Healthy Relationships: Ideal vs. Realistic Expectations (Part 1 of 4)

Getting married is similar to merging two companies into one. Each company has their own style and mode of operation. But when another company comes along and wants to buy or merge with them, there is always an adjustment, which can be challenging. Who will be in charge, whose approach will be followed, and what will be marketed are just a few of the issues merging companies need to resolve.

The same can be said for two people choosing to get married, merging two lives. Being single, living your own life, and living by your own expectations is very different from living with someone else and feeling their expectations, and it can be challenging. Being married is tough work, and how two people, with all their differences and ways about them, learn how to merge together as husband and wife is the challenge. People every day want to get married. They value sharing life with someone to love, and they value being loved by someone. And this is all good.

But when two people get married and merge their lives together, this topic of expectation becomes very important. The reason it is important is that idealistic expectations will result in pressure and demands on the marriage. Many times, a person will come to realize they did not know the idealistic expectations of their spouse. Far too often, spouses with high or ideal expectations put pressure on their spouse and their marriage, and the one receiving these expectations gets blindsided. When one spouse has private expectations that are not communicated during dating or engagement, this is unfair to the other spouse. And that is when marriages can get into trouble.

Many companies value excellence at the workplace. As an employee, to be your best, give your all, and have high standards by which you work is a good thing. Or let’s say you need surgery. A good idea is to find a surgeon or hospital that values practicing excellence. If someone is going to operate on me, I want them to have high standards and pursue excellence in order to ensure this surgery is done correctly. Having high standards of excellence is a good thing, as I do not want to come back a second time to have a repeated surgery or for the surgery to fail. No one wants sloppy or haphazard efforts from someone they are trusting with their health.

But when we ask our spouses to do love, intimacy, and communication as tasks, making sure they do it according to our ideal standards, we begin the process of demanding something from our spouses. Being married is all about relating to one another. When we relate, it is all about being and engaging with this person. Marriage is not a doing task, it is a relating activity. I am not looking for the surgeon to relate to me in activities such as love, intimacy, or closeness. I hire the surgeon to do a task.

But healthy marriages are all about a being with someone, not doing something to someone. All spouses need and want to feel heard, loved, accepted, and forgiven. This happens through the lens of relationships and being, and not through the lens of doing. I may hire a contractor to fix a plumbing problem. But I can’t ask of my spouse to fix my mother or our child, let alone fix me. All spouses need to be responsible for themselves, and each spouse needs to be him or herself. When we ask our spouse to be responsible for us, we are placing a high ideal expectation that they never signed up for.