It was my 12th birthday, and I was (in my mind) an aspiring guitar-playing rock star. All I lacked was the right equipment. You see, all of the ultra-talented hair bands of the time had huge stacks of black-boxed amplifier speakers that blasted their gnarly guitar solos.
So, I made it perfectly clear to my parents: For my birthday, I needed a guitar amplifier so that I could be a rock star.
On the big day, I was presented with a smallish wrapped box. As I unwrapped the gift, disappointment ensued. Indeed, it was a guitar amplifier – one that could almost fit inside my shoe. It was battery-operated and just a little bigger than my Walkman tape player. When hooked up to my guitar, it barely made a sound louder than the actual guitar itself. And it was made of red plastic. I never saw a rock star on stage with anything made of red plastic. Talk about expectation frustration.
I can now see the problem in hindsight: My expectations weren’t clear enough. I told my parents I wanted a guitar amplifier, but I wrongfully assumed they knew exactly what I meant. I mean, it’s not like they knew anything about being a guitar superstar like me. Ultimately, it was an unspoken expectation.
Imagine how this can happen in a marriage!
One spouse expects the other to cook dinner every evening. One expects the other to spend time with the kids on the weekends. One expects sex four times a week. The other expects regular time together talking about each other’s day after work. But nothing is ever said.
And then, when dinner isn’t ready, the kids are left to entertain themselves all weekend, the daily conversations don’t happen and sex is not happening nearly often enough, expectation frustration takes over the relationship.
We all have expectations for our relationships. Expectations are good in the fact that they are formed in the hope for something good to happen. When we expect something to come out of a certain situation, like our marriage, normally it’s in the hope that some sort of value is created.
But expectation frustration happens when we assume that our spouse somehow knows what we want without us telling him or her. There are times when I think my wife should know exactly what I expect because we both want a good, healthy marriage. And if she wants a good, healthy marriage just like I do, isn’t it just common sense that her expectations should line up with mine?
See the problem here?
It’s perfectly normal – and OK – that two people have different expectations for achieving the same goal of a healthy marriage. The main thing is that these expectations don’t go unspoken. It shouldn’t be assumed that our spouse is thinking the same thing we are. And so a healthy, safe space needs to be created in the relationship to regularly communicate what we hope and expect from each other.
Trying to share your hopes in an unsafe space is like, well, two large guitar amplifiers blaring incoherent sounds toward each other. You get nothing but noise that can’t be heard. A safe environment, however, creates the space for a couple to experience harmony. Each person approaches the conversation with a spirit of listening to understand rather than getting what they want. No value judgments are put upon the other person’s expectations; rather, their opinion is affirmed, even if it’s not necessarily agreed with. The goal of a safe space for communicating expectations is that these opinions can be shared with the idea of reaching common ground.
The magical part of this is that, when both people feel they can safely communicate expectations, they often find just how much their goals for their relationship are in line with each other. When my wife and I sit down and calmly talk about what we hope from each other, I hear her heart for our marriage rather than my expectations being overridden by hers. And she hears the same thing from me.
Unspoken expectations are like an acid that has a corrosive effect on the relationship – they slowly eat away at the common goal for a healthy marriage. Take the time to create that safe space and talk about your hopes and dreams for your relationship.
Written by Chris Ownby