Jill: The holidays are commonly known as the most wonderful time of the year! However, they are also the most filled with expectations. Your in-laws are expecting you to come by for brunch, your parents are expecting you for family time, there are holiday programs and plays, office gift exchanges, and more! Expectations are everywhere!

Mark: It’s so true. Unhealthy expectations or expectations that aren’t communicated can quickly cause disappointment and even a rift in our relationships.

Jill: Exactly. Unrealistic expectations are often the source of disconnection in our marriage.

Mark: This is why we suggest giving your spouse the gift of released expectations this Christmas!

The Impact of Unhealthy Expectations

Jill: Unrealistic expectations can cause our spouse to feel judged, highly criticized, and even rejected for not measuring up. It can even communicate to our spouse that they are not enough or will never be good enough.

Mark: This can take a deep emotional toll on our relationship. And what is worse is that often our spouse is completely unaware that we had those expectations in the first place. Here are a few examples of how unhealthy or unclear expectations could play out in your marriage this Christmas:

  • You put together a Christmas list for all your children and even purchased many of the items. You hope your spouse would take the initiative to either wrap some of the items or help finish the shopping, but never say anything. Instead, the gifts remain unwrapped and the shopping list hasn’t moved from the counter. The more time that passes, the more upset you get, and eventually those feelings transform into resentment.
  • Your in-laws want you to come on Christmas day and bring a snack to share. In passing, you mentioned to your spouse that you’re trying to decide what to bring, expecting that they’d want to suggest something. That was days ago and they still haven’t given any suggestions on what to make. They haven’t offered to help either.
  • While you haven’t discussed with your spouse if you are exchanging gifts this year or not, you secretly have an item that you want them to get you. With each passing day, you try to leave hints around the house and hint in conversation that you’d really like this item instead of making a clear request.

Jill: The tricky thing with expectations is that while it is not bad to have them, when they are not communicated or hold your spouse to a standard they are unable to meet, they become unhealthy. When we meet with couples in our marriage coaching we find that unspoken expectations are the culprit in dissatisfaction in the relationship.

Mark: It’s true. Many times this happens when one spouse is a perfectionist or has a set idea of how they want things to be done, but they haven’t communicated those expectations to their spouse. So it creates a scenario in which their spouse can’t meet their expectation or it feels like they have failed if they do it in a different way than their spouse was anticipating. Consider what happens when you and your spouse sit down to wrap the Christmas presents. Are you quick to point out when they fold a corner in a way you don’t like? Or maybe their bow placement is a little off-centered. If you are constantly pointing out all the ways they do something “wrong,” they are likely going to walk away from that scenario feeling like they are not enough.

Jill: By giving your spouse the gift of released expectations, you are committing to give your spouse the freedom to do things differently than you would. You are also committing to communicate with your spouse in advance to keep any expectations you have from becoming unhealthy or unrealistic.

Two Ways to Practically Release Expectations This Christmas

Mark: The first way you can practically release your spouse from expectations this Christmas is to have an honest conversation with them. This might sound “simple,” but this is the best place to start! Let them know how you need help and what plans you have for the holidays. As a small example, if you are wanting to exchange gifts with your spouse, it’s important that you tell them you would like to do that and ask if they can agree to that.

Jill: Keep in mind that your spouse may be unaware of some of the expectations you have had up to this point. Instead of communicating from a place of resentment, anger, or disappointment, we can choose to communicate with grace and kindness.

Mark: The second way you can release your spouse from expectations is to accept who they are. Remember: Our differences are not right or wrong; they are just differences. You can make this shift through reframing, resisting, and rejoicing. Instead of seeing how they wrap presents differently as something negative, practice reframing it as a positive. Ask yourself: What is the good that is coming out of this? When we look for the good, we might find something small that is truly special, like your child’s favorite part of opening gifts being the goofy wrapping paper your spouse picked out!

Jill: Next we need to resist unnecessary comments or corrections. It’s easy to make passive-aggressive comments, but they are not needed nor are they helpful. When we view our spouse doing something “incorrectly,” we are really judging them based on our own personal preference. Let’s call it what it really is: judgment.

Mark: And finally we need to rejoice in our differences. Our relationship would be pretty boring if we were both exactly alike. Together, we balance each other out and bring something different to the table. Recognize and rejoice that your spouse does things in a different way than you do and that your differences have value!

Jill: Your spouse may decorate the tree differently than you would choose to do. Your spouse may seek to hold stricter boundaries around time with family. Or they may not enjoy the same traditions that you enjoy. Instead of getting mad at them and letting them know how “wrong” they are, it’s crucial to embrace their uniqueness and the value of their differences.

When we give our spouse the gift of released expectations, we are accepting them for who they are and clearly communicating our wants and needs. What unhealthy expectations have been souring your relationship this Christmas season? How can you see your spouse’s differences in a positive light? How can you focus on connection over expectation?


Looking for a Christmas present for your marriage? Take a look at the No More Perfect Marriage: Home Edition On-Demand Seminar!


Want regular encouragement?

Subscribe to get Jill's latest content by email.

(You can view our privacy policy here.)

Powered by ConvertKit