom and I love to cook, write, and plan events. So I laid in my bed, typing away on my computer, while I planned out fun meals for my family, worked on a book I hope to publish someday, and planned a leadership trip for work. All of these things gave me back that sense of freedom and liveliness that I crave and I got what I needed. 
  • Share your core needs with your partner and have them share back. This will help you both better love and serve each other.

Understand each other’s love languages.

Make sure your partner knows how you like to give and receive love. Understanding what you need to feel loved creates further connection romantically, as partners, and friends. Once you have shared your love languages, talk through where they line up with each other and where you will each have to work a little harder to focus on what doesn’t come naturally to you. My husband and I both need quality time, which is great. But he needs more affection and I need more words of affirmation. Acclimating to each other's needs has taken deliberation on both our parts. I take the time to snuggle with him more and he speaks up more about why and how much he loves me, often through sticky notes and crayon cards, since he is and always will be a man of little words. Both effort in creating change and acceptance of our innate qualities has opened us both up to being better, more supportive partners.

Clearly state what you need.

Don’t expect your partner to read your mind or assume you have dropped enough hints for them to already know. Before my husband proposed, we talked about getting married. I told him I did not want a diamond ring and I did not want a showy proposal or need him to get down on one knee. His response was something like, “Good, because none of that is me and now I don’t have to worry about it.” We laughed and it was done. Had I not shared my thoughts and expectations, he would have been anxious in an effort to do it right and make me happy. By explaining what I actually wanted, we both got what we needed. 

Not all situations are this simple, but more of them can be with clear communication.

"Disappointment is the gap that exists between expectation and reality."

John C. Maxwell

Know who you are married to.

 Don’t set your partner up for your disappointment and wrath by expecting them to be someone they are not.  If they are not a big gift giver, don’t expect them to dazzle you with diamonds and roses, especially if you haven’t said, “On Valentine’s Day, I want roses.”  Maybe you want your partner to be the June Cleaver you remember your mother to be and are disappointed that instead she comes in a full Technicolor spectrum of human traits and flaws. As much as you want your partner to see you for all the good you do and are, choose to see the best in them. Give them the benefit of the doubt and accept their shortcomings with the same lighthearted compassion and patience you hope they will bestow upon you.

couple huggingTake everything into account.

Situations are rarely simple. If all I told you is that I forgot my second anniversary and had to be reminded by my mother, you might question my love or worthiness to my husband. But knowing our whole lives had been turned upside down at the time lends perspective and understanding.

This goes for any circumstance. Physical and mental disabilities and illnesses should always be taken into account, as well as family and work pressures, and financial circumstances. Be willing to adjust your expectations to your current reality. 

Focus on what you have.

Is your glass half full or half empty? Or perhaps things are more dire and you have smashed the glass against the wall , leaving you with a mess to clean up too? On the reverse end, is your glass full, but it doesn’t have ice and a lemon wedge in it so it’s still not enough? We have all been in each of these places, so there is no judgment if you find yourself in an extreme position, just honestly evaluate yourself so you can make the necessary shifts. Be grateful for what you have, find joy in the little things, and create ways to bring more joy to your own life and others. Nothing yields a positive perspective faster than stepping out of ourselves and serving others. Rather than focusing on what you want and need, shift to meeting the needs of your partner and others in your life. 

Live in the moment.

If you are constantly focused on when and if, you are missing the beauty of what’s happening now. Life doesn’t start when you lose 10 pounds or if you or your partner get the promotion at work. Life is happening now. Live in it, experience it to the fullest, and appreciate the little things. 

The higher the expectations the farther the fall down to reality. Set yourself up for success by being fair and realistic with yourself and others. None of us are perfect and all of us deserve the benefit of the doubt. Honor your partner by being honest, clear, and loving about what you need and find out how you can best serve them. If you can both start making strides to better assert yourselves and support one another, you will find expectations and reality align and peace and happiness enduring the chaos that will inevitably befall you. 


Expectation vs. Reality

  • Go online with your partner, look up expectation vs reality under images, and together get a kick out of all the illustrated ways we set ourselves up for frustration and disappointment. Discuss together the ones that relate to each of you personally and the ones you struggle with in your partnership.  This is a great opportunity to get vulnerable and work through hurt feelings and develop understanding.

Love Languages

To learn more about the five love languages, here are some resources: