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Winter Edition
Volume 100, Number 3

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What did you expect?

illustration by Ammon R. Perry '09

When two become one (continued)

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What did you expect?

How to manage marital expectations

Envision the fabled traveler crawling through the desert—lost, exhausted, and parched. Suddenly he sees an oasis of sparkling water in the distance. He presses toward that oasis only to find that it is a mirage, an optical illusion. Realizing that he cannot quench his thirst, he experiences profound disappointment and angrily curses the mirage for having been so alluring.

Oftentimes, our desire to have our expectations fulfilled by the one we love leads to an experience similar to that of this fabled journeyer. We tend to feel fulfilled when we receive what we expect or think we deserve. If our relationship meets what we believe are fair expectations, then we are satisfied. If our expectations are unfair or the relationship does not fulfill our hopes, however, then the result can be disappointment, anger, mistreatment of the one we love, or the dissolution of the relationship.

Although expectations are not the only predictor of whether or not a relationship will succeed, they are an important factor. Honest reflection and open conversation, as outlined in the following suggestions, can help create an avenue to understanding.

Understanding expectations

• Identify your expectations. Only some of our expectations are consciously recognized or made explicit. Reflect on your own expectations and ask your partner or even a trusted friend to help you identify other subconscious expectations of which you may be unaware. Keep in mind that you will have expectations about many things, including communication, family and friends, finances, sex, religion, parenting, and roles, just to name a few.

Consider the sources of your expectations. Expectations gleaned from various sources— such as parents, the media, and so forth— may exist, fairly or not, within your present relationship. Knowing the source may help you be more realistic.

• Cultivate constructive communication as a habit. The time you spend feeling disappointed or fighting about unmet expectations could be better spent working together to develop more realistic expectations that can strengthen your relationship.

• Be flexible. Once you have identified your expectations, be willing to adjust them if necessary for the health of your relationship. Rigidly held expectations can harm a relationship and lead to personal discontentment and dissatisfaction.

• Don’t assume. Henry Winkler once said, “Assumptions are the termites of relationships.” You may assume that you and your partner’s expectations are the same, but you will not know until you talk about it. Be willing to love your partner by negotiating common ground or developing new expectations that increase your mutual understanding and enhance your relationship.

Paul A. Johns and Erin F. Boyd-Soisson

Paul Johns Erin Boyd-Soisson


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