Years of mentoring hurting couples and navigating our own hurting relationship have led us to conclude that the number one cause of divorce isn’t money or sex or infidelity or even communication. These are all secondary issues of the deeper issue. They are symptoms of the root issue – unmet expectations.

Unmet (or unrealistic) expectations are when what we expect doesn’t match up with what we have and often times we aren’t sure how to deal with it or what to do when this happens. We can respond with anger, demanding to get what we want, or by squelching our disappointment and telling ourselves that it doesn’t really matter (when really it does).

Expectations can be dangerous to our relationships, especially when they are unknown, unspoken, unrealistic, or unmet. But what do we do with these expectations that are robbing us of our joy and causing distance in our relationship?

Let’s take a look at the six ways unrealistic expectations are harming your marriage and how we can flip those around to strengthen our marriages instead:

1) Unrealistic expectations cause us to reject our differences.

When we have different ways of thinking, processing, and making decisions, having unrealistic expectations can cause us to reject our spouse merely because their way of doing things is different from our own. We condemn them for doing things that are not wrong, just different.

Rather than expecting our spouse to do everything exactly the way we would do it, it’s important that we learn to accept them for who they are and work to find the good in the ways we are different.

2) Unrealistic expectations cause us to believe lies.

The lies of expectations tell us that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence and that the issues we are having would go away if the circumstances were different. But the reality is that regardless of life circumstances, you will always bump into each other’s differences. Instead of believing these lies, we need to cling to reality statements like these:

  • We will have differences for the duration of our marriage.
  • When I bump into my spouse’s differences, I will likely have to deal with judgment in my own head.
  • I may not fully understand all my spouse’s concerns, but I still have to value them.

Where do you need to adjust your perspective?

3) Unrealistic expectations fertilize fault-finding thoughts.

Did you know that we have the power to fertilize either positive or negative thoughts? When we hold unrealistic expectations, it leads us to disappointment and believing the worst about our spouse. For example, we might think, “He always plays with the kids after dinner and doesn’t care about me or all that has to get done around the house. He’s being selfish.”

We need to do the important internal work of evaluating our thought life because what we feed will grow. We can actually push our thoughts in the right direction if we will starve the negative thoughts and feed the positive ones.

Start paying attention to your thoughts about your spouse. When a negative thought enters your mind, flip it on its head. Turn the negative thought into a positive one. Following the example above, we can think, “I really appreciate how he prioritizes connection with our kids after dinner. I should make sure to clearly ask him for help if I feel like I could use his support before he goes and plays with the kids.”

Read More: A Day in the Life of a Marriage Intensive

4) Unrealistic expectations can lead to unhealthy conversations.

When we are disappointed because our spouse did not meet an unspoken expectation, it can lead to unhealthy conversations. This causes our conversations to be filled with disappointment, discouragement, and even frustration that only leads to more hurt.

We need to use expectations as a springboard for healthy conversations. This means starting by owning the fact that these expectations have been unspoken and maybe even unknown. Tell your spouse you want to sort out if these are unrealistic expectations or real desires that could possibly be a part of the fabric of your relationship if you simply communicated them to one another.

It’s okay to ask for change, but do not expect an immediate adjustment. We have to allow the Holy Spirit to lead after we ask or create awareness. Be ready, however, to make some changes yourself because you’ll likely need to meet in the middle in some way.

5) Unrealistic expectations cause us to use the wrong tools.

We often reach for the wrong tools when we have unmet expectations. What comes naturally to us is to reach for pride, fear, harshness, and rejection, but these tools only serve to divide us from our spouse.

Instead, we need to reach for the right tools: humility, courage, grace, and acceptance. These are some of our God tools, and are the best tools to pull out of your toolbox when you are doing marriage improvement work in the area of expectations.

Read more: Are You Giving Energy to Your Marriage? 8 Questions to Ask Yourself

Unrealistic or unmet expectations can cause real and lasting damage to our marriages. They can cause a divide that only gets wider with time. Most of our unrealistic expectations show up because we’ve idolized other marriage relationships, we’ve allowed the media to feed us lies of impossible standards, or we’ve concocted our own unreasonable ideals.

Expectations can be a good thing if we learn how to identify them, communicate about them clearly, and use them to strengthen and improve our relationship. As you do this hard work of uncovering the unrealistic expectations harming your marriage, try asking yourself these questions:

Where do I have unrealistic expectations in my marriage?
How do I need to adjust my expectations to better match reality?
Do I need to make time for some honest conversations with my spouse?



Looking for more marriage resources? Start with No More Perfect Marriages!

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