When Expectations Are Unfulfilled

DISILLUSIONMENT can grow in any marriage, even if during courtship a man and a woman seemed to be well matched. But how can two people who appeared to be made for each other before exchanging marriage vows turn out to be so different afterward?

The Bible says that those who marry will have “pain and grief.” (1 Corinthians 7:28, The New English Bible) Often, a degree of such tribulation is the result of human imperfection. (Romans 3:23) In addition, one or both partners may be failing to apply Bible principles. (Isaiah 48:17, 18) At times, though, a man or a woman enters the marriage with unrealistic expectations. When this happens, misunderstandings can lead to serious problems.

Unrealistic Expectations

If you are a husband or a wife, you likely entered marriage with a number of expectations; most people do. Take a moment to reflect on the kind of life that you hoped for. Does your marriage fall short of what you envisioned? If so, do not conclude that problems cannot be worked out. Applying Bible principles can help you to set things straight. * (2 Timothy 3:16) Meanwhile, you would do well to examine some of the expectations that you might have had about marriage.

For example, some have thought that married life would be filled with romance, such as that described in fairy tales. Or perhaps you thought that you and your mate would spend most of your time together or that the two of you would work out every disagreement in a smooth, mature manner. Many have believed that marriage would eliminate the need for self-control in sexual matters. Because all these common expectations are somewhat unrealistic, they are sure to lead to disappointment for some.​—Genesis 3:16.

Another unrealistic expectation is that marriage itself will make a person happy. Of course, having a partner in life can be a source of great joy. (Proverbs 18:22; 31:10; Ecclesiastes 4:9) But can marriage be expected to be a miraculous cure for all disagreements? Those who think so usually have a rude awakening!

Unspoken Expectations

Not all expectations are unrealistic. On the contrary, some involve desires that are valid. Problems can arise, though, because of certain expectations. “I see spouses get angry with each other because one member of the couple is waiting for a certain desire to be fulfilled,  while the mate was never clearly aware of that desire in the first place,” observes one marriage counselor. To understand how this can occur, consider the following scenario.

Mary marries David, who lives hundreds of miles from her hometown. Before getting married, Mary realized that moving to a new area would present challenges​—especially since she is timid by nature. Yet, she was confident that David would help her to adjust. Mary expected, for example, that David would stay by her side and help her to get acquainted with his friends. However, this is not happening. David becomes engrossed in conversation with his many friends​—leaving Mary, the newcomer, alone. Mary feels neglected, even somewhat abandoned. ‘How can David be so insensitive?’ she wonders.

Is Mary’s expectation unrealistic? Not really. She simply wants her husband to help her adjust to her new surroundings. Mary is timid, and she feels overwhelmed at meeting so many new people. The fact is, though, that Mary has never disclosed her feelings to David. Thus, David has little idea of what Mary is going through. What will happen if the situation persists? Mary’s resentment could build, and with the passage of time, she might think that her husband is totally callous to her feelings.

Perhaps you too have felt disappointment and frustration when your spouse seems to be unresponsive to your needs. If that is the case, what can you do?

Talk It Out

Unfulfilled expectations can indeed be distressing. (Proverbs 13:12) Still, there is something that you can do about the situation. “You can persuade others if you are wise and  speak sensibly,” states a Bible proverb. (Proverbs 16:23, Contemporary English Version) Hence, if you feel that you have a reasonable expectation that is not being met, discuss the matter with your mate.

Try to choose the right time, the right setting, and the right words to state your concerns. (Proverbs 25:11) Speak calmly and respectfully. Remember your objective​—not to accuse your spouse but to inform him or her of your expectations and feelings.​—Proverbs 15:1.

Why should you have to do this at all? Would not a considerate spouse be able to perceive your needs? Well, your spouse may simply be looking at matters from a different point of view but would gladly consider your needs if you explained them. It is not a sign of a weak marriage for you to express what you want or need, nor is it evidence of an insensitive mate.

So do not hesitate to discuss matters with your spouse. For example, in the situation described earlier, Mary could say to David: “I have to admit that I find meeting so many new people to be somewhat challenging. Until I feel more at home, could you help me to get acquainted with everybody?”

“Swift About Hearing”

Now consider the matter from another angle. Suppose you are approached by your  mate, and he or she is distressed because you are not fulfilling a reasonable expectation. If this happens, listen to your spouse! Try not to become defensive. Instead, “be swift about hearing, slow about speaking, slow about wrath.” (James 1:19; Proverbs 18:13) The apostle Paul urged Christians: “Let each one keep seeking, not his own advantage, but that of the other person.”​—1 Corinthians 10:24.

You can do this by putting yourself in your mate’s position. The Bible states: “You husbands, continue dwelling in like manner with [your wives] according to knowledge,” or, as rendered in J. B. Phillips’ translation, “you husbands should try to understand the wives you live with.” (1 Peter 3:7) Of course, wives would do well to make the same effort with regard to their husbands.

Remember, no matter how compatible you and your spouse may be, you do not share the same outlook on all matters. (See the box “Same Landscape, Different Views.”) Really, this is a blessing, for it is good to consider matters from another’s perspective. You and your spouse each brought to your marriage unique expectations based on such things as family background and culture. As a result, you can be deeply in love and yet not have the same expectations.

For example, Christian mates may well know the Bible principle of headship. (Ephesians 5:22, 23) But how, specifically, will headship be exercised within your family, and how will submission be demonstrated? Are the two of you guided by this Bible principle, and are you making genuine efforts to follow it?

You may also have differing notions regarding other issues of everyday life. Who will take care of certain household chores? When will you spend time with relatives, and how much? How will Christian mates show that they are putting Kingdom interests first in their life? (Matthew 6:33) When it comes to finances, it is easy to go into debt, so it pays to be thrifty and resourceful. Yet, precisely what does it mean to be thrifty and resourceful? Matters like these need to be discussed openly and respectfully, with great benefit.

Such discussions can help you achieve greater peace in your marriage, even if until now some expectations have gone unfulfilled. Indeed, you will be better able to apply the apostle Paul’s admonition: “Continue putting up with one another and forgiving one another freely if anyone has a cause for complaint against another.”​—Colossians 3:13.


^ par. 5 Much good advice for couples is contained in the book The Secret of Family Happiness, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

[Box/​Picture on page 10]


“Imagine a crowd of tourists viewing a picturesque landscape. Although the entire group beholds the same scene, each person sees it differently. Why? Because each individual has a different vantage point. No two persons are standing precisely at the same location. Furthermore, not everyone focuses on the same portion of the scene. Each person finds a different aspect to be particularly intriguing. The same is true within marriage. Even when they are highly compatible, no two partners share precisely the same outlook on matters. . . . Communication includes the effort to blend [the] differences into a one-flesh relationship. This requires making time to talk.”​—The Watchtower, August 1, 1993, page 4.

[Box on page 11]


• Reexamine your expectations. Are they realistic? Are you expecting more of your spouse than is reasonable?​—Philippians 2:4; 4:5.

• Try to adjust any unrealistic expectations. For example, instead of saying, “We will never disagree,” resolve that you will work at settling differences peacefully.​—Ephesians 4:32.

• Discuss your expectations. Talking matters over is a key step to learning how to display love and respect for each other.​—Ephesians 5:33.

[Picture on page 9]

Be “swift about hearing” the concerns of your spouse