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Role of Expectations in Marriage

The objective of this article is to describe how expectations can affect marital success.

By: Susan Adams M.Ed.

The Role of Expectations in Marriage

Summary: Expectations of marriage have changed radically in the last fifty years. Today it is considered a partnership, though many times people are not conditioned for this. Many partners have misinformation about what marriage is and is not. If they did not grow up in homes with working marriages, there are apt to be unrealistic ideas about what makes the marriage work. This article describes some of the myths and realities.

Today, partners frequently expect that marriage will bring them ‘”happiness” even if they were never really happy with themselves before the marriage as individuals.This is one of the unrealistic expectations of marriage. Another unrealistic expectation is that infatuation lasts for the life of the marriage. In fact, infatuation may not even last through the courtship. It is the calming friendship of long-term relationships that allows us to go on with our life’s work–whatever that is–enjoying the companionship of the marriage and the predictability of it.

Now, regarding “:happiness”–in order to get “happiness” in anything,, you need to know what is expected of you and then be able to do it with some degree of satisfaction. And, what you do needs to be appreciated by the recipient. Today, more than ever before, there are some people who really don’t know what to expect out of marriage or what is expected of them. Then there are some people who are in relationships where too much is expected of them and that is not satisfying either. There are also people for whom too little is expected. These people can’t get satisfaction because there is no challenge and no sense of having been successful because no success was expected.

Television makes a perfect example of how our heroes and heroines lead us to expect too much. Little boys and little girls may grow up with their ideal of the perfect mate in the image from the last star they observed on television. Such expectations are doomed to failure.

Various studies of high school boys and girls have shown that within the same high school boys and girls have shown that within the same setting many of the boys already have no intention of behaving as husbands the way the girls in the same school are already expecting husbands will behave. And many of the girls in that high school have no expectations of behaving as wives the way the boys in the high school are already expecting their wive will behave. Thus, the seeds for much marital discord are already in the making.

Too great expectations is part of the problem but not all of it. Confused expectations may be even worse as far as providing satisfaction for newlyweds. One classic confusion of expectations is for how long a woman may work after marriage or if she wants to work at all once the children are born. Many women feel guilty if they work after children. The household is apt to need the income, particularly in today’s society. Whatever they do, they get little role satisfaction and their husbands may feel conflicted as well. The husband needs the help but feels guilty that his wife wants to be home with the kids. His guilt may get covered with bravado or aggression so his appreciation doesn’t show. This can put a strain on the couple relationship.

Thee can also be confusion over who is the “boss”. Today, females are intellectually conditioned to want, need, desire, and expect a permissive, democratic, co-equal husband rather than a ‘boss”. The female wants a man who asks her opinion, leaves some decisions to her, and treats her like a partner. On the other hand, the romantic side of her may seek the protection of a male who makes the decisions–on her behalf–and tells her what to do. This leads to great ambivalence and confusion and thwarts marital satisfaction. Some women want a democratic marriage some of the time, a protective marriage some of the time, both at the same time, and some don’t really know what they want–they just want to be “in love” all the time. They are confused and leave their husbands even more confused. This particularly if the husband has been raised to believe that it is his job to keep the nearest woman (his wife) happy and that it is his fault if she is not. This leaves him in the position of feeling as if he has failed much of the time. He can’t feel satisfaction with the marriage and in fact, feels like he has failed.

There are fewer couples today who suffer from too little expectations. It is frequent in our modern homes for the child to be treated as a “pet”. Father and mother may have lavished much materially. The ideas come through television and fairy tales that marriage is a wonderful thing. If we are talking about a little girl, she may get the idea that marriage is a continuation of her home life–it is another relationship in which she is going to “receive” satisfaction. So she grows up and marries a boy who was raised as she was–now they are BOTH to “receive” satisfaction. Eventually this will run them into trouble if they don’t make the transition into getting satisfaction through “giving” it as well as getting it. Marriage is a “giving” relationship. Part of the “giving” is being able to understand how your partner sees things. It is also a relationship in which negotiation is key. Giving a little to get a little in the rule of thumb. A large number of people who wind up in the marriage counselor’s office are there because they never learned to make the transition from getting satisfaction through receiving to getting satisfaction through giving.

In a very real way, it is the attitude of giving satisfaction rather than receiving it which differentiates marriages which have constant troubles from those marriages which are successful. For people who seek excitement from marriage, they keep the marriage too unstable to be able to be satisfied with it. For marriage to work, it must be calm. People go OUT for excitement and come home to stability. Anything else tends to rock the marriage boat until someone falls out. The real excitement comes from the anticipation of the pleasure that your partner will get from what you have to give both physically and emotionally. This is more the idea of mature loving–adults are capable of “giving” love–children can only “receive” it.

The Role of Expectations in Marriage


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