How to Set Marriage Expectations When You Don’t Know What You Want

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Photo credit Ariel Camilo

Michael came home tonight rejuvenated from playing racquetball, excited to see me, and eager to bring the In-and-Out he got with his racquetball partner for the two of us to eat tonight.

He knew that when he left to play racquetball, I had just started taking a nap.

He knew that when I take naps, I tend to be out for hours, that when I am wiped out, it takes me a long time to bounce back.

He knew that I wouldn’t really have the energy or the desire to make Spaghetti squash, the meal we had agreed on for the night.

He would tell me, an hour or so later, that he envisioned walking inside the apartment and finding me asleep in bed. I would wake up when he came in the room, realize I hadn’t started the spaghetti squash, and start apologizing—then, he would tell me that it was all okay and that he had dinner taken care of.

Michael did not know that although I was very wiped out, about an hour before I thought he would be home from racquetball I got out of bed, started the squash in the oven, and stayed up to clean and get some school work done. He didn’t know that I had anticipated he would be home at least an hour before he arrived, and awake to know the difference. He didn’t know that I had avoided eating anything except for a hard-boiled egg before he got home so that we could eat a full meal together. He didn’t know that I had started to miss him, that I had been hungry and waiting to eat (which, being on a strict meal plan because of a high glucose test during pregnancy already puts me in a nearly perpetual hanger), that because I was not lying down, my ribs were hurting. He had no idea that I had made a special pepperoni pasta sauce he favors. And he didn’t know that the only reason I had enough motivation to get out of bed and do all of that was because I knew it would be hard for him to wait another hour or more for dinner after playing racquetball.

Michael was ecstatic when he came home to me crying at the table with dinner ready. He was excited and happy because he was envisioning a moment where he could surprise me in just the perfect way. He was even so prepared for his vision that, having no keys, he rang the door bell right after knocking, something I don’t remember him ever doing and something he would only do if he suspected me asleep. And when he saw me there, crying, he was devastated—and although I was upset at him, he was far more upset at himself.

We’ve determined our own take away from this and clarified our own expectations, which is something couples constantly need to do—both to prevent conflicts and in response to inevitable hurts.

But the real point isn’t that couples need to communicate expectations so that hurts don’t happen. Rather, it’s that in marriage, those kinds of hurts will happen. A spouse will inevitably feel one inch tall sometimes, or feel hurt or neglected, or feel disappointed, or feel confused. Even when both partners are doing their very best and acting with their heart wholly given to their spouse and their marriage, hurts will happen. Even when the last thing either spouse wanted was to ruin the other’s night or make them feel small and faulty, that can happen. And, as far as setting expectations is concerned—expecting that makes all the difference.

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