Consider Expectations Before Marriage
Source: Utah Marriage
"Any marriage is the blending of two families, not just two individuals," said Ben Silliman, family life extension specialist, University of Wyoming. A partner brings along a set of expectations for marriage that often reflect family background and what that person has observed from watching other family members and friends. A marriage is a merger of the traditions and expectations from the two families.
"What is important, then, is for partners to become aware of each other's expectations before going to the altar. Defining each partner's expectations is essential to the success of any marriage or couple relationship because matching behavior and expectations can be important for cooperation and satisfaction," said Silliman.
Couples who have conflicting expectations usually experience more problems in their relationship. For example, should one partner put his or her career on the back burner to stay home with the children? How will a couple share parenting responsibilities, housework and managing their money? How important is sex? Should a couple use vacation time to visit relatives, or head for a popular vacation spot? Answers to some of these questions may be based on how their parents dealt with these issues.
Having a good understanding of a partner's expectations can strengthen a couple's relationship. It also can help a couple to understand each other's family legacy and to not simply repeat the successes or failures of the previous generation. Effective couples manage to identify and utilize the strengths of each family of origin, heal the wounds, and grow from the limits of each.
"Expectations will, however, change over time; for example, when a family expands, the desire for a roomier home may replace the wish for a newer car or expensive vacation," Silliman said.
"Expectations also may vary with a couple's commitment to each other. Couples who choose to live together without a formal commitment to each other often have a relationship that falls short of their expectations. Without a commitment, one or both members of a couple sometimes consider their life together as a temporary or convenient arrangement, rather than a long-term promise. Without a commitment, partners may not know what to expect next," he said.
In any relationship, making assumptions can be risky, Silliman said. Thinking, "She/He will change" or "It won't matter after we get married" can set up a partner for disappointment. Ignoring warning signs of could-be-bothersome behaviors or conflicting lifestyles also can be problematic. As an example, one partner may prefer to get up and at 'em on a Saturday morning while the other prefers to sleep in. Eventually, the up-and-at 'em partner may accuse his or her partner of being lazy, or the sleep-in partner may see an energetic mate as obsessive, the family life specialist said.
Couples need to be able to separate romance from reality. Thinking that "my parents were happy; I’ll be happy, too," can be a mistake. Successful relationships don't just happen; they take everyday effort and enjoyment in the relationship, Silliman said. Couples can more easily thrive when they build on their strengths and grow from working on their weaknesses.
"One should never expect another person to make them happy. It's essential to learn to be happy with yourself before trying to share your life with another; it's also unrealistic to think that a relationship is going to be great all the time," he said.
A willingness to be adaptable can be important to the success of a relationship because circumstances can—and will—change. A long-term commitment based on realistic expectations provides a balance point through individual, couple and societal change. Being an optimist also helps.
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Put the other person first. When dating, partners often defer to each other; once they are in a committed relationship, however, they may be less likely to do so. Yet, when you ask a longtime couple why their relationship has succeeded, they often report that what they gave—rather than what they expected—brought satisfaction and growth. They go with the flow. Their expectations usually have evolved through the years, but working through the changes has strengthened their relationship, they say.