A husband recently asked me, “What should I have as expectations in my marriage?” Most of us (both husbands and wives), entered our marriage with great expectations. Our wedding vows often provide insight into some of those expectations. When you said, “for better for worse, in sickness and in health,” what were you expecting? I’ll admit that I never gave “worse” a thought. I also didn’t truly anticipate “sickness”. But the effects of childhood sexual abuse can greatly affect the way our marriage compares to the expectations we form.
Most of us (both husbands and wives), entered marriage with great expectations.
It is probably safe to say none of us expected trauma, depression, eating disorders, rage, shame, suicidal ideation, substance abuse, self-injurious behavior, nightmares, panic attacks, sexual aversion, dissociation, or any of the other effects of childhood sexual abuse. Despite your expectations, you and your wife have had these unexpected effects invade your pleasures, plans, and pursuits. So, what are we to do with our great expectations?
I find that the best way to approach this question is to examine the origin and expression of our expectations. In this blog, I will present the first question we can ask to test the validity and health of our expectations. In our next blog, we will present additional questions on this topic.
Where do my expectations for marriage originate?
Our expectations can rise out of three origins, each of which has its own inherent dangers. I am going to first present you with the possible origin. Then I will provide information to help you understand this root of expectation. Finally, I will provide questions you can ask yourself to begin the process of seeing the reality of your expectations.
Our expectations can be the result of our comparisons.
My wife and I enjoy watching house renovation programs on TV. She finds ideas for decorating that utilize things we already have, and I develop new expectations by wanting things I currently do not have. These new expectations can easily tempt me to become discontent with the very comfortable and affordable home I already have.
Our bar of expectation usually rises when we compare
our situation with what we see around us.
Going to church can also be a problem for survivors of childhood sexual abuse and for us as husbands, especially when we make comparisons. In many churches, people put on their best appearance. This is not what Jesus intended, but unfortunately, it is often the reality. Survivors and their husbands can be fooled into thinking that they are the only ones struggling. Therefore, they begin longing for or expecting what others seem to have.
Survivors and their husbands can be fooled into thinking that they are the only ones struggling. Therefore, they begin longing for or expecting what others seem to have.
I previously served as a pastor for over 40 years. During this time, I learned that God was spot on when he cautioned us about looking at outward appearances.
Are your expectations the result of the comparisons you are making with the people and things around you? Have you raised the bar higher than it needs to be?
Our expectations can be rooted in our family of origin.
I brought a lot of junk into our marriage because of how many of my expectations were rooted in the home where I grew up. My parents were married for over 50 years. On the surface, they seemed to have marriage figured out. However, while their mode of operation may have worked for my parents, it was unfair to expect the same model would work for my marriage as well.
It seems simple to realize that my marriage should be different from that of my family of origin, but I had never considered this would be the case. I was drawn to my wife for characteristics that did not exist in my mother, but I expected her to function in marriage like my mother functioned with my father. There’s no logic in that!
When a man leaves his father and mother to unite to his wife, he should expect some things in his life to change. You and your wife are different people than your parents.
Do you root your expectations in family of origin? How is it logical or illogical to maintain those expectations?
Our expectations can revolve around ourselves.
It is interesting to compare marriage promises with marriage practices.
Our promises include:
- I will love and cherish you forever.
- I will always listen.
- I will comfort you in times of distress.
- I give myself to you.
Our practices can often indicate:
- I will love and cherish you, but I expect the same in return.
- I have listened, but I expect you to get over it.
- I did comfort, but I expect you to understand that I’m distressed too.
- I’ll give myself, but can’t I expect that you’ll do just one thing for me?
The problem presented here is universal. We are deeply selfish. It was necessary for God to address our selfish ambitions and expectations when He said, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).
It was necessary for God to address our selfish ambitions and expectations.
Do your expectations mostly revolve around you? How do your expectations reflect humility in you and honor for your wife?
So What Do I Do Now?
Take some time to determine the originating source(s) of your expectations and to test their validity and health based on what you’ve read. It will take time to sort it out.
In my next blog, we’ll continue with additional questions for testing the validity and health of your expectations. Here’s a glimpse of what’s to come:
- Do I have unspoken expectations?
- Are my expectations realistic?
- Am I expecting my marriage to make me happy?