Marriage is a hotbed for hidden, unrealistic expectations. Most men and women have deep-seated ideas about how the other should behave in a picture-perfect marriage. Often these expectations are not fully conscious, nor are they completely acknowledged and communicated between spouses. When one spouse begins violating the expectations of the other, however, an all too familiar negative spiral of disappointment, retaliation, and resentment can ensue.
If we’re completely honest, we all came into our marriages with unrealistic expectations, which eventually took us by surprise. Even though this can be both disappointing and frustrating, we don’t have to continually live that way. We can bring out our deep-seated expectations and communicate it to our partners by doing a simple exercise on clarifying mutual expectation.
Exercise: Clarifying Mutual Expectations*
On a sheet of paper make 4 quadrants and write one of these points in each quadrant.
a. I promise to fulfill your following expectations-100%.
(what I think is the other person’s expectation of me)
b. I will try to fulfill your following expectations, but will not be able to promise.
(what i think is the other person’s expectation that I might not be able to fulfill, but will try)
c. In our relationship, I want these promises from you.
(my need & expectations of the other person that I want him/her to fulfill for sure)
d. In our relationship, I expect my following expectations to be fulfilled by you.
(my need and expectations of the other person that may be difficult for the other person to fulfill,
but I want him/her to know and to try to fulfill)
Take about 20 minutes to think and pen down what you value the most to be followed in your marriage, in each of the quadrants. After both of you have completed, exchange the sheets or compare the sheets to find out the other person’s expectations and commitments while you communicate your own commitment and expectations.
You will benefit most when you have the intention of understanding the other person’s expectations and fulfilling it to give happiness to the other person rather than waiting on the other person to fulfill his/her expectation. When all is said and done.
However, you know what–we are likely to be unhappy even when our expectations ARE met! Let me explain. We are most grateful for the good things that come our way that we did not expect to happen. For instance, if you expect your partner to help you with the housework, you will be disappointed, mad, sad, or angry when your partner does not help you with the housework, but you won’t necessarily be grateful when your partner does help with the housework. Depending on your history together, you may be
• Pleased – “I’m glad we’re doing this together.”
• Surprised – “I can’t believe you actually mopped the floor!”
• Justified – “I do my share and you need to do your share.”
• Vindicated – “It’s about time you started pulling your weight!”
Unhappiness is trading what we want MOST for what we want NOW. We want whatever makes us uncomfortable – our anxieties, our insecurities, our challenges – we want that discomfort to go away RIGHT NOW. But deep down, what we want most is to be – more loving, more forgiving, more compassionate, and more grateful. Understand this carefully as this is our secret need and what we generally do is to expect people around us to create space for us to exhibit them and when we do not find opportunities to be more loving, more forgiving, more compassionate or more grateful,
When you are dead tired at the end of the day, and you walk in to find your partner cleaning the kitchen, or putting the kids to bed when you expected her to be home late – that’s when you feel truly grateful – because you were not expecting the help! When we
are truly grateful for something, we cannot help but feel happiness. This is the recipe to a happy married life!
Dennis Prager says it best:
Gratitude is the key to happiness and anything that undermines gratitude must undermine happiness. And nothing undermines gratitude as much as expectations. The more expectations you have, the less gratitude you will have. Expectations and gratitude are opposite sides of the same coin.
Here is another secret–Whatever you focus on, grows. Grow your happiness by lowering your expectations and growing your gratefulness.
The highest secret mantra is revealed by Radhanath Swami. He says that we can lower our expectation by cultivating humility. If we are proud, we feel that we deserve so many good things from others. If we are actually humble, we are grateful for whatever happens and for whatever that comes. He reiterates that when we expect something, then even if we get it, we are not really happy; at the most we experience some flickering pleasure in our mind and senses. But if we feel that we don’t deserve it, and then when we get it, we are grateful and gratitude is real happiness; gratitude is the happiness of the heart.
*Source: Oasis Self-Leadership Education for Community Development