When we talk about expectations, in terms of relationships, we are usually referring to the behavioral aspects of a relationship; the roles that we are assuming the other will play and the rules that they will follow when we are united. But, I’ve found that people not only have subconscious expectations of what a person should “do”, but often also who they should ‘be’ or become. This can be the most frustrating and demoralizing thing about the first few years of marriage.
An example of this is when a woman marries a guy who is kind and easy going, and then when married, expects him to become the leader and to be assertive (in the ways she wants him to lead, of course).
Or a man who marries a career gal, who is assertive and motivated, and then wants her to settle down and take care of him and raise kids instead, when this is not something about which they had agreed.
In our pre-marriage class we say, “What you see is what you get.” If your future mate is laid back and quiet, well, that’s what you get. If your beloved is upbeat and an extrovert, well, that’s what you get. If you can’t live with them the way they are, don’t choose that person.
What aspects of the person you are dating or married to are the most difficult for you, or the most different from who you are? What adjustments will you have to make to accommodate your differences?
If you are not yet married, how far are you willing to bend, rather than asking him or her to change? Or, if your partner’s behavior is really a problem, how willing are they to develop a new life pattern before you get married? The answers to these questions may predict either a satisfying or a conflicted marriage.
What if you are already married and realize that you did not give enough thought to these questions before you tied the knot?
My only answer is that you must work on mutual acceptance. You must focus on the positive aspects of the relationship that drew you together in the first place. There may be opportunities along the way for you and your partner to grow in the direction of your desires, but change is slow and hard and must be encouraged with kindness.
There may be grief involved in accepting the loss of the way you had hoped things would be. But there is also peace that comes with letting go of unrealistic expectations.