Expectations and Healthy Communication in Relationships

I read a fantastic article about marriage expectations lately. You can see it here.
In the article, the author describes the importance of understanding how your expectations affect your perception of the relationship. I've pondered his words frequently since then, and I've reflected on the spouses I've helped in couples counseling sessions. He describes "unmet expectations" as the silent killer of relationships, and so I would prescribe that the antidote is healthy communication.

It's not simply talking that keeps a marriage strong - a couple needs healthy communication.
What's the difference?
Look at these two examples:


Example One:
A wife texts her husband at work. "I can't believe you left the milk out of the fridge this morning. The milk was gross, and breakfast with the kids was a nightmare. You have some apologizing to do when you get home."
Feeling a bit defensive, the husband texts back, "I was tired because I'm the one that showered off Bobby after he peed the bed at 3am. I can't get any appreciation. Next time I'll just stay in bed, and then I won't be rushing to work and forgetting about the stupid milk."
Even angrier now, the wife texts back, "Oh you poor man, your sleep got disrupted. I deal with the kids every single night."
Frustrated, the husband texts back, "Babe, I'm at work. Leave me alone."

Example Two:
A wife texts her husband at work, "Morning routine was a disaster today. Can you call me at lunchtime?"
At lunchtime, the husband calls and asks about the morning problems. She explains about the finding warm milk on the counter, the kids' refusal to eat their cereal, and almost being late to school. The husband apologizes for leaving the milk out and creating havoc that morning. He explains that he must have been rushing because he overslept. He wanted to help out when Bobby peed the bed, and then he had a hard time falling back to sleep afterwards. The wife expresses appreciation for the nighttime help, and they both chalk up the morning disaster to "one of those days." The husband thanks his wife for managing the kids, and he promises to be more attentive in the mornings.


Okay, hopefully I made those differences obvious.
What did you notice?

First off, the communication avenue was different. Texting is not the same as talking. Over text message, you cannot hear tone of voice or sense emotion. You'll assume the other person's intent based on your own feelings at the time. Difficult conversations need to happen in person, or at least over the phone.

Secondly, did you notice the pattern of blame in the first example? I've written more about the dangers of the "blame game" in a previous post. Instead of passing blame in the second example, however, the couple talked about how to keep the problem from happening again, including a healthy dose of humor and gratitude. It was simply an accident - not a battle of "you always" or "you never."

Finally, I imagine the couple in the second example listened more than they defended their position. Since they were not fighting over who was the winner or loser of the situation, they could listen effectively. The listening led to empathy; empathy led to gratitude being expressed and comfort being provided. Awesome, right? Who knew that spoiled milk could lead to a happier relationship!

Expecting one thing from our spouses, and receiving another, can be frustrating. If those unmet expectations are continually swept under the rug, then someday they'll explode. It's important that couples take the time to discuss their grievances with each other - in a healthy way.

How can you keep those conversations helpful?
-Make sure each person has eaten and rested. Avoid the human weaknesses of "hangry" and sleepy.
-Take time to calm down if the issue is emotional charged.
-Offer a heads-up to the other person that you'd like to discuss something important later.
-Don't vent to all your family and friends before you solve the problem with your spouse.
-Give the conversation plenty of time; don't rush.
-Don't go looking for a fight or to prove a point. Work on solving the problem, not winning the argument. Hopefully these conversations are not arguments!

These conversations will be helpful as each spouse matures beyond the "blame game" into a sincere conversation about wants and needs. Each person needs to be willing to give and serve, as well. It is easier for a spouse to serve and care for the other if s/he knows what is expected of them.

Good luck in all your spousal conversations!

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