Relationships / Marriage

Expectations in Marriage: The Real Reason Y’all Can’t Stop Arguing

I figured my husband would know to let me sleep in on Saturdays.
I mean, he sees me wake up early for work ALL week and darn it, Saturdays are for taking it slow right? Everyone should know that!
Why does he keep nagging at me about “getting a head-start on the weekend”

You see, I grew up in a household where Saturdays were indeed NOT for taking it slow. Saturdays…were for cleaning! And my mom had a particular belief that she called “morning strength”. This is her belief that things can be done faster and better if they are done early in the morning.
So, every Saturday when I woke up to clean out the pantry or refrigerator or something else, I would sulk and think to myself “when I grow up, I’ll finally sleep in on Saturdays!”

And I kind of did that….until I got married!
And found out that my new husband was of the “morning strength” clan.

Talk about TRIGGERED!!!!

I felt like I was right back to what I had escaped from LOL!

I have found that early marriage is made up of a whole lot of unexpected expectations as well as shattered expectations.
Do any of these sound familiar?

Maybe you expected her to call you by sweet and “marriage-ish” nicknames once you got married.
Now you’re 3 months in and she’s tossing your first name everywhere, across the house to get your attention and frankly, it’s jarring. You grew up with the couples around you calling each other dear and honey- you feel like that’s what marriage is about! This here kind of feels like you’re roommates or something.

She thought he would know to plan something for her birthday.

He expected that she would feel the same way he does about birthdays- it’s just another day, no big deal.

Maybe in premarital counseling, you both agreed that either of you had no problems cooking for the household. Now that you’re married, she finds out that he meant more like once a year as a treat for her birthday and she meant more like every other day.

He thought that …. she thought that...
At the end of the day,

are the real reason you guys keep bickering.

Well, to be fair… un-communicated and unmet expectations are the real reason we argue and nag.

The reason I specify that unmet and un-communicated expectations are the problem is because all expectations aren’t bad. They’re very much normal and when your spouse meets your expectations without you having to communicate them, that’s what gives you that “OMG, we are so RIGHT for each other” or “she just GETS me” feeling.

The problem with expectations in marriage sometimes is….

wedding bands come with marriage expectations

When you haven’t communicated them, your expectations are a form of “magical thinking”.

This basically means that you have this ideal world that lives inside your head that is created from your personal hopes, dreams and desires. You know your spouse loves you and wants the best for you so subconsciously, you expect them to do things like they would be done in your ideal brain world.

When your husband or wife doesn’t behave the way you want or expect them to, this is when you encounter disappointment.

Disappointment after disappointment leads to resentment. Resentment grows and emotionally drains you and before you know, you’re like “where did the romance and the intimacy go?

After husbae and I got married and had been living together for a while, I noticed that we both became something that I told myself I’d never want to be: NAGGY!!!!
It seemed like every other conversation started with:
“Why would you do that?”
“I thought you would “x” “y” or “z”
“I just don’t understand why you would think”

Eventually, we discovered something about expectations in marriage that is helping us to bicker less and navigate what arguments we do have, better.

First, I want to explain how we build expectations so that you can easily identify them.

How we build expectations

1 – What we see in our family of origin
For example, if you saw your father fix or build things around the house growing up, you might have the automatic expectation that good husbands should be handy around the house.
It can also happen the other way- you can build a marriage expectation from things you DON’T want to repeat from your family of origin. In my case, I didn’t care for early morning Saturdays and vowed not to repeat them!

2 – Personal experiences and reactions to past events
I recently watched a Youtube video where someone explained that she’d been cheated on in the past and eventually developed the expectation that “everyone cheats”. Because of this experience and reaction, she decided to disengage and become the cheater in her relationships.

3 – Cultural norms
There are unspoken cultural rules that dictate what we should expect in marriage. Like, for example, I think we all agree that your wife or husband shouldn’t have another family hanging out somewhere right?

4 – Something called a “social contract”
A social contract is an unsaid agreement between 2 parties.

So, for example, when you and your spouse start off your relationship doing things in a particular way (e.g. watching a movie every Friday), you develop a “social contract” (aka an unsaid expectation) that you will continue that pattern.
If one of you were to say, schedule a night out with your friends instead of watching your usual movie without telling your spouse, it’s a breech of your unspoken contract and shatters your expectation.

