Are you expecting too much from your husband? So often, we can allow the expectations we bring to the marriage relationship to dampen our love for our spouse, leading to conflict, disappointment, and feeling unappreciated by our husband. In this article, Maria Dyck shares some principles that helped her and her husband manage expectations in their marriage, including how learning to reframe our expectations as desires can lead to better understanding, gratitude, and appreciation of one another.
When I first met my husband, I wasn’t expecting him. I wasn’t expecting love at all in that season of my life. And I really wasn’t expecting love to come in the package of a tall Mennonite boy with a mustache from the jungles of Belize.
I learned then that love doesn’t always look like you expect.
Soon after, we got married. It was then I learned that marriage doesn’t always look like you expect either! It turns out nothing about love and marriage was anything like I had expected it to be. Having been educated in the school of romance novels and romantic comedy movies, I strolled into marriage with a box of expectations. I realized, too late, that I was not prepared for its reality.
But it wasn’t just me. Just as I had dreams of a life filled with travel, adventure, and someone who would shower me with gifts; my husband also entered marriage with his own box of expectations. They included a wife who cooked every night and cleaned up, a wife who would drop everything to hold the flashlight for him, and a wife who had boundless energy for sex.
Turns out, neither of us got what we expected.
EXPECTING TOO MUCH
I didn’t expect to have to fix the lawnmower myself since he was too busy. He didn’t expect me to be so independent. I didn’t expect him to tell me how to fold his laundry. He didn’t expect me to leave my shoes everywhere. I didn’t expect him to be so stubborn. He didn’t expect me to be so opinionated. Sometimes our expectations were clear. But sometimes they were unwritten. And you only stumbled upon it after failing the test.
Somewhere in the years that followed, we slowly allowed our expectations to dampen the love and respect we had for each other. There were times we both expressed frustrations with the other person not fulfilling the expectations we had of one another. We found ourselves asking: Are we expecting too much?
The problem was, we were asking the wrong question. And if you ask the wrong question, you get the wrong answer. At some point, we stumbled on a sermon by Andy Stanley regarding expectations in marriage, and it proved to be incredibly helpful! The lessons I learned are largely borne from this series (now available on Youtube) and have been an invaluable tool in navigating expectations within our marriage.
EXPECTATION IS A DEBT
In his marriage series, Andy Stanley explained how expectation acts like a debt. For instance, if a friend borrows twenty dollars from you, do you expect it back? It likely depends on which friend, but generally, yes. You are expecting that money to be returned to you. And when your friend pays the debt, are you grateful? Probably not. Why should you be grateful for the return of something that originally belonged to you?
Consider how this logic applies to marriage. If I expect my husband to wash the dishes, and he does, am I grateful? Not likely, if I assume it’s the very least a man should do in the home. If I expect my husband to change a dirty diaper, and he does it, do I praise him? Probably not, if that’s what I think a father should do. If I expect my husband to go to work and bring home a paycheck, do I affirm him? Not if I believe that’s just what a man does!
If I expect all these things, I can easily turn into an ungrateful woman who assumes her husband will go to work, do the dishes, and take care of the baby. And I am not the least bit grateful. He is simply meeting my expectations and paying the debt he owes me.
Drowning in Expectations
It doesn’t take long for a spouse–husband or wife–to feel the weight of those expectations. What happens when he doesn’t do the dishes? How do I respond then? If I feel like those dishes are owed to me, do I lash out in anger? Do I become bitter? Do I withhold my body and affection because if I can’t get what I want, why should I give him what he wants?
Pretty soon, the marriage is filled with more expectations than either one can handle. And both parties are exhausted and discouraged because neither are receiving the love and affirmation they long for. Both feel the weight of the debt they owe, and there is no relief.
Does this mean you can’t have any expectations of your spouse? Not at all! Even God has expectations of His children. But it does mean we should be aware of when an expectation goes from a baseline of common decency to selfish extortion.
EXPECTATION KILLS INTIMACY
Perhaps one of the most troubling results of having expectations is, as Stanley points out, that it kills intimacy within marriage. When a marriage becomes a business arrangement, it quickly loses the mystery of two souls uniting. You go to work. I do dishes. You pay the bills. I cook dinner. You mow the lawn. I take care of the children, and so on.
It’s hard to view your spouse with desire when you feel like you have a debt to pay. In that setting, even sex becomes an expectation; and intimacy, whether it be emotional, physical, or spiritual becomes impossible to achieve.
To really experience intimacy, we need to lay aside our expectations. Cancel the debts. Strike the record clean. Set aside our unwritten demands and learn to listen to each other. Because the question isn’t, Am I expecting too much? but rather, What do I desire?
EXPECTATIONS VERSUS DESIRES
I am very uncomfortable with desires. As someone who grew up in an unhealthy home, I learned to expect very little, to not be needy, and to not express my heart’s desire. It was safer to deaden my heart so as not to experience disappointment. There was an unconscious idea that desires were sinful, so it was best to squash them before they controlled you.
With such a poor theological view of desire, I had no capacity to express my simplest desires in a healthy way. Scripture actually has more to say about desires than it does about expectations. Just a quick word search will show that while there are only a handful of references to the latter, the former is mentioned numerous times. It seems even God prefers to use the language of desire and not expectations when it comes to humans and the longings of our heart.
Learning to express our longings was a huge shift for my husband and I. We had to consciously reframe our expectations and express them as desires.
A Shift in Perspective
Instead of silently expecting my husband to help me with the dishes, I had to learn to say, “I could really use your help in the kitchen tonight. Would you be able to help me?”
Instead of expecting him to remember my birthday, I learned to say, “My birthday is this Friday. I’d love to go out for dinner with you. Can we make it happen?”
Instead of expecting him to magically know that I was at my wit’s end with the kids, I learned to say, “I need to take a break. Would you please watch the kids while I go for a walk and make sure they do their homework?”
The problem with expressing a desire is that there is a very real chance of being turned down! Sometimes it feels safer to not ask, then to ask and be denied. But a part of living and loving within marriage is learning to trust your spouse with your heart. This includes expressing your desires and believing they will pick up what you are laying down. If you feel like your spouse isn’t cluing in to what you are saying, be sure to be clear and direct. Love should always be honest, transparent, and without ambiguity.
GROWTH AND GRACE
Reframing expectations as desires may seem like a vulnerable move. But it also has the power to transform conversations and open a new level of understanding.
By releasing my expectations, I learned to be grateful for my husband’s help and contributions. I recognized he could choose to ignore them and walk away—some men do. Every time I expressed a desire, and he fulfilled it, I thanked him. Slowly, our language shifted and grew from demanding to open-handedness. And as we eased into this new way of expressing ourselves, we found a grace that hadn’t existed before. A grace to receive and a grace to give.
As I’ve grown in expressing my desires, I still find myself struggling from time to time—not only with expressing my desires to my husband, but in expressing my heart to God. Sometimes I have believed the lie that God doesn’t care about my desires, so why should I bother Him with my requests?
But Psalm 103 makes it crystal clear that God is a good and gracious Father who, “forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things” (v.3-5, NIV, emphasis mine).
What a gift to know that this God, who is so good to you and me, helps us live out this spirit of generosity in our marriage, so we can be a home where love flourishes, grace abounds, and desires are satisfied with good things.
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So so good!!!! Thank you for writing this. Such a valuable perspective!