Everything, always, comes down to this. Yep. Everything. No, it’s not the typical problem subjects like sex, communication, money, your mother in law or your kids. It all boils down, all the time, no matter what is going on, to one simple thing that everyone is dealing with literally ALL. THE. TIME.
That’s right. It’s that simple and that complex. Expectations, instead of always being a willing participant to help us have a happy, connected, wonder-filled, meaningful and satisfying marriage can be a cesspool of unmet desires, lingering frustrations and deep-seeded pain that threaten your relationship.
Here’s the deal. In EVERY SINGLE area of your marriage, you have expectations. They might be high, specific and communicated or low, (almost non-existent) general and unspoken but they are there. Always.
But before we talk about unmet expectations we simply have to mention something super essential and super helpful: SHARE your expectations with your spouse. TALK about them. Whether they are reasonable or not, realistic or not, healthy or not… talk about them. Your spouse may never get to love you by meeting your expectations unless you communicate them to him/her.
But what about UNMET expectations. Communicated or not an unmet expectation always has the potential to derail your relationship even if slightly. So here’s the mother of all marriage goals… Don’t let unmet expectations affect your intimacy and your unity.
Let’s say, for example, you have just come home from a business trip. You’re hoping (actually EXPECTING) to have wild, passionate lovemaking when the kids go to bed on the day you return. But that doesn’t happen. Your spouse is exhausted from dealing with the kids for the last few days by themselves. Plus they’ve come down with something and cannot wait to get to bed for reasons completely unrelated to yours. You’ve now got an unmet expectation. An expectation GAP.
Or maybe you’ve been at home with the baby for what seems like days on end. Months even. It seems never-ending. Relentless. You’d really just like a few hours out with your friends… or by yourself! And really, you thought your spouse would realise this by now. Surely they can see you need some time out?! You can feel resentment building. Another expectation gap.
How do you identify an expectation gap? Whenever you feel let down or you’re getting angry, resentful, frustrated, hurt, offended or disappointed by something your spouse was ‘meant’ to do but didn’t or did but wasn’t meant to you’ve got a gap between your expectation and reality.
Left undealt with, these expectations gaps can cause us to withdraw and distance ourselves, stop trying, get hurt or offended and even start a rift between you that can widen without the proper attention.
So, what can we do with these expectation gaps? How do we deal with unmet expectations? What do we do when we were expecting something but our spouse totally underdelivered?
Here’s how you can manage your expectation gaps:
1. Cover it
Depending on how big the gap is, you may be able to simply cover it with your love for them. No need to bring it up, mention it in passing or use it in a future argument. Just cover it with your love and move on.
2. Consider the Context
Sometimes your expectation is totally reasonable but there was something totally out of your control that prevented it from happening. Maybe it was sickness or injury, grief, a busy season, stress, kids, hormones or something unexpected but recognising the context helps us manage the gaps.
When you recognise that you have in fact been hurt or offended you then need to apply to them real forgiveness. Forgiveness releases them from what you feel they owed you. Forgiveness clears the debt, restores the relationship and reignites pursuit.
4. Focus on what DID happen and adjust accordingly
I like this from Derek Harvey. Dwelling on what didn’t happen is pretty unhelpful. If you can switch gears, forget about it and deal with the new reality that’s right in front of you, you’re much more likely to be able to enjoy or at least embrace what’s happening and engage with it.
5. Communicate it and work it through together
If you can’t do any of the above then you absolutely must talk about it. Getting your disappointment into the open enables your spouse to:
- Recognise the importance of that particular expectation and seek to meet it in the future.
- Contextualise for you why it couldn’t happen this time.
- Apologise and make amends if necessary.
- Dialogue with you about it so you can both see each other’s perspective.
- Challenge an unhealthy expectation
Once the expectation gap has been closed you can then MOVE TOWARDS THEM. Continue to pursue them, be intimate, friends, lovers, partners, besties…. be close. Any expectation gap threatens to divide you… once dealt with you can continue in greater unity and more agreement than before.
And in the future do this!
1. Communicate what you expect. If an expectation changes, let them know about it!
2. Talk about common gaps that happen and how you can meet them for each other.
3. Create strategies for communicating gaps early.