What are Healthy Expectations for My Marriage?
By Dennis and Thammie Sy
Thammie: Talking about expectations is a tricky thing. On the one hand, we should be careful not to allow our desires to become expectations. We might end up resenting our spouses for not fulfilling them, or we might become unappreciative of them when they do. We don’t want to have an “after all” attitude, where our natural response to our spouses’ acts of service and affection would be “you are my spouse, after all.“ No. We don’t want that. We want to maintain a joyful attitude in our marriages—always hopeful for the best and at the same time grateful for what already is.
On the other hand, we do enter into marriage with a specific set of expectations that would serve as a benchmark. Let’s call these “foundational expectations.” These are things that are worth fighting for. These are the areas that are okay for us to sit down and discuss with our spouses. These are the ones we constantly go back to and evaluate to see whether they are getting fulfilled or not. These are areas that, when overlooked and left unfulfilled, can ruin your marriage.
For us, these are some of the areas that fall under this category (in no particular order):
- Communication: Can you still communicate your thoughts and feelings with each other without getting into fights? Do we listen to understand our spouse more than we talk to be understood?
- Service: A question we regularly ask each other is “How can I serve you better as a wife/husband?” This questions puts us—as husbands and wives—in a posture that says “I am in this marriage wanting to serve rather than be served.”
- Romance: intimacy in marriage is “in-to-me-see.” We need to constantly put in the effort to rekindle the love. Are we still in the habit of pursuing our spouses as we grow older together?
- Faithfulness: marriage is exclusive. It’s between a husband and a wife. Do we have boundaries in place to protect our marriage?
- Respect: How do we treat our spouses? Do we treat them and talk to them with honor and respect? Learning how to respect each other’s differences make good marriages great.
Dennis: As you can see, we dubbed “foundational expectations” as such. When we remind our spouses of these things (read: with the appropriate tone of voice and timing, not in any way synonymous with nagging), we are doing ourselves and our spouses a favor. We are communicating that we care enough about our marriage to have to go through the trouble of asking to sit down and process this together, and ensure that these get fulfilled. It is not just about getting our desires and preferences and what would make us happy. More importantly, it is about what would make both you and your spouse happy, and your relationship richer.
In Timothy Keller’s book Meaning of Marriage, he spoke of rightly objecting to the binary choice that both traditional and contemporary marriages seem to give us. Is the purpose of marriage to deny your interests for the good of the family, or is it rather to assert your interest for the fulfillment of yourself? Marriage does not offer a choice between fulfillment and sacrifice, but rather mutual fulfillment through mutual sacrifice.
I end my answer on expectations with this thought: Just because we say that these expectations are foundational to our marriage doesn’t give us the right to disrespect our spouse, or to be unloving toward them. I am sure that many of us do have unfulfilled expectations. What then? Do we gripe? Do we start to resent? Do we give up and not care anymore? No.
Thammie: Here’s another thing I would like to add when it comes to expectations in marriage: unconditional love. The vows we made when we entered marriage were all made with this premise: that we are to love our husbands/wives unconditionally. This means we are to love them even if they still haven’t fulfilled our expectations. This says that we acknowledge and remind ourselves that “my spouse is a work in progress, just as I too, am a work in progress.”