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UNREALISTIC MARITAL EXPECTATIONS
Joseph Mansfield, LCSW
Consider that there is currently a 50 % divorce rate. Does it mean that marriage basically doesn't work any more? Does it mean that people don't need marriage any more? I think that people have unrealistic expectations from marriage. There is a strongly shared myth that by the very act of getting a spouse, one is guaranteed certain automatic benefits. We expect our spouses to fill all of the missing pieces and holes of emptiness that we have accumulated prior to the wedding ceremony.
Marriage is an arrangement that seems to promise the most benefits, but actually delivers the least. Coming up through life as kids under the parenting of what turned out to be imperfect parents, we all accumulate tremendous collections of hurts and injustices. These hurts and emotional debts are rarely presented to our parents for reparation. This is a reality of the family loyalty system! But they sit inside. They don't just evaporate as years go by. They sit and wait! Meanwhile on the other side of town, there is our intended spouse in their youth piling up their emotional stockpile of ungrieved hurts. Then comes matrimony, and finally the first chance to demand payment for our backlog of hurts. After the wedding, all the dreamy glitter of expectations begin to sift down to reality. For every single spouse, there is that day of reckoning when we clearly realize that inevitable reality. Husbands never turn out to be existential Lone Rangers galloping into and fixing that big hole of emptiness. Wives never quite develop the magic healing bracelets of understanding and acceptance of Wonder Woman the spouse of unconditional love.
It is a bitter but potentially healing pill to swallow when we begin to see our wonderful but imperfect spouses with the light of reality. If you left the jelly doughnut factory and discovered that they neglected to fill you, guess what? It's not your spouse's fault. It's not their job to fill you up. And let's take this a step further. If your spouse gives you a hurt that measures 3.2 on the hurt scale, and it's in an area of hurt where you have stored up 6,987.7 units of unresolved hurt, somehow you have to find a way to separate this all out without hitting your spouse with 6,989.9 of payback and grief. Oh sure, in the short run it can feel quite righteous to bury one's spouse with a blast of anger. The result, is that we drive them away and can end up with a deeper, self created feeling of emptiness for which we are ultimately accountable.
In a world that is changing and often quite frustrating, a spouse gives the richest benefits. A spouse can be a strong anchor in times of fear and confusion. The task that must be mastered, is to be able to stop seeing our spouses as adversaries. It is essential that husbands and wives learn to accept their own shortcomings as well as their mate's. It's not our spouses that are wrong. It is our expectations of them. It's a big relief of the strain on a marriage when husband and wife go beyond over focusing on their differences and begin to acknowledge their shared similarity of broken dreams and potential.