Why It Might Be Time to Change Our Expectations

When I first met Ken, he used to tell me that my expectations were causing me grief.  Ten years later, I finally get it.  I also see how expectations are creating havoc in most of our marriages.

Think about it: does your spouse ever live up to your expectations? Isn’t there always something more he or she can do?

Now think about marriage in general and what you expected it to be like.  I’m pretty sure most of us expected some mix of the following:

  • an awesome partner who always had our back
  • a happier life, one that would be easier, sexier or more fun
  • unconditional love and belonging, etc.

But did we ever think of marriage as a giant mirror that would help us identify the places we’re stuck, with marriage as the fire that would transform us? 

Um, yeah. 

I’ve been thinking about this ever since my friend Haven turned me on to Tyler Ward’s recent post, 3 Things I Wish I Knew Before We Got Married. Here’s what got me:

although happiness is often a very real byproduct of a healthy relationship, marriage has a far more significant purpose in sight. It is designed to pull dysfunction to the surface of our lives, set it on fire and help us grow.

Wow! Imagine having heard this one in Sex Ed, when you were 12.  Or having heard it from your friends, parents or—hell—society in general long before you got married. 

Bit of a game changer, isn’t it?

The reason I love it so much is because a) it’s true and b) it’s the first thing we’re going to forget after a shitty day at work/home, when the only thing you want is your spouse to come in and make everything better. Especially when it’s not their job to make everything better (which is a post for another day).

These days, we’ve been socialized to believe that life should be good, easy and fun, despite the fact that that’s not always how life works.  And we want the people in our lives to be the same.  We forget that our spouse is just like us, real and flawed, and that we’re all human in this game, just doing the best we can.  Meaning that we’re all mucking up and making mistakes, learning as we go.

And yet so many of us fall into the trap of searching for perfection, thinking that if we just work hard enough, if we just try hard enough, everything will be perfect.  Then, when it’s not, we blame ourselves.  Or we blame our spouse.

One of the reason’s I liked Ward’s post so much is because he reminds us that hey, maybe this hard stuff is just part of the process. Maybe there’s no one to blame when something goes wrong in our marriage because we’re both growing here, we’re both learning. 

And that kind of thinking lets us both off the hook—enough so that we can take a step back and look at the bigger picture of what’s really going on. Then we can ask questions like:

  • Does your spouse really suck, or is it just that she reminds you of your mother, who was always on your case? 
  • Is your hubby really ignoring you, or do his long hours just remind you of your workaholic dad, who was never around? 

Once we figure out what’s really bugging us, we can take appropriate action—by asking your spouse to work less, say, or telling him that you no longer feel like you matter—and start to move forward again.  But it ain’t gonna happen if we stay where we’re at, stuck, and pointing the finger without taking responsibility for ourselves and our happiness. 

So let’s cut ourselves some slack here.  Let’s remind ourselves that yup, we’re human, yup, we’re making lots of mistakes and yup, that’s exactly what we’re supposed to be doing. We’re growing, folks–we’re learning.

Sure, it hasn’t always been easy, and maybe it hasn’t always been fun, but tell me: has it been worth it?

Challenge of the day:

What do you miss most about your old life?

What do you appreciate about your new one? 

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2 Responses to Why It Might Be Time to Change Our Expectations

  1. rtc December 21, 2013 at 7:37 pm #

    Hi. I just read your piece on Gawker and I loved it. We are similar, I guess, in that my dad died when I was 8 and it did wound me more than I realized. I worked hard for long hours and not as much pay as I should have recieved. Friends would tell me in kind ways that I deserved better, but it took me many years before I could claim that. I too went to grad school — I am now working on a PhD dissertaion. I didn’t grow up in the Balkans — just war-town Philly. As a former journalist I had the blessing to spend a lot of time in the Balkans and it is a beautiful region of Europe. You are a gifted writer. So keep writing and keep telling your stories — you are blessing so many people — even yourself. Have a wonderful Christmas.

    • tpajevic December 21, 2013 at 8:40 pm #

      Thanks for your kind words, RTC. I’m sorry to hear about your father, but I love that you were able to pull things together and claim what you deserved. Thanks for sharing your experience about the Balkans, too — it’s an intense legacy to carry around and I very much appreciate talking to someone who’s been there. I’d love to hear what you’re working on for your dissertation with such an interesting background… I’ve got a lot of ex-journalist friends who have been scrambling these past few years, trying to find a new profession. I’m glad that you landed in what sounds like a good place.

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