If you co-owned a business with a business partner and had employees, you would not simply tell your employees to just do whatever they notice needs to be done. Both your business partner and yourself would have expectations and would expect that employees fulfill certain roles regularly within certain time frames. A business would not be successful without communicating expectations and sharing responsibilities by creating roles for all involved. Yet, in many marriages, expectations and roles are not clear. This leads to added stress in the relationship and dissatisfaction in the relationship. Expectations are beliefs about the way that things should be. This can include beliefs about behaviors, relationships, finances, responsibilities, traditions, and family. Expectations play a powerful role in marriages, and can cause conflict in marriages if spouses don't communicate expectations or if they have different expectations than their spouse and are inflexible.
Patterns in family origins influence expectations in couple relationships. Being proactive in discussing patterns that each spouse saw between their parents can prevent future problems with expectations. Spouses should discuss the following family of origin patterns that they saw with their parents: husband / wife roles, displays of affection, power / control issues, couple time, communication patterns, conflict, ways anger and emotions were expressed, means of influence or manipulation parents used between the two of them, vacations, traditions, how holidays were spent, money patterns, and discipline with children. While each spouse may have their own ideas about expectations, traditions and roles; spouses have to consider one another and what is best for the marriage. Couples should set marital and nuclear family goals together that are satisfactory to both spouses. Remember, you are not your mom / dad and your spouse is not your mom / dad. Marriage is the blending of two families, in addition to the creation of a new nuclear family with new traditions and expectations.
Spouses need to be assertive in expressing their expectations and desires for the marriage yet they need to be flexible and considerate of their partner. Understanding each other’s expectations and managing expectations against unrealistic desires helps couples to maintain a stable connection as unmet or unrealistic expectations can lead to relationship dissatisfaction. For instance, perhaps a spouse feels that there will be no disagreements in marriage or that a loving spouse would know their partner’s needs without their partner expressing needs. In both of these cases, it is unrealistic to believe that conflict is abnormal in a marriage and that partners would know needs that are not expressed. The partner with these beliefs would be very dissatisfied in the relationship with that belief system. Learning how to communicate expectations, needs and desires along with learning the art of resolving conflict can be instrumental in navigating daily life together.
When working with couples, I recommend that they hold a weekly marriage meetings. The purpose of these meetings is to stay on track with goals as a couple and each other’s life goals as they emerge, exist, and change. This is an opportunity for couples to plan for the week and their future but also to communicate expectations. Keeping a joint calendar and a marriage notebook solidifies the commitment to being proactive in working on the marriage. The following agendas are recommended for marriage meetings: Appreciation, Dreams and Goals, Chores and Logistics, Leisure Planning, and Problems and Challenges. Beginning the meeting by showing appreciation for things that your spouse did or said the previous week is a great way to connect on a positive note. Dreams and Goals include sharing personal and couple goals and creating shared dreams together. Chores and Logistics includes meal planning, the division of chores, budgets, and family schedules. Leisure Planning includes planning fun times as a couple (weekly date nights) and as a family. Problems and Challenges gives couples a chance for couples to evaluate progress, problem solve, talk about any issue that they may be facing or discuss differences of opinions.
Checking to see if your expectations are reasonable and considerate of your spouse, and expressing expectations is important. Spouses must be willing to change expectations into what will work for both spouses for the benefit of the relationship. Remember that there is a third entity of the marriage that needs to be considered when approaching expectations and roles.