In pondering all things “relationship” whether it’s a spouse, friends, children, coworkers, or even God everyone has expectations and pre-conceived ideas about who should do what, what “certain people” should or should not do or how they should or should not behave. Most of the time the expectations are assumed, and are never truly communicated, although they may be hinted at from time to time. The person with the expectations feels that they are reasonable, logical, and common-sense “items” and is usually shocked and appalled when the other party fails to measure up.
In a marriage these expectations can cause tension, disappointment, arguments and even be devastating “deal-breakers”. One blessing in our marriage is that we came into the relationship with only one expectation: life-long commitment to one another. In the very few times that my husband and I have experienced conflict it has come because of taking on the expectations of others without communicating with one another. Let me be clear: no one’s expectations belong in your marriage. Your marriage belongs to the two of you, and whatever you work out between you is no one else’s business – no one’s.
Let me give an example. Early in our marriage my husband and I realized that I was better equipped to handle the family budget. We would sit down and decide what needed to happen in order for our financial obligations to be met and I would be the one responsible to keep us on track. Our current church setting, and even the way my parent’s relationship went seemed to indicate that my “controlling the check book” was a lack of submission on my part and usurping my husband’s authority.
So, being good little church goers, I handed over the whole thing to my husband without discussing why and if we believed the arrangement would work for us. The result was stressful for both of us. Dave had to take the lead in an area of his weakness, and I was constantly stressed out about finances! We made similar “decision-making” mistakes before I realized that being a “help meet” did not mean I was a silent partner. A relationship of equality and mutual submission has been our agreement for the past 14 years (it only took us 2 years to figure it out). When making major decisions we have always done so only if we are both in total agreement. It can be a bit slower this way, but the harmony that we experience is worth it!
Early on I learned how to identify my expectations, weigh their importance, and communicate them or lay them aside. As I have been thinking about expectations, I realize that the longer I’ve been married the fewer “expectations” I have of my husband and other people in my life. I have learned to let people do what they can do. Be who they are. Be involved as much or as little as they desire in my life. Anything I receive emotionally or relationally is a gift. No one “owes” me anything.
Although I do challenge people’s thinking and try to encourage beneficial behavior I do not “expect” others to “toe the line” just because I believe it is right or best. Some may think this is the “coward’s way out” or that I lack the gumption to “stand up for myself”. That’s fine, because I do not expect others to understand or even chose to behave or live as I do. Am I always perfect in this – NO.
Sometimes my “inner Pharisee” comes out and I too point the accusing finger at others exposing their “bad behavior” and faults. Yes that “religious”, legalistic, pharisaical part of sin-nature careens out of control sometimes. Even the most “nonjudgmental” person falls into this kind of self-righteous pattern from time to time. This leads me to the hardest of all expectations to dethrone:
I have not met anyone who does not have self-expectations, and who has not disappointed themselves. Most will beat themselves up at least on occasion whether because of something they said, did, did not say, or did not do that either reflected on them poorly or hurt someone else. Giving ourselves permission to “mess up” and still “get up” and grow and learn is one of the hardest lessons on the road to maturity and humility.
One of the reasons we get so down on ourselves is because we have this false belief that we are somehow better than others who make the same mistakes and commit the same “sins”. 1 Cor. 10:13 in the New Living Translation says: “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” It’s hard on the ego to come to terms with the fact that our relationship with God is solely dependent upon His faithfulness. We say we believe this, but then when we fail or other people fall short of our expectation we lay on “the law” and want to exact punishment.
It is because of this sin-born desire to self-justify that we must carefully evaluate the expectations we have of others and put upon ourselves. What are we “requiring” of one another, and do we really have the right to “require” anything at all? What does God “require” of us? And, just because God requires it of us, does that give us the right to require it of others? If we are expecting others to live by “God’s rules” are we not taking the place of God? How can we expect others to abide by “His rules” when we are breaking them as well? It’s something to ponder now, isn’t it?