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

Probably the best way to live and grow with realistic expectations is to sit down with your spouse and ask each other: “What are your goals this year?” Healthy goal setting can help each spouse think of some goals they want for themselves and for the marriage. Each spouse could sit down and write out some personal goals and some marriage goals. These goals must be set in reality and not be ideal. So one spouse may say they want to lose ten pounds in the next year, or start a new hobby, or take an online class to help their skills for work, or maybe focus on a house project they would like to start doing. Goal setting can include how the two of you could be doing something together to grow and participate in a healthy marriage.

For example, maybe the two people feel they need more fun in their life, so they plan once a month to go to the local concert hall and watch a live performance. Or maybe both spouses want to lose weight and be in better shape, so they have a goal to go hiking three times a week and reduce their carbohydrate intake. As long as these goals are realistic and not demanding someone to be perfect but both people are on the journey towards growth, the two people are participating in a healthy marriage.

It really is okay to ask each other to participate in realistic expectations, as long as there is enough acceptance and kindness along the way. So if one spouse sets goals in a realistic way, this person needs to know that the other person is going to encourage them and observe them through the lens of acceptance and kindness. The last thing anyone wants to hear is their spouse criticizing and not accepting their pace and their way of growing. Each person needs to feel that the other person is their biggest cheerleader and is accepting how they are doing, expressing kindness and acceptance.

Ideal expectations say this: “I expect you to never be late for me, to always keep the house clean and perfect according to my standards. I also expect you to be highly responsible, never go into debt, pay your bills on time, and always be learning at a pace that matches my standards.” Realistic expectations say this: “I accept you as my spouse, and I want us to encourage one another and not judge or control one another in how we grow. I know we are going to be late sometimes, we are going to make some mistakes and occasionally feel like not cleaning the house, and I know we sometimes will get into trouble with how we manage our money and may spend more than we make. But that is okay, I do accept you.”

So find a way to sit down with your spouse and make sure in the marriage that in all you do, both spouses know and feel they are loved, accepted, and there is kindness on board when each person makes a mistake. Lay down this realistic expectation foundation first before you go into conversations about growth and change. When one person starts to feel the tension and fear that they are not accepted and they start to notice in their spouse emotional reactions, criticism, or judging, the two spouses need to stop and converse about what is going on between the two of them.

Fight for reality and pursue acceptance first so that both of you know you are invested in your marriage, and you love and like each other just as you are. Then you can enter into those conversations about goals and realistic expectations so that each spouse is walking in freedom, not fear or stubbornness or feeling compared to others. When both spouses each week sit down and hold each other accountable, they are living in reality, and they are living in kindness and acceptance. Be open to learn, grow, and change, but realize learning something new will take time, and view time as your friend so both spouses are choosing to be free.