With so much misinformation going around, it’s hard to know what to expect in marriage. Perhaps you wonder, Are my marital expectations too high? Maybe you’re asking, What does a good marriage even look like? Use this list of realistic expectations for marriage to find out.
Why Marriage Expectations Matter
Fairytales suggest a good marriage involves riding off into the sunset and living happily ever after. Although few couples truly expect life after marriage to be problem-free, grandiose marriage expectations set a couple up for disappointment. This is why finding balance is a must!
Positive Expectations In Marriage
Peter Marshal, a well-known 20th-century pastor, referred to marriage as “The halls of highest human happiness.” On one hand, Peter is right. Jenny and I are approaching ten years of marriage. The two of us can personally attest to how amazing married life is. But don’t take our word for this. There is plenty of research to back this up. Studies show that marriage makes life’s bright moments feel brighter and even causes physical pain to hurt less.
A happy marriage can also physical and mental health. A study of 25,000 people in England, for example, found that married people were 14% more likely to survive a heart attack. They were also able to leave the hospital two days sooner than their single counterparts. Another study discovered how to assign a monetary value to marriage. After surveying over 100,000 people, the economists David Blanchflower and Andrew Oswald determined the following. In terms of happiness, “marriage is worth an impressive $100,000 annually.” In other words, the level of felt happiness in marriage is on-par with receiving a $100,000 raise. That’s a significant amount of happiness bucks!
Increased happiness is a realistic expectation in marriage. But if it’s your only expectation, watch out!
Realistic Expectations In Marriage
Obviously, no couple is happy all the time. This is where having realistic expectations for marriage helps. When couples know what to expect, they can mentally prepare. Then, when marriage problems arise, couples don’t feel like they’ve been thrown a curve ball. Ideally, couples will think to themselves, Oh yeah, that marital problem. We’ve been expecting this. Then, they can tackle the difficulty together.
Here are 6 realistic expectations for marriage to keep you and your loved one from getting caught by surprise.
Realistic Marriage Expectations List
1. Expect Communication Problems
No matter how well you and your partner connect now, expect occasional communication problems. Psychology Today lists “communication” as a top reason couples seek therapy. Common difficulties included a general “lack of understanding” as well as not “discussing problems.” So, no matter how great your communication is today, expect communication problems at some point.
Realistic Marriage Expectations Quote: Oscar Wilde said, “Ultimately, the bond of all companionship, whether in marriage or in friendship, is conversation.” Know that difficulty communicating is normal. Then, follow Oscar’s advice. Keep communicating anyway.
How to Prepare: Talk often. Be a good listener. And seek to understand your loved one’s perspective before offering solutions. You might even keep a list of resources, such as a list of couple’s questions nearby. Converse regularly during the good times, and communication problems will be easier to navigate when they arise.
2. Expect Problems with Money
“Honey, most couples have money problems. We’re just getting ours out of the way early.” The two of us were married for less than a year. Then, an unexpected financial crisis hit. I felt ashamed I wasn’t able to immediately fix our money problems. Luckily, Jenny let me know that this wasn’t her expectation for marriage. Quickly, the pressure diminished, and the joy returned. We share this story because it illustrates both the normalcy of money problems and the advantage of having realistic expectations in marriage.
Realistic Marriage Expectations Quote: Alvin Ailey says, “Money is a never-ending problem.” This is true both inside and outside of marriage. So expect problems with money. When they arise, refuse to argue about whose fault the money problems are. Instead, discuss how to team up and tackle the challenge together.
How to Prepare: Have conversations about money early. Budget together. You might even want to set up a monthly meeting where you and your loved one celebrate financial successes and problem-solve mistakes. Don’t expect to get the budget right the first time. A reasonable expectation for marriage is that budgeting will be an ongoing process and not a one-time event.
3. Expect to Have More Sex—but not as much sex as you want.
A 2004 study entitled Money, Sex, and Happiness states, “Married people have more sex than those who are single, divorced, widowed, or separated.” Contrary to popular belief, married people actually have more sex than their single counterparts. But even in marriage, you still may not have sex as often as you’d prefer.
One pastor shared how he was extremely disappointed because he expected marriage to feel like living in a “24-hour porn video.” By the way, those were his words and not mine. This unrealistic marriage expectation created additional stress for this pastor and his wife. Since we’re being honest about marriage expectations, it’s important to know that in marriage, you can expect to have more sex, but it still may not be as much as you’d like.
