The damage done to relationships by expectations

Why do so many marriages end in divorce? One common factor is that couples enter marriage with high expectations, and when expectations aren’t met, that’s when the relationship starts to crumble.

In one marriage, for instance, the wife expected her husband to provide her with a better life than she had as a child. In another the husband expected his wife to be sexy at all times. When those expectations weren’t met, the wife punished her husband by refusing sex, and the husband punished his wife by comparing her to other women.

And think of the damage done to children too, by the high expectations of their parents and teachers. At Graduation, for instance, it’s clear to anyone watching that the awards and the loudest applause are given to the top students in academics, sports and community service. Engrained into every child’s head by age eighteen, therefore, is the clear message that your value as a person is directly connected to how well you do.

So where does this nonsense come from? It comes from a culture of magazines and talk shows that bully us into thinking we’re never quite good enough in what we look like, or how we eat, think, play and live. The expectations they put on us are enormous, and the standards they set are unattainable by ordinary mortals, but we expect our mates and children to live up to them anyway because, we’ve been led to believe, only the brightest and the best are truly happy.

Is it any surprise, then, that young people are depressed, many of them to the point of wanting to end it all, because the pressure to be perfect by parents, teachers, coaches and peers is overwhelming? And is it any surprise that forty per cent of marriages collapse, because neither partner feels valued for who they simply are?

But what if a child or a mate knows they’re loved no matter what?

I love the story of one married couple that proved you could ignore cultural pressure and still be happy. They played in bridge tournaments as partners. At one major tournament the wife made a stupid mistake in the first round and blew the game for them, but they were so at ease in their relationship together that they went on to win the tournament despite the rocky start.

The secret? Neither of them based their relationship on never making mistakes. So even if they’d lost the tournament they could still drive home happily together. No angry blaming, no stony silence, no demand for apologies, and no damage done to their relationship because of expectations not met.

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