The following exercises are designed to help you explore some of your expectations. Plan to spend time thinking carefully about each area that is applicable to you. Both of you should write your thoughts down on a separate pad of paper, then share them. Each point is meant to stimulate your own thinking. You may also have expectations in numerous other areas. Please consider every expectation you can think of that seems significant to you, whether or not it is listed here. Remember, you won’t get much out of this exercise unless you are able and willing to put time into it. Many couples, whether already married or planning to be married, have found this to be extremely beneficial for their relationship.
General Relationship Expectations
We ask you to consider all manner of expectations about marriage in general. The goal is to clarify your expectations for how you want your marriage to be or how you think it should be. You are not to evaluate how you guess it will be. Write down what you expect, whether or not you think the expectation is realistic. (The expectation will affect your relationship whether or not it’s realistic, so you need to be aware of it.) It’s essential that you write down what you really think, not what sounds like the correct or least embarrassing answer.
It can also be valuable to think on what you observed about each of these areas in your family growing up. This is probably where many of your beliefs about what you want or don’t want come from. With many areas of expectation, we have provided some references to key passages of scripture that deal with that area. These are provided for further thought, reflection —even struggle —as you work through your expectations in this exercise.
Write about what you want (or how you think things should be) regarding each of the areas that seems significant to you:
B. What are your expectations and concerns about the longevity of this relationship? About “till death do us part?” (Mark 10:7-9)
C. “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure” (Hebrews 13:4). What does this say about God’s expectation for marriage? What do you expect about fidelity, including whether your partner should have friends of the opposite sex, and so forth?
D. What does being loving and caring mean to you? Do you expect you should always have loving feelings? Do you expect this to change over time? (1 Corinthians 13: 1-13)
E. What about your sexual relationship? Frequency? Practices? Taboos? Who should initiate lovemaking?
F. What are your expectations about romance in your marriage? What is your particular language of love? [Is it: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, or Physical Touch?]
G. How about having children (or having more children)? Who should discipline the children? How? What about spanking?
H. If you married before and have children from that marriage, where do you want them to live? How do you expect that you should share in their discipline?
I. Think about work, careers, and the provision of income. Who should work in the future? Whose career or job is more important? If there are or will be children, should either partner reduce work time out of the home to take care of them? What about work after your nest is empty? Retirement?
J. What are your expectations and concerns about the degree of emotional dependency on the other? Do you want to feel taken care of? In what ways? How much do you expect to rely on each other to get through the tough times? What about depending on family and friends for emotional support? In what areas would you expect to be more emotionally independent?
K. What should be your basic approach to marriage? As a team or as two independent individuals? What about the implications of the roles described in scripture? (Ephesians 5:20-31)
L. How should you work out problems? Do you want to talk these out, and if so, how? What about the expression of strong emotions like anger?
M. Think about power and control. Who do you expect will have more power in what kinds of decisions? For example, who will control the money, or who will discipline the children? Who should make the final decision when you disagree about a key area? Who seems to have the most power in your relationship now, and how do you feel about that? (Ephesians 5:20-31; 1 Peter 3:1-7; Colossians 3:18-21)
O. Consider household tasks. Who should do what? How does the current breakdown match up with what you expect?
P. What are your expectations, desires, and concerns about time together? How much time do you want to spend together (versus time alone, with friends, at work, with family, and so forth)?
Q. What do you expect about sharing all of your thoughts and feelings? Are there feelings that shouldn’t be shared?
R. How do you envision your friendship with your partner? What is a friend? Should your partner always be your best friend?
S. Think about some of the “little things” in life. Where should you squeeze the toothpaste? Should the toilet seat be left up or down? Who sends greeting cards? Think about the little things that have irritated you in the past. What do you want or expect in each area?
T. What should happen when there is a need for forgiveness? How important is forgiveness in your relationship? (1 John 4:1-21)
U. Now, with your mind primed from all of the work you have done, consider again the hidden issues. Do you see any ways that deeper issues of yours might influence your expectations? What do you expect, want, or fear in each of these areas? Power? Caring? Recognition? Commitment? Integrity? Acceptance?
V. Write about any other expectations that come to mind. Some other areas might include money (saving, spending); free time, recreation, TV; use of alcohol and drugs; your interactions in public; relatives; and so on.
Go back to each area just listed and rate each of your expectations for how reasonable you think it really is. Use a scale of 1 to 10 where 10 = completely reasonable (“I really think it is OK to expect this in this relationship.”) and 1 = completely unreasonable expectation for me to have in our relationship.”) For example, suppose you grew up in a family where problems were not discussed, and you are aware that you honestly expect or prefer to avoid such discussions. You might now rate that expectation as not very reasonable.
Place a big check mark by each expectation that you feel you have not clearly discussed with your partner.
Share your expectations. After you and your partner have finished the entire written exercise, schedule times together to discuss each of the areas either of you thinks is important. Please don’t try to do this all at once. You should plan on a number of discussions, each covering only one or two expectation being discussed has been shared clearly in the past and how it may have affected your relationship. Talk about the degree to which you both feel your expectations are reasonable or unreasonable and discuss what you will agree to do about these.
The above communication tool comes from the excellent book, A Lasting Promise: A Christian Guide to Fighting for Your Marriage, written by Scott Stanley, Daniel Trathen, Savanna McCain, and Milt Bryan, published by Jossey-Bass Publishers. This book is based on the best-selling book, Fighting for your Marriage. There was a lot to this particular chapter that we couldn’t include in this article to protect the book’s copyrights. But we believe it would greatly benefit your future marriage if you would find a way to obtain this book and work through the rest of the principles in this chapter and others as well. Along with the authors, we believe it will be worth every effort you put into learning what you can from this book and mastering these skills because it will greatly help your marriage become the best it can be. We HIGHLY recommend this book.