“I Love You. We’re Married. Now Change!” (Part 1 of 2)

I often tell people to be aware of their expectations regarding spouses and romantic partners. The knee-jerk reaction is typically, ‘Expectations? I don’t have expectations!’

First of all, what’s wrong with having expectations? We all want and expect things. It’s part of being a normal human being. To pretend otherwise is patronizing and dishonest. You do have expectations whether you realize it or not. Those expectations are contained in the form of your emotions.

If your spouse says he’ll put out the garbage and then fails to do so, you will feel angry or annoyed. Your anger is a communication from your subconscious that you expected him to keep his word. It’s a perfectly reasonable expectation, but the point is that it is an expectation. You cannot escape expectations any more than you can escape feelings and emotions. They’re there, whether you choose to acknowledge them or not.

An article on WebMD suggests some pitfalls to avoid in the expectations department, especially for newlyweds.

For example: ‘My family does it this way.’ Many new spouses consciously or subconsciously expect their new spouses to do things the way they are used to from their own families. This, in itself, is not a problem. It’s actually understandable.

The problem lies in becoming angry over the fact that your spouse does not do things that way. To be angry about such a thing stems from a sense of entitlement, from a feeling that ‘Others should be the way I want them to be because I want it that way.’ This is preposterous, immature and profoundly unrealistic. Yet it’s how a lot of newlyweds (and others) feel. There are many more people who feel this way than are willing to admit it. It’s a feeling that needs challenge and correction. Otherwise, the anger and immaturity will remain, along with growing marital discord.

Another expectation pitfall is the belief, ‘Marriage will make me happy.’ Sounds reasonable on the surface, doesn’t it? You just got married and now happiness should follow. It seems reasonable enough. Wrong! To expect marriage to make you happy is to expect someone else to make you happy.

Therein lies the falsehood. We are all responsible for making ourselves happy, whether we are single or married. The only rational reason to love somebody else is because you already are happy. Being with that person adds to your existing happiness; it does not create your happiness. Anyone with my years of experience counseling people can tell you: Happy people find happy relationships. Unhappy people merely find more unhappiness in relationships.

If you are happy, you don’t need a new spouse to ‘make’ you happy. The presence of the new spouse merely adds to the celebration.

The next expectation: ‘My partner will change once we’re married.’ Longtime readers of DrHurd.com know this is the nuclear equivalent of error in the realm of romance and marriage.

If you’re not familiar with the following profound and fundamental truth, highlight this sentence and remember it: People cannot be changed; people can only change¬† themselves. This is not merely a statement of how it should be, but of how it actually is. If you convince someone it makes sense to quit smoking, then they reached that conclusion with their own minds. The fact that they then quit smoking is a voluntary choice. They, not you, made the change, even though you helped them. If you coerce or manipulate them into changing, there was no choice on their part. They only changed because you forced or pressured them to change.

In the realm of personal change, choice — and only choice —¬†rules. Most therapy practices are filled with people, particularly women, who feel that romance and love will somehow
change their man ‘for the better.’ The sad details of these cases, along with the continuing high divorce rate, clearly shows otherwise. If you want someone to change, the smartest thing to do is not to marry him.

Another false expectation is, ‘My spouse and I should avoid conflict at all costs.’ Why is this expectation false? Because avoiding conflict at all costs inevitably leads to worse conflict than you ever would have feared. If the United States abandoned all its nuclear weapons tomorrow, because of an understandable distaste for nuclear war, several of our cities would be annihilated and/or invaded within the week. This is because avoiding conflict does not only mean avoiding belligerence; avoiding conflict also requires being strong.

Concluded in tomorrow’s column.