Having expectations for your marriage is just like having them for other goals. Set your sights low and you won’t be disappointed – but it would also do nothing to build and maintain a strong union. Set your expectations high and you open up the possibility of having a happy, successful marriage. But you also risk setting yourself up for a “soulquake” of 10 on the Richter scale. So, when it comes to this very important aspect of your life, it’s important to hit the right balance.
Not surprisingly, most newlyweds predict that their marriage will remain happy or even improve over time. However, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that spouses tend to become less happy. In particular, the most optimistic women tend to show the greatest decline in marital satisfaction. So, if you are a starry-eyed newlywed or are recently engaged, you can help yourself by more accurately assessing your current relationship. With this clarity, you can work with your partner on problem areas, or even enter couples counseling.
In trying to decide how to set your expectations for a satisfying, fulfilling marriage, consider the results of a study conducted by Jim McNulty and Benjamin Karney. They looked the first 4 years of marriage and found that couples are likely to be happiest when their expectations match their ability to meet them. When couples displayed strong interpersonal skills, their happiness increased with higher expectations; but decreased when they had lower expectations. By contrast, when couples displayed weaker skills, they were happier when they did not try to overreach with high expectations.
The truth is that all relationships have times when they are less capable of meeting high expectations. This is a more frequent state for some couples, whereas other couples experience it more during times of high strain. The results of the above study point to the importance of being able to recognize these fluctuations in your marriage. Then you can adjust your expectations accordingly.
So, how should you go about setting expectations in your marriage? First, carefully consider the strengths, weaknesses, and general dynamics of your relationship at the moment. Being honest with yourself about this can help you decide how to proceed. If you are happy with each other in the moment or are capably addressing any issues, you will probably benefit from setting your sights high. But if the two of you are struggling, it might be best to set more modest expectations for yourselves. By being aware of the state of your relationship and being flexible in what you want from it, you will enjoy more happiness and satisfaction over time.