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Unrealistic Expectations - The Downfall of Any Relationship

by Greg S. Baker

Everyone has expectations. I met a guy once who argued that point. He told me that he had no expectations in life. I challenged him by asking, "You go to school right? If you answer all the questions on a test, do you expect the professor to give you an A?"

He was quiet for a moment and then sighed. "Well," he muttered, "I guess I do." He did. He does. And so do you.

Everyone has expectations. In marriage, we enter it expecting certain things. No one looks at someone else and says, "If I marry you, I'll be so utterly miserable. Will you marry me?" No, we expect things. We expect our mate to be faithful to us. We expect our spouse to love us. We expect our friends to back us up. We expect things from the government, from our boss, from our coworkers, and from life itself. We are full of expectations.

  1. From our own desires. From things we want or like to have.

  2. From what we think we deserve. Even the Declaration of Independence says we deserve some things. Most people think this way too.

  3. From what is familiar. We all grow up differently. But we all grow up a certain way. That 'way' becomes familiar and normal. We come to expect that.

  4. From observation of potential. Gambling is an example of this. Casinos feed this expectation. You know that the odds are against you, but you know there is a potential that you can win. You see others winning. So you play expecting to eventually win. But on a more practical note, you observe a friend's generosity, and you come to expect the same level of giving in the future.


The problem in most relationships is differing expectations that often lead to unrealistic expectations. Here is a common scenario: The wife is a clean freak. Her mother was a clean freak. She grew up with everything in its spot, in its proper location. She can't abide untidiness. But the husband grew up in a rather sloppy environment. It wasn't filthy, but clutter was the norm. They get married. Not too long after the honeymoon, a common scene can be witnessed at their house. He comes home after work, dumps his shoes in the hallway, tosses his jacket on the back of the couch, plops down on a chair, opens the mail, and then leaves all of it on the end table. Not too many months later, she's fit to be tied and ready to yank out either her own hair or his. She's nagging him, yelling at him, calling him a slob, a pig, and so forth. The problem: their expectations don't match.

If she is a 10 and he is a 1 in this area of cleanliness, they've got a huge problem. This disparity in expectations will only drive her crazy. He'll feel pressured and begin to wonder what he got himself into. A little clutter, in his opinion, is no big deal. So why is she making a deal out of it? He loses his sensitivity, and before long neither can say a civil word to each other.

Problems always crop up when there is a disparity in expectations because they lead to unrealistic expectations. Her expectations of him will never be met, and frankly, neither will his of her.


Let's take another scenario. He is an 8. She is a 3. He could lower his expectations to where she is. This usually doesn't work. But he could lower it to, say, a 5. This might be manageable for her. She could raise her expectation of herself to an 8. But that is probably too much for her to manage. She'll be overwhelmed trying, and if she fails, he will not understand and even if she reached a 6, she'll still feel like a failure and probably go right back to her normal 3. She could, however, compromise and raise her expectations of herself to a 5 and work on it.

On another note, if you can't fix it, then don't complain about it. If she is simply incapable of doing better than a 3, anything that you do will only make things worse. Learn to live with it. Any progress ought to be praised or she may stop trying altogether. Talk about your differing expectations. Try to understand the reasons and build understanding. He is much more apt to be lenient if he understands where she is coming from. She may be more interested in improvement if she understands why he feels the way he does. Learn to express yourself.

See a mediator or counselor if necessary. Don't look for perfection, look for progress.

Greg S. Baker is a Christian author and relationship expert that constantly works at finding practical, simple solutions for relationship problems. He specializes in helping marriages and parents, in discovering a dynamic relationship with God, and in self-improvement. He seeks to help you add that all-important Divine Ingredient that mixes with your heart and mind and brings out the incredible flavor of each of your relationships in a healthy and empowering manner. Permission granted for use on
Tags: Attitude, Behavior, Marriage, Relationships, Stress
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