Expectations vs. Reality

Last week my fortune cookie had a little piece of paper in it which read, “What is the speed of dark?” I was more than a bit confused and wondered how this could be a fortune. I’m not superstitious, but I do like having a sweet, little fortune hanging on the fridge every now and then to make me smile. But this one had me scratching my head.

Fast forward a few days and that odd fortune is still stuck in my mind. I’ve spent the last few nights laying in bed, staring at the ceiling, and reciting, “What is the speed of dark?” Then I happened to reread my notes from our first pre-marital counseling meeting about expectations in marriage versus the reality of marriage and had this surreal connection in how to apply my fortune.

Expectations are those dark little inklings which can break a marriage. They may creep up slowly or come crashing into existence at lightning-fast speed. Our belief systems are what we hold to be true about the world and that plays a key role in our relationships. They are a set of hard facts we live by and guide how we act and think. Expectations give us standards for how we treat our partner and in turn expect to be treated by them. They are the very mindset we bring into our marriage.

The darkness of marriage is your expectations, be they rational or irrational. For example, expecting a spouse to change a habit or belief system once you’re married is irrational. No one changes their characteristics simply because of a wedding and marriage license. But even if your expectations are rational (like you expect your new spouse to partake in daily chores without asking) they still create a shadow in your marriage should your partner fail to meet your standards.

The bright reality of expectations is disappointment. You and your partner are not the same person and you will never always agree on performing the same habits, doing the same chores, handling finances, approaching a disagreement, parenting your children, etc. If you go into marriage expecting life to be a breeze, you are in for a shock. Exceedingly high expectations can be hard to satisfy come reality, and if there is not an adjustment in those expectations there is the risk of being continually disappointed.

Then what?

Disappointment can lead to demotivation on building your relationship further. And the lack of investment in your marriage ultimately will lead to its end.

Unsure if you have expectations? Well, have you ever thought, “I wish he would do this and not that, I wish he earned more, I wish he wouldn’t say that, I wish he believed this, I wish he was better at that, etc.”? Wishes and requests for changes in your partner are what make up expectations. Expectations require us to compare our partner’s words and actions to what we wish they were, and then gauge them on how we feel based on their measuring up to those wishes.

When that happens — which it will if you are working towards a long-term relationship — then you have two directions to take: forgiveness or abandonment. You can choose to forgive your partner’s “lack of measuring up” and adjust your expectations to better fit your partner. Or you can part ways and search for someone who better fits your needs, beliefs, or lifestyle.

Unfortunately, the abandonment direction this is a lot more difficult to do once you are married.

So, with that in mind, there needs to be a discussion between you and your partner prior to saying “I do” on both of your expectations for the marriage. Keep an optimistic mind on realism and flexibility. If you expect your partner to follow a certain path and he is honest with you on that expectation being unrealistic, you need to compromise. If compromising is nonnegotiable on either end, then you need to take a long, hard look at your relationship before moving forward into a lasting contract.

A few things you SHOULD expect in marriage:

  • Your partner has shortcomings, just *clap* like *clap* you *clap* do.
  • Your partner is not going to change who they are, and if that is what you are expecting to happen then you need to reconsider your partner choice. (It is not better to settle than to be alone.)
  • Hiding your expectations for marriage makes no one happy in the end. And don’t you want a happy marriage when you finally reach your 70’s?!
  • Maintaining an open line of communication is Number One in having a happy marriage. Start the conversation now!
  • Marriages evolve into a partnership with time. When you’re past your “honeymoon years” you won’t only be defining your relationship as romance and love. You also will need comfort and security.

Following this discussion on marriage expectations with our counselors, G and I had a long talk on our expectations for one another following our nuptials. We discussed our families’ influences on those expectations and what we would like to utilize and discard from our perspectives of our parents’ relationships. We gave examples of positives and negatives of marriages we witness from our friends and what parts we want to include in our own marriage. We talked through specific issues we foresee for the future and how we will handle them once they arise.

It was an emotional and eye-opening chat and ended with my heart feeling incredibly full.

The reality of expectations is that we all have them for our marriages. However, the make-or-break of any successful marriage is the investment. Both partners have to be willing to work through the hard times (such as when an expectation meets disappointment) and openly talk through the issue in a loving way to move forward into the good times. When you’re realistic, you are less likely to experience disappointments in your marriage and more likely to keep a positive perspective about your relationship.

Marriage is not easy, but the companionship, love, and meaning marriage brings to one’s life are irreplaceable. This shared knowledge between G and I is one of the many reasons I am so excited to become his wife.

I know the road won’t be easy, but I feel as if we have a solid foundation to have a happy and fortune-bound marriage for life.

Now, maybe you’re thinking to yourself, “This girl has gone crazy. That little piece of paper honestly meant nothing — it was just some rambling of someone who has run out of fortunes to put into cookies!” Perhaps that is so, but with my late-night mind wanderings, I like to think that fortune was a thought-provoker sent to make me a bit more aware of expectations versus reality in my upcoming marriage.

In the very least, I’ll be more considerate of this whole concept every time G and I grab take-out.

Many well wishes to you, friend, 




P.S. I came across this old post in my Archives from four years ago and was kind of amazed at my resolve and reflection on a past relationship. I don’t remember writing this piece actually, but sometimes Old Ashley can surprise me with her wisdom. I had already started to consider expectations of a future with my partner then and what exactly I craved for my contentment in marriage. For anyone questioning their current situation, let me give a gentle nudge — settling for the wrong one is a lot more lonely than being single and finding the right match. I’ve been there, friends, and I know it is an incredibly tough decision, but it is also invaluable. Lots of love. -A


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