When Marriage Gets Messy – Unmet Expectations

The #9 most referenced reason Marriage Gets Messy: Unmet Expectations.

I witnessed a wedding this summer and I couldn't help but wonder, 'Do they really know what they're getting into?'

Do any of us?

When Marriage Gets Mess Unmet ExpectationsWe expect heath, wealth, better, and life. We don’t predict illness, poverty, worse, or death. Or any of the other messes marriage brings. But oh, combining two sinful people and all their baggage (literal and figurative) under one roof is hard.

There. I said it. Marriage is H-A-R-D.

Yet it seems like we’re constantly surprised by this. As if exchanging wedding bands will automatically make our spouses perfect partners and give us supernatural abilities to be perpetually pleasing to them.

Unmet expectations abound in marriage.

Some might even describe marriage itself as one giant unmet expectation.

From anti-climactic honeymoons to forgotten birthdays. From missed dinners to unemployment. From weight gained to hair lost. From cancer to children with special needs. The list goes on and on…

But we don't have to let these disappointments derail our marriages.

Unmet expectations often have more to do with poor communication, complacency and mismatched priorities than an unwillingness to please. Sometimes they stem from sinfulness or selfishness, but most people don't go out of their way to intentionally disappoint their spouse.

So let's be intentional about the way we aim to please each other and what we do when we fail to meet our partner's expectations. Here are 4 steps to minimize the mess unmet expectations make in marriage.

Set a Standard

You wouldn't want to start a job without a clear understanding of what your employer expected of you. Would you? So, why approach marriage this way?

Uncommunicated expectations are simply assumptions (and you know what they say about those).

At the end of this post, I’m sharing a set of worksheets I created to help you talk through your expectations of each other. Don't be scared of what he might ask. It's better to lay it all out on the table for discussion. I believe you want to please you partner, or you wouldn't be reading this post. 

I wish it was a formulaic answer. Wouldn't it be nice if I could just give you one solid solution ensuring marital bliss? But each of our marriages are unique and expectations vary widely. So, every couple needs to be intentional about clearly communicating their own expectations.

It is good to do this early on in your marriage, whenever you discover another unmet expectation, and as major changes occur (children, empty-nest, retirement, etc). Sometimes our expectations change with the seasons.

Have a Hierarchy

Not only are our desires unique, but our priorities are different, too.

We'll take more about priorities in a couple of weeks, but for now, consider these scenarios:

     *You expect him to be home for dinner every evening, but he is committed to providing financially for the family which often requires late nights at work.

     *He longs for sex every other night, but you value having the house cleaned up before your head hits the pillow.

     *You want him to plan fancy dinner dates, but he thinks you should be saving for college.

I believe unmet expectations are often a bi-product of competing priorities. Understanding your spouse’s priorities will help you see how your expectations may conflict with his hierarchy of needs. Having, sharing, and understanding the hierarchy helps us manage our expectations.

Forgive Failings

This might be the hardest step of all.

Admitting we were wrong with a heartfelt apology that acknowledges the hurt we caused goes a long way toward reconciliation. Forgiveness, with or without an apology, is a sacrifice made for the sanctity of our marriages.

When Marriage Gets Messy Unmet Expectations Ephesians 4:32I've heard so many women ask, 'How many times should I forgive him for this?' I'll let Jesus answer… 70 times seven. Only that isn't really a math equation. 7 is a number Bible authors often used to represent completion. We must forgive forever. And we can only do it with His help. We forgive because we've been forgiven. Not because the other person is remorseful or apologetic or promises to do better. We forgive because Jesus tells us to.

Here is the bottom line. Our husbands are not Jesus. He was perfect. And guess what. He still wasn't what the people expected Him to be. Our expectations of Him are often faulty. But still, on Him all our hope rests. Not on our husbands. We can be certain Jesus knows our every heart ache and promises us eternal comfort. But here in this life, our husbands are going to let us down. And we are going to fail them. Instead of focusing on what feels like failure, look for lessons about meeting each others' needs in the future.

So we take our hurts to Jesus first. We pour out our hearts to the Lord instead of dumping on our husbands.

We receive Christ's comfort and consolation before confronting our spouses. Emotional engagements only exacerbate messes caused by unmet expectations. Diffuse emotions before discussing disappointment.

Analyze ActionsWhen Marriage Gets Messy Unmet Expectations

Agree on a phrase you can use to ask why your spouse acted the way he did before a crisis occurs. In the heat of the moment, asking 'why' might be like waving a red flag at a bull. But having a standard question you've both agreed isn't offensive, will help you get to the root of issues faster. Decide on what you'll say together so there won't be any surprises. 

You could try phrases like:

     *I'm curious about your thought process in this situation.

     *Can you share with me why you made the choice you did?

     *How did you come to this conclusion?

