What, exactly, were you expecting when you got married? Did you expect marriage and your spouse to make you happy?
Are you on the verge of stepping across the line into the world of marriage with your beloved? What do you expect when you get there? Are you expecting your “happily ever after?”
If you’re like me, I had all kinds of aspirations about traveling the world with my wife, going on endless adventures. It was going to be tons of fun! We would be so happy! But of course, real-life quickly set in, and we came to understand these weren’t the most realistic expectations we could have.
Great expectations in marriage make a marriage, well…great! Expectations are what gives you hope for a fulfilling and enjoyable relationship. And who doesn’t want that? I’ve never talked to any couples who desired a less-than-happy marriage together.
But there’s often a very fine line, though, between great expectations and unrealistic expectations. And unrealistic expectations make marriage – you guessed it – unrealistic. So these unrealistic expectations, often unspoken, wreak all kinds of havoc on the marriage.
And ironically, what is the biggest and most popular of all unrealistic marital expectations? Expecting your spouse to make you happy.
Yup, you heard me right.
Every married person wants their spouse to be happy. But a married person can’t control their spouse’s happiness. If your partner feels pressure from you to be the sole provider of your happiness, that pressure will eventually cause damage. You will always be looking for something from your spouse that he or she can never provide enough to satisfy you, leaving you in a constant state of frustration. Your spouse will always have a weight on their shoulders – a sense of inadequacy and failure.
This is such an unrealistic expectation because happiness is a complicated thing - it is a combination of genetics, circumstances, and decisions you make, not a reality your spouse can manage and maintain. Making your spouse your Happiness Manager sets him or her up to fail at something they weren’t meant to do.
The fact of the matter is, life is full of ups and downs, unexpected turns in the road, and bouts of chaos- happiness is never a guarantee. And life in this regard does not change once you are married. Marriage does not solve problems, alleviate stress, cure addiction, create balance, nor give enlightenment. Marriage is not an automatic happiness dispenser. Therefore, your spouse is not – and cannot be – your source of happiness in life.
Author Gary Chapman calls these kinds of expectations “If Only’s.” If only my spouse would work less… If only my spouse would lose weight… If only my spouse would wash the dishes, take out the trash… Then he/she would make me happy…
So how do you go about reversing these unrealistic expectations?
First, ask, “Where is this coming from? What is it that makes me think my spouse should provide my happiness?” These kinds of expectations usually come from something in your past – maybe some kind of unmet need that you’ve experienced earlier in your life. Or maybe they come from our culture, our circle of friends, or maybe even social media.
When you start recognizing the source, you take the pressure off your spouse for “fixing things” and “making you happy” and “making everything alright,” and you can put energy toward resolving the source of that need for happiness and getting it in perspective.
Another way to counteract this unrealistic expectation is to start recognizing marital expectations that are truly realistic and healthy.
Dr. John Gottman lists several marital expectations that healthy couples aspire to in their relationship:
- Be good friends.
- Have a satisfying sex life.
- Trust one another.
- Be fully committed to one another.
- Manage conflict constructively – arrive at a mutual understanding and get to compromises that work.
- Repair effectively when one hurts the other.
- Honor one another’s dreams, even if they’re different.
- Create a shared meaning system with shared values and ethics, beliefs, rituals, and goals.
- Agree about fundamental symbols like what a home is, what love is, and how to raise children.
These are good, healthy, realistic expectations to aim for. And they are hard enough.
One thing to remember – just because it’s unrealistic that our spouse provides all our happiness doesn’t mean that a fulfilling, remarkable marriage isn’t attainable. When you turn toward your spouse‘s needs and focus on them– you find true marital joy and fulfillment is much more within your reach. Now you have found true happiness!
Written by Chris Ownby