Many couples don’t take time to share with one another their individual expectations about issues that appear in every marriage before they say, “I do.” Issues like money, sex, faith, parenting, time spent with friends, holidays, resolving conflict, and chores are some of the biggies. The result of not addressing expectations before marriage is to simply kick the “issues” can down the road, and this increases the likelihood of conflict and misery. If you find that you and your spouse are not on the same page regarding expectations, you’re certainly not alone. The good news is that through healthy communication, you can jump the expectations hurdle, reach consensus, and move forward together. The more difficult news is that jumping the hurdle requires some focused and persistent hard work.
Cathy and I never even thought to talk about household expectations prior to our marriage. But during her growing-up years, Cathy’s dad was Mr. Fix-It. He did everything around the house, and she just assumed I would be like him and fix anything from car engines to washing machines–anything mechanical. Her dad saw every such challenge as an opportunity to learn something new and conquer that giant.
I am very different. Emphasis on the word very. I studied Greek in graduate school, but that wasn’t going to help me know how to repair anything. I can’t fix stuff. Unlike her dad, I see every such challenge as an opportunity to pay someone to do it instead.
Cathy thought I was kidding when I said I didn’t know the difference between a flat-head and a Phillips-head screwdriver. And her unspoken expectation created a tension I could never solve. In our thirty-plus years of marriage, we’ve discovered many expectations that we both had and ignored by not addressing them prior to marriage. By the way, it’s normal to have expectations that don’t align with one another. However, that’s precisely why you should be proactive to talk through expectations rather than ignore them.
A woman accompanied her husband to the doctor’s office. After his very thorough checkup, the doctor sent the husband into the waiting area and called the wife into his office for a confidential assessment. In a concerned tone, he said, “Your husband is suffering from a severe disease combined with horrible stress. It looks as though he may die soon unless you commit to the following actions: Each morning fix him a full, warm, healthy breakfast. Always be in a good mood. Be constantly pleasant to make sure he doesn’t feel any additional stress. Make him a nice lunch and cook his favorite meals for dinner. Don’t burden him with household chores. If you can do this for the next ten to twelve months, I’m confident your husband will fully regain his health.”
On the way home, the husband asked, “So what did the doctor say to you?” His wife paused for a long time, and then responded, “He said you are going to die.”
While that story is funny, the serious truth is that if you don’t work on your marriage and become more intentional about expectations, your marriage could die. Do the hard work now, and you can save yourselves from future years of heartache and misunderstanding.
(Adapted from Getting Ready for Marriage by Jim Burns and Doug Fields.)