It all started when my wife went to the front door and came back with the latest delivery from FedEx. “What’s in the box?” I inquired. “I’m not sure,” she said with a hint of excitement in her voice. Since my wife doesn’t typically get excited about things, I began to get curious.
As she went to find something with which to open the box, I thought to my self, “Wouldn’t it be cool if she surprised me by ordered something from Victoria Secrets?” The voice in my head immediately said, “Yeah, right! Be reasonable!” My head knew it was improbable, but my heart was holding out for the long-shot.
When she cut the tape on the top of the box and opened it up, her voice went up an octave and she said, “Yes. It’s what I thought!” Then, just as my heart rate was starting to climb, she reached into the box and pulled out…wait for it…a rolling ink pad for marking out sensitive information on documents and two plastic trays to keep things from falling into the crack between the carseats and the console. She reacted as if she had won the lottery, while I reacted as if my favorite show had just been cancelled.
This box represents the common differences in our expectations. For me, I live with the hope that she will surprise me with romantic advances like modeling risqué sleep wear or initiating sex at unexpected times. For her, she lives with the hope that I will surprise her with practical advances like fixing the towel bar that’s coming out of the wall, or cleaning up the piles of stuff I have all over the house.
Like our FedEx box, every spouse has expectations they hope will be delivered, and rarely do a husband and wife have the same expectations.
So what do you do when you both have ongoing expectations that aren’t being delivered? You can start by asking these four questions:
- Are my expectations realistic? Just because you want something doesn’t mean it’s realistic. If you’re spouse is not an outdoors person, it’s unrealistic to expect them to fall in love with the idea of going camping. If your spouse is not a morning person, it’s unrealistic to expect them to be particularly romantic early in the morning. It doesn’t mean these things couldn’t happen, but it would be rare and expecting it regularly is unrealistic.
- Have I communicated my expectations? So often, we think about what we want from our spouse, but we never come out and directly tell them. We just expect them to know, and then get angry when they don’t respond as we hope. You may be thinking, “I’ve told them till I’m blue in the face and they still won’t do it!” I know that’s very frustrating, but you can’t force anyone to do something. The best you can do is communicate your desire (not your demand), do it in an attitude of love (not frustration) and then leave it with them (not constantly bring it up.)
- Do I need to scale back my expectations some? Sometimes, it’s not what we want that’s the problem. It’s how much we want it. The stereotypical example is sex. The desire for sex in marriage is good, and both spouses will typically share in that desire. The problem comes in our expectations of how frequently this desire should be met. The same could be said about other things: golf, shopping, vacations, possessions, work, etc. Because of our difference, we sometimes need to scale back, not our expectation, but how often we feel that expectation should be met.
- Am I working to meet my spouse’s expectations? The golden rule tells us, “Do to others as you would like them to do to you.” (Luke 6:31.) So, if you want you’re spouse to get better at meeting your expectations, you should get better at meeting theirs. Yes, it doesn’t come natural to you. Yes, you don’t understand why it is important to them. Yes, you would rather be doing something else. But remember, your spouse feels the same way and you still want them to meet your expectations. Lead by example and work toward better meeting their expectations. You’ll be the better for it, and it will make it easier for them to do the same.
Each spouse expects to open the box labelled “marriage” and find just what they hoped for. Sometimes those expectations will match, but many times they won’t. The key to a great marriage is successfully managing the expectations that don’t match up, and that starts with knowing what’s in the box.
Take your spouse out to dinner and talk about the box story from the beginning of this post. Both of you talk about what you would hope to find in the box, and why that’s important to you. Talk about ways you both can respect your differences and still help each other get more of what you desire.
Copyright © 2017 Bret Legg