Exploring Sources of Marital Expectations

Everyone has expectations regarding the manner in which they believe a marriage should work. Whether you realize it or not, through the course of your life you have formed ideas, beliefs and assumptions about virtually every aspect of married life. The expectations that both you and your spouse have will influence your relationship in many ways – some positively and some negatively. Therefore, it is important to understand where your expectations about marriage come from and the impact they have on marital adjustment and satisfaction.

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Developing marital expectations is a completely normal and natural phenomenon. However, it is not without potential for problems. Rarely are one’s expectations about marriage fulfilled entirely. Even if your mate is similar to you in most every way, no two people have exactly the same expectations for every facet of life. Therefore, it is almost a foregone conclusion that disappointment, frustration, dissatisfaction, and even conflict will occur at some point due to incongruent expectations.

There are adjustments that must take place with both partners if your marriage is to be successful. In order for this to happen, you must be aware of what your expectations are and why you have them. Only then can you begin the process of negotiating shared expectations that are acceptable to both of you.

Below are descriptions of the primary origins of marital expectations. These are the sources from which peoples’ ideas and assumptions about married life are formed. Use this information to help you analyze and evaluate your own expectations for marriage. Some may be fine as they are, but others may need to be adjusted to be more realistic or flexible.

Family Influences

Generally, the most potent influence upon the development of marital expectations comes from your family of origin. How your parents communicated, handled conflict, displayed affection, dealt with finances, made decisions, and many other factors certainly had a profound impact on your ideas and assumptions – for better or worse. If your parents divorced or if you did not have one or both parents actively involved in your life (for whatever reason), these experiences have surely sculpted your expectations in some way.

Social Influences

In addition to your own family, your views on marriage and relationships have been affected by your observations of and exposure to others. This could include neighbors, close friends (and/or their parents), or other acquaintances – especially those whom you respect, admire or desire to emulate. Sometimes these social influences provide contrast to our home experience and cause us to consider other possibilities of what married life can or should be like.

Cultural Influences

Our expectations are also shaped in part by the greater culture in which we live. This would include religious teaching, educational influences, and even ideas that are transmitted to us through the media. It is important to realize that every idea and assumption we pick up about marriage is not necessarily the most healthy or beneficial regardless of where it comes from. This is certainly true of many cultural influences. For example, the entertainment industry consistently portrays relationships in a way that is idealized and unrealistic. Many are greatly disappointed when their marriages do not measure up to the perfect romanticized model that they have been conditioned to expect. Other culturally transmitted expectations (i.e. most religious teaching) are positive ones, although not always easy to live up to consistently.

Personal Influences

Another powerful source that plays a role in forming your marital expectations is personal experiences in past relationships with others. This could range from your high school sweetheart to a close friend to a previous spouse. Like the other types of influences, past relationships can impact us in both positive and negative ways. Things that made us feel good about a previous relationship are generally desired and sought after when you get married. Conversely, you may keep a watchful eye out for aspects of the relationship that you did not like. Many times these past experiences serve as filters through which we interpret aspects of our current relationship – sometimes unfairly so.

Kirk VanOoteghem serves as Executive Pastor of River of Life in Muncie, Indiana.  He has many years of experience as a marriage counselor and educator and is the founder of MarriageMoment.org – an online ministry dedicated to protecting and strengthening marriages.

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