Every week I write a column that appears in a bunch of papers, and this week I thought I’d tackle unrealistic expectations in marriage.
For those of you who are blessed with a marriage partner, I’m sure that on the day of your wedding you could have completed this sentence: “My wife will…” Want me three times a day? Scrub the toilets? Stay home with the kids? Believe I’m the greatest? Or maybe it’s “My husband will…” always do the dishes. Bring home the bacon. Love my mom.
We all have preconceived notions entering marriage.
It’s as if, during that wedding ceremony, we don’t just slide on wedding rings, but we also put on tinted glasses, coloured by the expectations we place on each other.
When your wife inevitably doesn’t conform to your expectations, though, you likely don’t chuck your glasses. You’re far more likely to pout, “What is her major malfunction?” You know the way the world should work; she’s obviously wrong by not jumping on the bandwagon.
We tend to compartmentalize each other, expecting that we will stick to already established patterns.
We may start out in marriage expecting our spouses to be wonderful; but when they fail, we start to expect the worst. He’s the one who’s lazy and doesn’t know what a mop is for. She’s the one who’s the drill sergeant and doesn’t let anybody have fun at home. He’s a workaholic. She’s a shopaholic. We can all too easily pigeon-hole our spouses into categories that we don’t like.
What happens if your spouse wants to fly out of that hole and change? You don’t necessarily notice.
Recently I was talking with a woman whose marriage was falling apart. She rattled off a litany of complaints about her husband’s lack of ability to communicate. But as her story unfolded, I found myself sympathizing with the maligned spouse. To me, it sounded like he was trying to change their communication dynamic by asking clarification questions, like, “So you think I’m being too rigid about our schedule?”
She thought he was just being smart, saying not, “Let me understand what you are saying,” but instead, “you really believe something that stupid?” For the last few months that man had been attempting to change, to love his wife despite her reaction. Whatever he tried, though, she interpreted it in a negative light. It was her loss. Here was a man who was ready to build a new marriage, and she just wouldn’t see it.
Maybe it’s time you chucked your tinted glasses, too.
Don’t read between the lines. Don’t try to finish each other’s sentences. Don’t assume that if she goes up to bed early it’s because she’s trying to avoid you; maybe she’s hoping you’ll follow her. Don’t assume that if he’s quiet it means he’s mad at you. When she speaks, listen to her words, and pretend it’s a stranger who was saying it. Would you bristle if a stranger asked, “how was your day?” Of course not! If a stranger started discussing how busy your schedule was, you’d analyze it, not assume you were being led down a guilt trip. If you could talk peacefully about something with a stranger, then why not try to do so with your spouse?
Maybe in your relationships you need a reset button, a way to go back to the beginning without all the petty hurts and counterproductive patterns you’ve developed. Don’t expect her to be hurtful. Give him the benefit of the doubt. Your loved one may not catch on right away, but persist. And as you treat that person like a new human being, you just may find that you become a new human being, too.