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How Unrealistic Expectations in Marriage Can Lead To A Divorce

How Unrealistic Expectations in Marriage Can Lead To A Divorce

Almost all marriages are pregnant with unrealistic expectations and when these impractical expectations are left unmet, we start moving away from the marriage. These unrealistic expectations often stem from fairy tales, movies, magazines, articles, and even our family and friends. However, if we don’t deal with our expectations ourselves, it can quickly eat away the connection and lead us down the path of divorce.

“When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.” – Donald Miller

In 2005, the National Fatherhood Initiative published a report on a national survey they conducted on Marriage In America. One of their findings was that 45% of divorced respondents said that unrealistic expectations in marriage by them and/or their spouse was a major contributor to the end of their marriage. That’s nearly half of all divorces being caused in major part because of unrealistic expectations.

If you’re in an unhappy marriage and want to explore ways to improve your relationship, looking for and addressing unrealistic expectations might be a great place to start.

Where do expectations come from?

“Expectation is the mother of all frustration.” – Antonio Banderas

We all have expectations. We expect the sun to rise in the east and set in the west. We expect that our heart will pump without our conscious thought. We expect that we will outlive our children. And when we marry, we expect that we will be married for the rest of our lives.

Each of these expectations is based on our personal experience, understanding and/or hopes. They emerge from our beliefs about how the world works.

Beliefs and expectations can be rational or irrational. They can be based on facts. They can be based on decisions. They can be based on societal norms. They can also be based on misunderstandings.

The challenge is that we each tend to believe our beliefs and expectations are completely rational. Yet, the truth is that we all have irrational beliefs and expectations. They can just be really difficult to identify – especially when it comes to the expectations and beliefs we have about our spouses and marriages.

Examples of unrealistic expectations in marriage

“We must rediscover the distinction between hope and expectation.” – Ivan Illich

We begin accumulating unhelpful beliefs and expectations about love and marriage from the moment we hear our first fairy tale. And society continues to pile them on through movies, books, quotes and, of course, societal norms.

Below are some of the most common unrealistic beliefs and expectations in marriage:

1. Your spouse should complete you.

2. Getting married is the hard part. Once you’re married, you’ll live happily ever after.

3. Your spouse’s job is to make you a better or more evolved person.

4. Your spouse will never change.

5. You’ll be able to make your spouse change in the ways you want him/her to.

6. Sex will always be fabulous because you love each other.

7. Your spouse will give you whatever you want simply because s/he loves you.

8. Your spouse’s life should revolve around you.

9. Your spouse will be the only friend you need.

10. Because you love each other, you’ll always be able to resolve all disputes.

11. You should never go to bed angry.

12. You should spend all your free time together – just like you did when you fell in love.

How unrealistic expectations can lead to divorce

“Anger always comes from frustrated expectations.” – Elliott Larson

When your expectations about who your spouse should be and how your marriage should be are unmet, of course, you’ll feel disappointed. And your disappointment is signaling that something needs to change.

When expectations are realistic, it’s a fairly straightforward matter to talk with your spouse about how to address things in a way that you both can feel satisfied with.

The real challenge comes when we have unrealistic expectations in marriage that go unmet. That’s because unrealistic expectations can’t be met – no matter how much you demand or wish they are.

When we have unrealistic expectations in marriage (or anyplace else), we set ourselves up for more than just disappointment. Because it’s unlikely that our spouse will ever be able to meet them, our disappointment can fester and transform into other more defeating emotions and choices.

Persistent disappointment can lead to stress, frustration, anxiety, sadness, despair, anger, and eventually a decision to give up on the marriage. The choice to end things after persistent disappointment is often seen as the only answer because our unrealistic expectations can make it seem as if we fell for the wrong person.

The opportunity in unmet expectations

“Peace begins when expectation ends.” – Sri Chinmoy

However, if you have unmet expectations, that doesn’t necessarily mean your expectations are unrealistic or unable to be met.

Begin exploring your expectations on your own. Look at the list above and see if you’re your expectations are similar to any of them. If they are, chances are you’re harboring some unrealistic expectations about yourself, your spouse or your relationship. And you have the opportunity to set more realistic expectations.

If, on the other hand, your unmet expectations don’t seem similar to those listed above, talk with your spouse about your expectations and hers/his. By doing so, you open the door to begin working together to resolve the issues.

We all have expectations about how things should be in our life – including our marriages. Sometimes our expectations are met and sometimes they’re not. And we feel disappointed when they’re not met regardless of whether our expectations are realistic or not.

Since unrealistic expectations in a marriage are involved in nearly half of all divorces, if you’re struggling with an unhappy marriage, it’s time to evaluate your expectations and invite your spouse to do the same. It’s only by getting realistic about what you expect from each other that you’ll be able to address the disappointments before they fester.

Here’s an interesting video that you may like:

“Expect much from yourself and little from others and you will avoid incurring resentments.” – Confucius

A healthy, lasting marriage requires you and your partner to talk about your individual expectations, understand each other and honestly communicate your emotions & differences. Having impossible expectations from your partner can often lead to regular conflict and passive-aggressive behavior which can create a lot of distance in the relationship. 

When it comes to expectations, you should start by having the highest expectations from yourself. When you invest in your self-development and building the relationship, the marriage will get stronger. Explore your expectations from the marriage and from your partner and make sure they are realistic and healthy. Then communicate your expectations to your partner while knowing they are not obligated to meet your expectations. Once you realize this, you will take charge for your own happiness and both partners will bring in positive vibes and happiness into the marriage.

Written by Dr. Karen Finn
Originally appeared in

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. If you would like additional help healing after a divorce or breakup, I can help. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. And, if you’re ready, you can take the first step toward working with me as your personal coach by scheduling a private consultation.

Looking for more information about healing after a divorce or breakup? Check out the other articles in Healing After Divorce.

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How Unrealistic Expectations in Marriage Can Lead To A Divorce
How Unrealistic Expectations in Marriage Can Lead To A Divorce

Dr Karen Finn

Dr. Karen Finn is a divorce and life coach. She helps her clients navigate the challenges of divorce – from the moment it enters their mind as a possible solution to the discontent they feel in their marriage (it’s not always the best answer), through the turmoil of getting divorced, and on through creating a fulfilling life post-divorce. You can learn more about Karen and her work on her website.View Author posts