How to Identify & Talk about Expectations in Marriage

Perhaps the biggest piece of baggage a person brings into marriage is their bundle of expectations.

Each person has an idea of what their home life, their parenting, their sex life, and their responsibilities should be like. Problems develop when couples assume the other person shares their expectations:

A husband may expect his wife to balance a home and career like his mother did.

A wife may expect her husband to fix things around the house.

When expectations are unclear, unhealthy, unspoken, or unmet, both spouses can feel neglected, frustrated, or just plain angry.

And often, couples don’t even realise they have expectations until they aren’t met.

So how do we solve this problem?

Identify the source of your expectations

Figuring out where your expectations were formed is an important step in the process of defining expectations in your marriage.

  • Media, Movies & Society: What we watch and listen to shapes our thinking. In our parent’s day, the roles were clearly defined – men went out to work and women stayed home to raise the kids. The media and movies portrayed those clearly defined roles. Things are different today – out of necessity, and preference – and the roles of men and women are not as distinct. You may prefer traditional roles but feel pressured into doing what everyone else is doing.   
  • Parental Example: When Richard and I prepare a couple for marriage, we go through a section on expectations. This is good, but once a couple is married, something else kicks in: what they saw their parents do. We learn about roles in marriage from our family of origin. Richard and I had different ideas of roles because of what we saw in our own homes. I grew up with a dad who often ironed his own shirts and took out the trash while Richard grew up in a home where his dad never touched the trash and probably wouldn’t have known where to start ironing a shirt. Naturally, I expected Richard to take out the trash, and it didn’t even occur to him unless I specifically asked him to.
  • Things You Missed out on in Childhood:  You may have expectations of your spouse based on what you never had growing up. You may expect your husband to be very involved with your kids because you had an absent father. You may expect your wife to be tough and never cry because your mother spent a lot of time crying and you hated it.

Identify and communicate about your expectations

Each of you should make a list of roles and responsibilities you saw your parents doing as you grew up. These will be different and that’s OK.  

Show your lists to each other and talk about why your parents did things the way they did.  Just because your parents did things a certain way, doesn’t mean you have to. Your father may never have helped with dishes because he worked odd hours. Your mother may have managed the finances because she was better at it than your dad and they were both happy for her to do it.

(Back to our parents – my dad ironed shirts during the time my mom was having chemotherapy and maybe that stuck in my mind as something a man should sometimes be willing to do… Richard’s dad never ironed a shirt because his family had domestic help and the farm consumed all his dad’s time and attention.)

Each couples’ needs and circumstances are different. Your relationship and expectations will not be like any other. Figure out your own expectations as a couple and tweak them until you are both content. Remember, you are team mates, not enemies.  

 “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” ­ Philippians 2:3-4 (ESV).

 Expect to revisit your expectations over the years because circumstances and people’s needs change.  If something is not working for one of you then it’s not working for both of you.  

What areas should you talk about?

  • Home life: Who will do what chores? Will you hire someone to do them? Who will take care of the car? How will you spend weekends? Will you both go to bed at the same time? What will your family schedule look like?
  • Money:  Who manages your money? What will you spend your money on? When should you check with the other before spending? What are your savings goals?
  • Sex & Affection: How often will you be sexually intimate? What’s OK in the bedroom and what’s not? Will you show affection in front of the kids and in public?  
  • Extended Family: How much time will you spend with them? Will your kids stay over with them? How will you divide holidays between your families?
  • Kids: What are your discipline styles? Which of you will stay home with the kids or will you put them in childcare? What kind of schooling? How involved will you both be in bedtimes and family devotions?
  • Spiritual: Who will be the spiritual leader? Where will you go to church? How much will you be involved? Will you pray together? Will you have family devotions and who will lead out? Will you tithe your income even when times get tough?

Because marriage brings two individuals, from two different homes, with two different family backgrounds, together, there will be a certain amount of conflict because of unspoken expectations.   

Identifying your expectations, communicating about them, and finding a common resolution will grow your marriage. And instead of competing against each other you can become team mates.  

How have unspoken expectations impacted your marriage? Which of these do you need to talk about?

About The Author

Jennifer Lovemore

Jennifer has diplomas in relationship counselling and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), is a certified SYMBIS facilitator, and is certified in TPM (Transformation Prayer Minsitry). She lives in South Africa, has three grown children, and is married to her best friend – Richard.

3 COMMENTS

  1. 5 Reasons to Get Premarital Counseling and Set Yourself Up for a Successful Marriage - Love More to Live | 21st Oct 20

    […] For more on expectations in marriage, Read How to Identify & Talk About Expectations in Marriage […]

  2. Mbulelo Julius Gqadu | 9th Dec 20

    How to identify and talk about expectations in marriage. I like this particular topic I was wondering if you could send not to only read it in the link

    • Jennifer Lovemore | 9th Dec 20

      Hi Mbulelo, you’re welcome to print it out or copy and paste it into a word document for yourself. To print, click the printer icon on the side of the post. Let me know if you don’t come right. 😋

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