I never expected this. Mark just isn't the man I married." "Joan" sat expressionless as she stoically described her relationship.
"While we were dating, he was everything I wanted. He was fun, caring. We could talk for hours. Now he works late every day and gets home just in time to play with our daughter a few minutes before her bedtime. Then he watches TV. He never takes me out, never helps around the house, and only touches me when he wants sex (which we haven't had for six months). I don't love him anymore. I want out."
It's an unhappy story, but a familiar one. Couples who once stood before God promising "Till death do us part" now sit in a counselor's office, complaining that their mate "isn't doing their part." The passions once fueled by visions of "happily ever after" are gradually extinguished with each failed expectation. Eventually, one of them decides, "Since my spouse can't, or won't, meet my needs, I'll just move on to someone who will."
Call it what you want—disappointment, disillusionment or despair—failed expectations can bring partners to the point of wanting to chuck it all. And it raises a serious question: Why doesn't marriage fulfill all our dreams?
Dream a Littler Dream?
Like many unhappy spouses, Joan had legitimate concerns—she should be getting more attention from her husband. But her greater problem was that her expectations of marriage were unrealistic. Ironically, the overwhelming popularity of marriage may in some ways explain the high level of marital breakdown.1