Want to guess?
Hint: I'm not talking about the laundry or housework or some wild, exotic move in the bedroom.
And no, this has nothing to do with being able to bake a soufflé, or adhere to a budget, or be cheerful about putting your cranky toddler to bed.
The main thing no spouse can be expected to do is... live up to all of your dreams.
Face it, your spouse is simply a person with strengths and limitations, wisdom and blind spots -- a person who will, if you're lucky, both charm you and annoy you for the rest of your days. No matter how loving and kind, funny, or generous, or deeply devoted, no spouse can be expected to give you everything that you want.
One of the keys to a satisfying marriage is to let go of your expectations that he or she will.
We all come into marriage with high expectations -- about ourselves, our partner, and about what marriage will be. Quite often these expectations are not articulated. Most times we're not even aware that we have them. Frequently we assume our partner's expectations are the same as ours.
Expectations are based on a fantasy about how life (and our partner) is supposed to be, and, like it or not, fantasy and reality rarely match up.
Even those of us who see ourselves as practical and down-to-earth married with some expectations that were too lofty to meet. I expected, for example, that my husband and I would be levelheaded problem solvers, even though both of us have fiery tempers and tend to be stubborn. I expected, as well, that because we had similar values, we wouldn't have all that many problems to solve in the first place.
Most of us are inclined to think that our expectations are perfectly reasonable. Some of us even think they're our due. The truth is, most of the expectations people have are unrealistic. When they're not met, many think there's something wrong with the relationship when the trouble lies with the expectations they brought.
Many people think expectations set standards when, most often, they're a set-up for disappointment or frustration. My friends in AA say that "Expectations are resentments waiting to happen."
Why set yourself up for struggle? For the sake of your marriage, it's time to stop expecting your spouse to...
No news here, right? Read any relationship blog and you're likely to be told that you can't change your spouse. Occasionally someone will be clever and say that, in fact, you can, but the solution is -- no surprise -- you have to change yourself first.
Expecting change is a set-up for disappointment. Requesting change is another thing entirely, though even the most reasonable and respectful requests are not guaranteed to be met.
We all know what happens when we insist on change: our partner resentfully complies or defiantly digs in. Now and again we may get an "I'll think about it" which is, quite often, a "no" in sheep's clothing.
While I would never suggest people live in situations where they're treated badly, figuring out how to live in a less-than-ideal world with the spouse that we picked is a fruitful endeavor.
Sustained change comes only when we take ahold of ourselves and our issues and make needed changes because we aspire to be healthier.
If you've got energy to spare, focus your attention on changing the things you need to change in yourself. You may inspire your spouse to do the same.
2. Validate your reality.
Say your spouse insisted that the sky is green. Would you feel compelled to debate it?
Maybe? Maybe not?
What if he said that you interrupted him, but you didn't think that you did? Or she said you moved the car keys when you know full well that you left them on the hook? Would you argue about that?
I've seen couples quibble over the most irrelevant details, striving to have their versions match up: You said we were leaving at 5. No, I said 5:15. No, I'm sure you said 5. No, that was last week.
Holding the tension of seeing things differently -- the two of you remembering wildly divergent and often contradictory details -- requires that you have a solid enough sense of self to, essentially, not care. In other words, to accept that you will never reconcile your two versions and that it's best to let go.
Too often we can feel threatened when our point of view is not validated, especially by someone as important to us as our spouse. By validation I mean that we want our partner to agree with us, to say that our point of view has merit, to say that we're right.
What would it take to calm down and trust your own "knowing" when your partner isn't offering any support?
So what if the two of you don't see eye-to-eye? More challenging still, what if your version and your spouse's have so few details in common that you're left scratching your head?
As we all know, memory is fallible, so your version may be as inaccurate as your spouse's. Even so, being able to validate yourself is essential to your well-being and will make you calmer and happier in the long run.
3. Give you unconditional love.
Ideally, as children, we will get unconditional love from our parents. But the love we get and give as adults doesn't follow the same rules.
It's not unusual to hear people vow at their wedding to love one another unconditionally. Then, some years down the line, they find that they can't.
I've known couples to think something is wrong when they find that, despite loving each other deeply, there are times that it's difficult to feel love. Whether faced with a betrayal, or simply in the midst of a fight, love can, at times, slip out of reach.
Worries like this come from an unrealistic expectation that "true" love is unwavering, undying, and unconditional. It is a fantasy to think there's nothing that can impact or tarnish the love we have for another.
If you're being honest with yourself, I bet you can think of something your spouse could do that may well be a deal breaker.
Unromantic as it is, as adults we love each other conditionally -- though that's not a bad thing. It is beneficial to know that there are things we can do to cause our spouse to stop trusting us, and potentially stop loving us.
Rather than expect to share a love that asks for nothing in return, I suggest loving as generously and warmly as possible.
4. Read your mind.
Maybe you don't expect your partner to read your mind as if he or she were a clairvoyant. Maybe, instead, you have thoughts like these: Why doesn't she understand me? Or, After all this time he should know what I want.
It makes perfect sense to want to be known and understood, but you will never be perfectly understood, nor will your wants and needs be unerringly anticipated. It's inevitable that, sometimes, the two of you won't be perfectly attuned.
That's why it's your job to reach out and speak up, instead of assuming that your partner knows what's important to you without your expressing it.
5. Make everything right.
No partner, no matter how caring or generous, can make all of your life's struggles disappear. While there are many wonderful things we may get from a partner, no one can be the ultimate cure for our loneliness or boredom. No one can give our life meaning, make us happy, or fix all of the injuries we incurred in childhood. Like it or not, love does not heal all.
Life is, after all, a challenging journey. Unless we pursue our own passions and figure out how to make ourselves happy, we will feel disappointed and mistakenly think that our partner is falling down on the job.
6. Be just like you.
Though people like to say that opposites attract, deep down, most people hope their partner will be a lot like them. Not necessarily identical, but enough like them that they can side-step the inevitable work that comes with learning to tolerate and accept difference.
There's no getting around the fact that the two of you are different. You see the world differently, you want different things and you have different dreams. In fact, you've been different since the day you met, even if, back then, you were too blinded by the stars in your eyes to recognize it.
Rather than protest the nature of your differences, why not strive to be open-minded and loving? Consider the things you can learn from each other. Challenge yourself to go somewhere new.
7. Be perfect.
Take a moment to think about what you would want if you were designing a perfect spouse. Maybe you'd start your list with thoughtful and generous, followed, perhaps, by sexy and smart. You might add fun-loving and lighthearted, someone who loves the outdoors, likes to work in the garden, is a good listener and a willing talker, someone willing to change a tire, a diaper, and, better still, an old attitude.
Sounds great, right?
Well, maybe not.
Your list for Mr. Right or Ms. Perfect is a set-up for trouble if you expect to find all of these fine qualities in one person. People often tell their spouse, in a state of frustration: I want a partner who____ (fill the blank with some quality that's missing.) Why not drop your expectations of your partner becoming the person you want and embrace, instead, the person he or she actually is?
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