Whatever phrase you decide on, calmly engage in conversation. Ask without accusing and explain without excusing. Chances are he has very logical reasoning for the decisions he made. Or he simply made a mistake. Let him explain. If you were the one who failed to meet his expectations wouldn't you want the opportunity to share your reasoning and perspective? Analyzing and understanding why expectations went unmet can both minimize the pain and help us stave off similar situations in the future.

Analyzing actions is critical because it helps set the stage for future success.

Then, repeat 'til death do you part.

Communicate, prioritize, forgive, analyze, and repeat forever to minimize the messes unmet expectations make in marriage.

Communicate, prioritize, forgive, analyze, and repeat forever to minimize the messes unmet expectations make in marriage. #unmetexpectations #marriage #messymarriage Click To Tweet

If unmet expectations persist consider professional counseling to resolve underlying issues. It’s OK for Christians to seek help for their marriages. It doesn't make you a failure. It makes you a fighter. And that's what we want – a generation of women willing to fight for their marriages.

But don't just take my word for it.

Check out these two great posts dealing with unmet expectations in marriage from Focus on the Family (Women and Anger: Unmet Expectations) and Rosalind Jukic (When Marriage Isn't What You Dreamed).


Download these His and Hers Expectations Worksheets for free. Simply join the growing community at My Messy Desk by subscribing to our e-mail list. Bonus: You’ll continue to receive even more inspiration each week.


*Click on the title link that appears after you enter your information and hit send, or check your e-mail for a link later.


Don’t miss the other posts in this series:

     10. Finances

     9. Unmet Expectations

     8. Adultery

     7. Outside Influences

     6. Complacency

     5. Selfishness

     4. Misaligned Priorities

     3. Yoked Unequally

     2. Communication Breakdown

and the #1 reason marriage gets messy is because God Isn't Invited


Liz's printed workbook, When Marriage Gets Messy is now available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble on-line. It's an 11-week workbook for wives who want to overcome 10 common messes married couples make. The comprehensive workbooks contain daily prayer, reflection questions to help you dig deep into heart issues, word studies, Bible Study material, date night ideas, memory work (not what you're thinking), additional resources, and of course S-E-X! It makes a great individual or group study, or even a wedding gift!


When Marriage Gets Messy Unmet Expectations


Linking Up With

For more encouragement please join the discussions on these fabulous blog link ups – Suzanne EllerThought Provoking ThursdaySusan B. MeadFaith Filled FridayGrace and TruthFaith and Fellowship FridayGrace and Truth FridayGood Morning MondaySoul SurvivalMonday MusingsRah Rah Link UpTell His StoryWoman to Woman WednesdayWomen With Intention WednesdaySitting Among FriendsTestimony TuesdayPlanting Roots, and Fresh Market Friday.

26 thoughts on “When Marriage Gets Messy – Unmet Expectations

  1. Wow, Elizabeth! This is just fantastic. You have honed in on some very important things we all need to keep in mind about our marriages. I really appreciate this and the other links you provided as well. Thank you!

  2. Boy, those expectations sure can get us into trouble! I know that unrealistic and/or unspoken expectations have made life harder for me, but for grace and forgiveness.

  3. You have so much solid advice and help here, Liz. Thank you for this post. Oh yes, expectations can be a killer. We set them way too high and wonder why our spouse doesn’t meet them! And as you say, communication is key.

  4. This is so true. I struggled with this for years after I got married, unmet expectations affected me especially in how I expected celebrations to go. God taught me a lot of these steps you listed here and today, my marriage is thriving! Thank you for this post.

  5. Unmet expectations are the root of many marriage issues. We all expect our husbands to fulfill a standard we’ve made up in our heads. But they are just humans! Great post!

  6. This was extremely well written. I think for all of us who have been married we can relate in one way or another. I think as women we tend to expect our husband to fill so many needs that we should really be looking to God for. I think we are seeking to be fulfilled and looking in the right laces then it will also help our relationship with our spouses.

    1. Thank you, Anne! That is so very true. We need to remember our spouses aren’t our Savior. They are sinners just like us. It is our Savior who was perfect and meets ALL our needs for eternity! Blessings!

  7. Liz,
    Great advice here….you need to hand a copy of this to every couple getting married. I used to be the Queen of “Great Expectations”. One place I really got hung up was expecting my husband to read my mind….to grasp that I’d had a really exhausting day….to pick up on subtle cues, etc. Men are wonderful, but most are not very intuitive. I found that simply stating what I wanted or needed (a night off from cooking because the kids were crazy) was a much better route than expecting him to read my mind. Great post!
    Bev xx

    1. That’s funny, Bev. I’ve got a niece getting married next summer and as I’ve been working on this series, I keep thinking about compiling this for her, along with all the study material we’re going over in the facebook group. So glad you’ve learned to manage expectations and communicate effectively with your honey! Blessings!

  8. So much good wisdom in this post, Liz! I’m blessed to have a husband who is very communicative. He’s honest about what he wants and it makes it easier for me to voice my needs. I’ll be sharing!

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