Not long after my husband and I got married, we started having conflicts about what it meant to be home in time for dinner. After negotiating what seemed like a reasonable compromise, we developed a routine: he’d be late, I’d get angry, he’d apologize, and then we would have a déjà vu moment a few weeks later.
This was just one of many areas of conflict. We disagreed on how much food to prepare when we had guests, how quickly bills should be paid, and how often we needed to visit our extended families. We also fought about who should do the laundry and who should get the oil changed.
The frequency and intensity of our conflicts confused us. We were both communicative and reasonably mature. Why did we clash so much on these seemingly incidental issues? The problem wasn’t simply that we were strong-willed and opinionated. Unbeknownst to us, we entered marriage with a moving van full of expectations.
Expectations, in and of themselves, aren’t evil. In fact, they can often be very good. They help us understand our basic needs and wants. They play a valuable role in marriage: if we can’t expect certain things from our spouse, our marriage is vulnerable to failure.
Every couple will have their own unique expectations, but I would argue that there are three non-negotiables for every marriage: fidelity, honesty, and forgiveness. Some other expectations Christopher and I have are that we’ll work through conflict in a timely fashion, spend reasonable amounts of time together, and equitably share household responsibilities.1