Sometimes, you can create a social contract by expecting your spouse to do something for you because you did it for them. (E.g. I made sacrifices for his career without complaining but now that it’s time to support me, he doesn’t want to sacrifice anything).
When they don’t reciprocate, it shatters an expectation.

What I’ve learned is that unmet expectations in marriage don’t have to be relationship shattering.

Nate Bagley on the Gottman Institute blog (which is an awesome marriage resource) wrote: “happily married couples argueConflict is healthy because it leads to greater understanding“.

Unmet expectations can actually help us LEARN about the our spouse.

It’s all bout how we deal with marriage expectations that matter!

How to prevent expectations from sabotaging your relationship

stick figures arguing about the expectations in marriage

1| When an argument happens, try to identify the shattered expectation at the root of the fight and talk about it

Arguments can lead to greater understanding of your husband or wife if you get to the root of why they had the expectation they had and why they reacted the way they did to the unfulfilled expectation.
If you’re the one with the disappointment, learn to say “I was expecting… because…”.

Remember to keep an open mind. If you start the discussion with each of you trying to convince the other person to do things your way, you probably won’t learn as much.

2| Ask yourself if your expectations are even fair 

It’s unfair to expect your husband or wife to just “get you” shortly after you get married. It’s unfair to expect your spouse to “fulfill you” or “heal you” or be the source of your happiness. It’s unfair to expect that your problems and issues will be the priority in your relationship all of the time.

When you can let go of unfair expectations, it becomes easier to avoid unnecessary arguments.

3| Don’t hold your partner accountable for an expectation you haven’t communicated

For the first 2 years of our marriage, I had to tell my husband that I can’t read his mind like every other day. Thankfully, he eventually caught on and is much clearer about saying what he wants or needs. I’ve also noticed that when he realizes that he is expecting something that he never communicated, he gets less frustrated about things not happening like he wanted.

I’ve personally learned that pouting is not communication.
Saying “it’s nothing” and “I’m fine” when I’m not, don’t achieve anything and it takes forever for our issues to get resolved that way.

Working on those two things has brought so much peace and progress into our lives together!

4| Make a mutual decision to create your own family culture and dynamic

Both of you carry expectations from your family of origin into your marriage – both things you liked and want to continue and things you hated and want to do the opposite of.

Sometimes, these can pose a stumbling block to your relationship because you are so busy trying to avoid or replicate something from your original family, that you don’t even take your spouse’s preferences into consideration.
Getting married is to leave your family of origin to create your own family.

Question your expectations and vow to create your own immediate family culture based on the mutual decisions made by just you and your spouse.

5| Discuss and unpack each other’s expectations during your quality time

Talk and ask each other questions about your preferences and expectations during your quality time (not just during arguments).

Marriage365 has a great list of questions for getting to know each other. The list is made for engaged couples but anyone can use for starting good conversations.

I’ll add this tip for free (*wink* you’re welcome):
DO NOT communicate your expectations using comparisons. Asking “why don’t you do xyz like Karen or Robert” is not a good idea!

6| Be flexible and adjust quickly

Your relationship and the two people in it will change and evolve with time, therefore expectations will evolve as well.
When you notice that things have changed, talk quickly and adjust accordingly.

7| Don’t jump to conclusions

Jumping to conclusions is almost certain to lead to an argument.

When my husband asked why I like to get a slow start on Saturdays, assuming that he thinks I’m lazy is jumping to a conclusion. (Don’t ask how I know :))

It’s most likely that your spouse has their own expectation on what should be done and it’s just something you’ll have to talk about.

8| Try to compromise but understand that everything can’t be resolved

According to the folks at the Gottman Institute, “people should not expect to solve all of the problems in their relationship…My Love Lab studies found that almost ⅔ of relationship conflict is perpetual.”

Pick your battles and prioritize love and respect over being right.

Notice that none of the above recommendations say to “stop having expectations”. I just don’t think that is possible.

But, I think you can now see that communicating and resolving our expectations in marriage is possible and and also beneficial to our relationships.


  • Shaaaaaade

    Oooh!! This post hit me like a TON of bricks!! I remember starting my marriage with a BUNCH of expectations and feeling like I was bamboozled when those expectations weren’t met. I’ve learned to just limit my expectations and try as much as possible to communicate what I want or need. It usually works to my benefit. Great post!!

    • Gina Gibbs

      I’m in a long distance relationship and we’re working hard at communicating. He’s a man of few words but has no problem being truthful. I just wish he’d be a little more vocal

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *