Article #1, August 21, 2002
Why do relationships have to be so much work?
Very recently, an acquaintance was telling me “Now I know why people say everything changes after you get married. My wife and I knew each other our entire lives, and as soon as we got married everything changed.”
Why does this happen? EXPECTATIONS. He had never asked his wife what her expectations and needs are in their marriage, so how could he possibly live up to them? He, in turn, had never thought about his expectations, and had not talked to her about his needs either. What can be done in this situation? While the answer is pretty simple, the execution isn’t. Ask. Sit down together in a non-confrontational way and ask. Try this:
Honey, we’ve been married now for awhile, and I sense that you’re not completely happy. Are you getting what you need from me? Can you help me understand what your needs are? I want you to be happy.
Sweetheart, you know how much I love you, but I’m not getting what I need from our relationship. It occurred to me that I never told you what I need, and I want to know more of what you want. Can we talk about it?
Sometimes our expectations are excessive, even seemingly impossible. There are many reasons for this. Often, little girls are raised with the prince-on-a-white-horse expectation. Between Disney and T.V., it’s no wonder! Little girls expect to grow up, meet that one guy who will be their soul mate. They will marry in a big wedding, have 2 children, have a fabulous career and a wonderful husband. He will never stay out late with the boys, he’ll do half of the housework, make at least $60,000/year, keep his body in excellent condition… Sound familiar?
A man, on the other hand, may expect that his wife doesn’t gain a single pound – even after childbearing; dinner is on the table when they are home from work, the house is clean and the children are cared for – even if his wife works full-time, too.
Expectations are like feelings – they just are. There is no fault involved, and they need to be expressed. Sometimes, however, they don’t match up with the partner’s expectations, and negotiation will be needed.
Life is more complex all the time, and talking about our needs becomes increasingly important. In our society, we give expectant parents large books on how to parent, and this is a welcome gift. A majority of parents compare notes, asking advice often – even from people they barely know. When it comes to marriage, it’s a very different story. When is the last time someone came to your desk at work and asked “My husband and I haven’t been having sex much lately – do you think I should ask him about it?” Would you ever remotely consider giving a “What to expect when you’re married” book as a wedding gift?
It’s very important to state your expectations to people with whom you want to have a positive relationship – in all areas of your life. You may want to start small in a safe environment. Talk with a sibling or child first. Test it on your best friend. People generally like to hear what’s expected of them – this knowledge makes it easier to deliver. Think about your boss. If you had no idea what s/he wanted of you, how could you possibly do well at work? The experts say a lack of communication is often the root cause of marital problems, but that’s a vague cliché and really doesn’t give a person anywhere to start – but start you must to be successful. Having a discussion about expectations is a good place to begin.