Realistic Vs. Unrealistic Expectations in a Marriage

by Emma Wells

Marriage in Western culture comes with a fixed set of expectations, reinforced by popular culture and fairy tales. We are socialized to expect that marriage will fulfill all of our needs and even that our “other half” will complete us. Many stories would have us believe that everything after the wedding is “happily ever after," but we know in real life that marriage is not so simple. Take some time to differentiate your realistic expectations from your unrealistic, “Disney” expectations.

Realistic: Mutual Expectations

It is a realistic expectation that the two of you will be able to agree upon mutual intentions before and during marriage. Though some expectations are likely to change as you journey through life together, it’s a good idea to spell out some of your core expectations prior to tying the knot. Focus on big things, such as how you both prioritize career and family, how you will divide household tasks and the amount of time you will spend with each person’s family, recommends family life expert Ben Silliman of the University of Wyoming.

Unrealistic: Changing Your Partner

One common unrealistic expectation is that your partner’s habits, values or personality traits will change after marriage, says Silliman. Don’t assume that your future spouse will suddenly start going to bed earlier or squeezing the toothpaste tube from the bottom once you’re newlyweds. Decide whether you can live with your partner as-is, because marriage won’t magically transform either of you. If you’re concerned that your partner does not currently meet some of your most important expectations, you probably should not marry each other.

Unrealistic: Happily Ever After

Sarì Harrar and Rita DeMaria, Ph.D., found that many people have unvoiced, hidden expectations for marriage that even they don’t figure out until later. Confront your own expectations for what a “happily ever after” marriage might mean to you. This requires being brutally honest with yourself: If you’re a woman who is happy working, do you secretly expect your husband to support you after marriage? These built-in “fairy-tale” expectations are worth discussing with your partner. Ultimately, marriage will not be easy or constantly happy; it requires work, and your partner will not be able to fulfill all of your needs.

Realistic: Commitment

It is realistic to expect your future spouse to commit to the marriage. Commitment means that neither of you will give up easily, and that you will stand by each other in hard times while working diligently to improve your marriage when you need to. Commit to your partner with full knowledge of any shortcomings and an honest discussion of your mutual expectations.

About the Author

Emma Wells has been writing professionally since 2004. She is also a writing instructor, editor and former elementary school teacher. She has a Master's degree in writing and a Bachelor of Arts in English and anthropology. Her creative work has been published in several small literary magazines.