Marriage: What Should You Expect?


What’s reasonable to expect from a husband? Or a wife? I had an interesting discussion recently with two single women. I told them I believe one of the keys to a great marriage is to expect only love.
Well, of course they both expect love. But only love? Shouldn’t we expect fairness? If one cooks, the other cleans up? Unless there are kids at home to care for, both work? If she does the laundry, he mows the lawn — before it’s knee-deep?
Shouldn’t we expect shared activities, shared hobbies, shared visits to the relatives, shared dinnertimes, a shared bedroom?
Shouldn’t we expect date nights? Back rubs? Sex? Flowers? Jewelry? I love yous? Trust?
In my experience, the more expectations we can let go of, the more delightful marriage becomes. But they were skeptical. Is love enough?

I understood the question. After a failed relationship, it’s very hard to imagine there’s any point to marrying just for love.
But in my experience, love’s the thing almost all of us crave. Even folks who enter arranged marriages enter them hoping to fall in love. These days, unlike the past, both men and women can put a roof over their heads, food in their bellies, and money in the bank without a mate, even care for children on their own. But most keep looking for someone to love them.
Then they find someone and throw a heap of other expectations on the pile.
“I want him to love me and put his shoes and coat away.”
“I want her to love me and go camping with me.”
“I want him to love me and tell me so at least twice a day.”
“How can she say she loves me when she doesn’t think I earn enough?”
“Would someone who loves me leave me to clean up after him?”
And that’s the heart of it. All of those expectations are really about assessing whether we’re loved. The more we come up with, the less able we are to receive the love offered to us. It’s not fair you should have fewer chores than you did living alone and love. It’s a blessing. It’s a blessing even if your spouse got more of this particular blessing than you did.
It’s not right you should have a husband to join you for some of your family functions. It’s a blessing. If he chooses to join you for all of them, it’s more of a blessing.
It’s not a given you’ll get love and a partner for dinner. It’s a blessing, a double delight.
You can buy yourself flowers or jewelry. Love is special. It must come from another person. It doesn’t always come with flowers or jewelry, but it’s a blessing with or without
The terrific thing about letting go of all the other expectations we got from watching our parents, our friends, or the movies is that we can then appreciate all these blessings. And, as almost always happens, when we appreciate blessings, lots more come our way.
My own second marriage isn’t anything like I expected. I’ve had to remind myself a few times just how valuable and special love is, when I’m not getting something I always thought should come as a package deal with a husband. But when I remember to pay attention to the love, it comes in ways I never imagined. There’s so much more fun in my life now, so much more playfulness. I’m encouraged to take risks to go after my dreams, and I know it’s OK to try, because there’s someone ready to catch me if I fall. I’m less afraid, because I’m married to someone so brave. And I’m learning new ways of approaching work from this man who treats even programming as a craft.
The more I welcome love the ways he shows it, the more love he shows. Instead of wasting any energy trying to change him to show me love and respect in the ways I expected them, I’m changing. It’s like I’m a plant getting different nutrients, a different quality of light, and I’m growing in ways I never imagined.
It’s not at all what I expected. It’s so much better.
Expect love. Let the rest just happen.

About the author

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.


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  • Okay, I feel resentment bubbling up at some of your Pollyanna suggestions. We should not have to take our partner’s love for us on faith alone!
    But casting resentment and “shoulds” aside, I know from my own experience that I notice what I’m looking for, whether I’m walking in the woods, training my dogs, or dealing with co-workers. If I’m looking for problems, I’ll find them. If I’m looking for good, I’ll find that too. Hmmm…maybe I’ll give it a whirl with the husband. ;o)

  • Margaret, a thousand apologies for not posting your comment sooner. It was flagged by the spam filter for some reason, so I wasn’t notified you had posted it.
    I agree. There is no good reason to take your partner’s love on faith alone. But like you say, you see what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for love, you can see it in so many different acts. If you’re looking for a particular love sign–whether it’s cooking, mowing, love letters, a good cuddle, or flowers on your birthday, it keeps you focused too narrowly to see all the love.
    Looking for good sounds like a great way to see more love. I hope you’ll report back on your experiences.

  • Well, how can I let go of the need to have someone commit to me? I want committment, and I also want to be married to the one I love. He said he wanted the same. Unfortunately, he wanted out. Well, he still loves me and I love him too, but we are not together. It is just mindboggling that our love manifests itself in such a peculiar way, i.e. through separation!

  • Well, how can I let go of the need to have someone commit to me?
    You don’t have to let go of any of your needs, but if you expect someone else to meet them, and the particular someone else you have chosen cannot meet them, you will be unhappy until you let go of the need or the person.
    If you assume love and try to explain the lack of commitment, there are several possible explanations.
    One is that you are dealing with someone still so unsure of himself that commitment is not yet possible. When the feeling of commitment wells up in such a person, when he most wants to remain close to you and stand by you, it is always accompanied by panic, an overwhelming fear of choosing the wrong person and missing out on something better. Just when you feel closest to him, he needs to put space between you. You can recognize such a person by how loving he becomes when the space is there.
    Trying to close the space will backfire. To remain a couple, you need to find a way to allow the space. It will close when he’s able to trust he’s made the right choice. This might require waiting for him to sort out other aspects of his life. And it might just be intolerable to you, so be sure to set some firm limits on how much you can handle before you move on. In the meantime, fill your life with friends and family and pursuit of your other dreams.
    Another possible explanation is that he’s getting all he wants out of the relationship without commitment. You can recognize this situation because he shows his love for you only when someone else stops giving him what he wants. I don’t recommend waiting for this situation to improve. However, the first step is the same: fill your life with friends and family and pursuit of your other dreams. You will be at your most attractive and a lot more clear-headed about love.

  • its good to have your wife as a friend as well as a male or another felame as a friend cause a another
    women would just get into trouble and a male friend will have u out late or vise versa

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.

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