NOTE: 6/23/13– After much more thought on this topic, I have decided on somewhat different conclusions that what I wrote out here. Please read the follow-up post here.
Do you have expectations for the man you’ll marry? I was asked on Monday. I wasn’t sure at first, then decided I most definitely do. All week long as I’ve had time to think about it… sometimes staying up late at night to do so… I’ve pondered what marriage might realistically look like and whether it’s right or wrong to have expectations. Pondered, as in I have ten to fifteen books scattered on and around my bed that helped me consider this topic. This was not a half-hearted interest. I want the truth.
A couple years ago I detailed what I hope for in the man I marry and I look back on that list when evaluating suitors. It helps me evaluate objectively, because when I’m in love, it’s somewhat more difficult to think that clearly. Who would have thought?! “The Check List,” I realized Monday, is not only a list of hopes, but a fairly complete list of my expectations for who my husband will be and what he’ll do.
What is ‘expectation’? The word could mean someone looks for something because it’s deserved. Like a murderer should look to be put to death, or a child should look to be taken care of. Expectation could also mean someone looks for something because he/she has good reason to think that’s what will happen, even if it’s not deserved… like when you’re watching a movie and you make predictions of what will happen based on what you know.
In the first meaning of expectation, God expects us to obey him because he gave us instructions on how to act and treat others. In the second meaning of expectation, God expects us to sin, because he knows we have a sin nature. He doesn’t want or hope for the sin in our life, but he knows it will happen anyway. On my list of expectations for a husband I wrote “He will be defined by a selfless attitude” and I also listed “He will sometimes be selfish.” I know if I marry it will be to a Godly man (or at least I think he will have Godly character), so it’s logical to expect him to act in God-honoring ways. Because he would also be a sinner, I also know the second expectation is realistic. I don’t hope or want him to be selfish, but because he’s human I will not be so surprised when he does act selfishly. Both are realistic expectations for the same person.
Throughout this week I’ve jotted down more expectations I discover I have for my husband and myself. Expectations for character traits, spiritual lifestyle, hopes for children, husband/wife roles (responsibilities), communication habits, health goals, ways to spend leisure time, etc. The list is nearing 100 points. This might sound rigid, and demanding, but I’ve thought a lot about that too.
Is it wrong to have expectations? Why have expectations? What are realistic expectations? Are they harmful or beneficial?
William Shakespeare stated “Expectation is the root of all heartache” and Johnathan Swift said “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” It’s true unmet expectation causes heartache and disappointment, but is a little less pain grounds for expecting little of a person? Could it be that expecting much instead of little, as long as it’s realistic, is actually more loving toward the other person? In Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations Alex and Brett Harris claim: “Where expectations are high, we tend to rise to meet them. Where expectations are low, we tend to drop to meet them.” I agree with them and because I believe people have a lot of God-given potential, I want to encourage my spouse and children to reach theirs in life, love, creativity and wisdom. Another hope (and expectation) for my marriage is to encourage my children to great accomplishments while letting them feel grace without pressure to perform for love.
“There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.
Here are conclusions I came to about expectations for marriage:
- To have expectations for marriage is inevitable (though they may be subconsciously known).
- Expectations in marriage should be reasonable and biblically centered. (Romans 12:2)
- God instructs husbands and wives to behave in certain ways.
- Knowing reasonable expectations from your spouse makes the marriage easier.
- It’s best to know the expectations of the one you’re considering marrying, before you marry him/her.
- A marriage can be grace-filled with expectations.
- Unmet expectations result in disappointment.
- Disappointment should be dealt with appropriately and not lead to resentment and bitterness.
- Men and women sin, even with the best of intentions.
- It’s logical and right for a person to look for (expect) God-honoring character from a Christian.
- Each person should be treated in God-honoring ways, not because we are good, but because God is good and we are to glorify him.
- It’s right to be thankful for expected good behavior. It’s unnecessary to always express gratitude.
- It’s wrong to hold expectations for good behavior and then cause shame, refuse forgiveness, and be resentful when those expectations go unmet.
I’m at the young age of twenty, I’m unmarried, and I’ve only dated for five months of my life, so I don’t speak from experience in this post. I speak from a lot of thought, observation, and knowledge I’ve gleaned from others. Please comment with your ideas on this topic and feel free to challenge me if you see error in what I’ve written.
If you’re leery of having expectations in your marriage, you may want to consider this. Can a person deserve to be treated well (by biblical standards), and expect to be treated well (from other Christ-like people), but regard the behavior of others to be in no way terms of, or conditions for, love and faithful commitment? In other words, is it truly possible to expect admirable qualities, principles, and values from your Christian spouse and still have a marriage defined by grace?