Realistic Marriage Expectations Quote: “The key to a great marriage is to keep the fights clean and the sex dirty.” The unknown author of this quote may be on the right track. Marriage isn’t all about sex, but sex is an important part of marriage. Humans are sexual beings. Our physical bodies crave food, water, sleep, shelter, and intimate connection with one another. Don’t forget, God designed us this way. If you don’t believe me, check out the realistic marriage expectation quote in the next section.
How to Prepare: A survey of 16,000 randomly sampled men and women found, “The median American has sexual intercourse 2-3 times a month (among people under 40 years of age, the median amount of sex is once a week).” Negotiating sexual differences is normal. Expect to talk about sex often. If you get stuck, we suggest using the average as a starting point for your discussion.
4. Expect to Have Happier Sex
Did you hear about the husband who asked his wife, “Honey, why did you marry me?” His wife replied, “Because you’re funny and make me laugh.” “Oh,” said the husband. “That’s interesting. I always thought it was because I was amazing in bed. “See,” said his wife, “You’re hilarious.”
Plenty of jokes poke fun at sex in marriage—or the lack of it. But contrary to popular belief, married couples not only have more sex than their single counterparts, but they also have happier sex. We think it’s important to include this in our list of realistic expectations for marriage because a common misconception is more sex with more partners leads to happiness. Yet, an empirical study on Money, Sex, and Happiness states, “The happiness-maximizing number of sexual partners in the previous year is 1.” Thus, if you are married and staying true to your spouse, you can realistically expect to have happier sex overall.
Realistic Marriage Expectations Quote: “Sex is God’s idea, and outside of salvation, it is the best idea he ever had.” This quote from an anonymous pastor rings true. Marriage is God’s idea, and it can be good indeed.
How to Prepare: The free Gottman App is an excellent resource for couples. Use the sex questions or salsa ideas (which come in mild, medium, or hot) to make conversations about sexual desires easier.
5. Expect Your Happiness Levels to Vary
Just how happy should married couples be? Newlyweds who expect to be honeymoon happy all the time set themselves up for disappointment. Imagine a marriage happiness scale where 0 is disconnected a miserable. A 5 is a blah, meh emoji, or pancakes without syrup, type of bond. And a 10 means the two of you are honeymoon-happy. What happiness level do the two of you expect? And are your marriage expectations realistic?
In our opinion, if you and your loved one are consistently able to rate your happiness in marriage at a 6 or higher, you are on the right track. Hardships are a normal part of life. So, of course, there are going to be some low-happiness moments. Hopefully, there are also times when you and your loved one do feel honeymoon-happy each year. But to think you’ll be at an 8, 9, or 10 happiness level all the time is an unrealistic marriage expectation. If the ordinary days feel a little happier than bland, the two of you are on the right track.
Realistic Marriage Expectations Quote: Rita Rudner said, “I love being married. It’s so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life.” Yep, this quote feels right. Expect your marital happiness levels to vary pretty much like they did as a single adult. To keep your marital expectations realistic, aim for a 6+ marriage on the happiness scale.
6. Expect to Stay Married for Life
Threatening divorce increases the likelihood of divorce. According to Very Well Mind, threatening divorce is a solution that makes problems worse. So expect to stay married for life. This creates a felt level of safety that is needed to work through problems.
Realistic Marriage Expectations Quote: Frank Pittman said, “Marriage, like a submarine, is only safe if you get all the way inside.” We agree. Staying married for life is a great marriage expectation because it creates security. Couples can be themselves. They feel free to disagree. They share their inner world (something we refer to as into-me-see). And work through marital problems faster because of this freedom.
How to Prepare: Erase the “d-word” (“divorce” if you weren’t paying attention) from your vocabulary. Commit to working through problems ahead of time by making “I do” mean “I do for life.”
Are my marriage expectations too high?
Are my marriage expectations too high? This is an excellent question for self-reflection. Bruce Lee said, “I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.” Know what your marriage expectations are. Then prefer but don’t demand that your spouse live up to them. This is a helpful attitude to adopt. And, if your marriage expectations aren’t realistic, change them.
Couples who expect marriage to be endless bliss set themselves up for disappointment. Those with realistic marriage expectations won’t be caught off guard when typical marriage problems arise. Instead, they can say to themselves, “Of course. We knew this problem would come.” Then, they can move forward and tackle the challenge together.
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