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.