You must be able to separate realistic from unrealistic expectations in marriage – if you want your marriage to last.
In 2005, the National Fatherhood Initiative published a report on a national survey they conducted on Marriage In America. One of their findings was that 45% of divorced respondents said that unrealistic expectations in marriage by them and/or their spouse was a major contributor to the end of their marriage. That’s nearly half of all divorces being caused in major part because of unrealistic expectations.
If you’re in an unhappy marriage and want to explore ways to improve your relationship, looking for and addressing unrealistic expectations might be a great place to start.
Where do expectations come from?
We all have expectations. We expect the sun to rise in the east and set in the west. We expect that our heart will pump without our conscious thought. We expect that we will outlive our children. And when we marry, we expect that we will be married for the rest of our lives.
Each of these expectations is based on our personal experience, understanding and/or hopes. They emerge from our beliefs about how the world works.
Beliefs and expectations can be rational or irrational. They can be based on facts. They can be based on decisions. They can be based on societal norms. They can also be based on misunderstandings.
The challenge is that we each tend to believe our beliefs and expectations are completely rational. Yet, the truth is that we all have irrational beliefs and expectations. They can just be really difficult to identify – especially when it comes to the expectations and beliefs we have about our spouses and marriages.
Examples of unrealistic expectations in marriage
We begin accumulating unhelpful beliefs and expectations about love and marriage from the moment we hear our first fairy tale. And society continues to pile them on through movies, books, quotes and, of course, societal norms.
Below are some of the most common unrealistic beliefs and expectations in marriage:
- Your spouse should complete you.
- Getting married is the hard part. Once you’re married, you’ll live happily ever after.
- Your spouse’s job is to make you a better or more evolved person.
- Your spouse will never change.
- You’ll be able to make your spouse change in the ways you want him/her to.
- Sex will always be fabulous because you love each other.
- Your spouse will give you whatever you want simply because s/he loves you.
- Your spouse’s life should revolve around you.
- Your spouse will be the only friend you need.
- Because you love each other, you’ll always be able to resolve all disputes.
- You should never go to bed angry.
- You should spend all your free time together – just like you did when you fell in love.
How unrealistic expectations can lead to divorce
When your expectations about who your spouse should be and how your marriage should be are unmet, of course you’ll feel disappointed. And your disappointment is signaling that something needs to change.
When expectations are realistic, it’s a fairly straightforward matter to talk with your spouse about how to address things in a way that you both can feel satisfied with.
The real challenge comes when we have unrealistic expectations in marriage that go unmet. That’s because unrealistic expectations can’t be met – no matter how much you demand or wish they are.
When we have unrealistic expectations in marriage (or anyplace else), we set ourselves up for more than just disappointment. Because it’s unlikely that our spouse will ever be able to meet them, our disappointment can fester and transform into other more defeating emotions and choices.
Persistent disappointment can lead to stress, frustration, anxiety, sadness, despair, anger, and eventually a decision to give up on the marriage. The choice to end things after persistent disappointment is often seen as the only answer because our unrealistic expectations can make it seem as if we fell for the wrong person.
The opportunity in unmet expectations
However, if you have unmet expectations, that doesn’t necessarily mean your expectations are unrealistic or unable to be met.
Begin exploring your expectations on your own. Look at the list above and see if you’re your expectations are similar to any of them. If they are, chances are you’re harboring some unrealistic expectations about yourself, your spouse or your relationship. And you have the opportunity to set more realistic expectations.
If, on the other hand, your unmet expectations don’t seem similar to those listed above, talk with your spouse about your expectations and hers/his. By doing so, you open the door to begin working together to resolve the issues.
We all have expectations about how things should be in our life – including our marriages. Sometimes our expectations are met and sometimes they’re not. And we feel disappointed when they’re not met regardless of whether our expectations are realistic or not.
Since unrealistic expectations in marriage are involved in nearly half of all divorces, if you’re struggling with an unhappy marriage, it’s time to evaluate your expectations and invite your spouse to do the same. It’s only by getting realistic about what you expect from each other that you’ll be able to address the disappointments before they fester.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a life and divorce coach who helps people, just like you, who are struggling with unmet expectations in marriage. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. And if you’re interested in working with me personally, you can book an introductory 30-minute private coaching session with me.