Realistic Expectations of Marriage:

An Overview 10 Years later

By: Shira Frank, LCSW


            In general, one's level of satisfaction in one’s marriage is dependent on one’s initial expectations. Either the reality of one's marriage is very close, is very far or has surpassed one's initial expectations. Sometimes after 10 years of marriage, a spouse feels resentment towards one's husband or wife, because one's vision of marriage did not come close to one's initial hopes. One needs to look carefully at one's natural expectations and see if they were not unrealistic from the marriage's very beginning causing unnecessary pain for many years. In this way, a husband or wife can attempt to “re frame” or “rethink” more realistic and possible expectations, in order not to live in a constant state of disappointment.

            One common expectation that is problematic is that of one's spouse “changing” an unpleasant character trait. This is even more deceiving when the spouse agrees that he/she wants to change this character trait. The reality of readily changing any trait is so difficult that it cannot be a condition to marry another. If this has occurred, however, issues of compromise need to be worked with.

            Another desirable but difficult expectation in the start of one's marriage is that of the couples main goal of devoting themselves to each other exclusively. Life's many tribulations and disappointments sometimes make it difficult to give to another emotionally and to constantly think of one's spouse's needs. On a more positive note, when a couple merits to have children, an “expanding” vision of unity is created, and the need to include children  again changes the couple’s focus on itself alone. Becoming more involved with one’s work or increasing community involvement again puts focus on other issues outside one's marriage. Thus the initial goal of being couple oriented often changes its focus, and this can be disappointing to husband or wife. Through appropriate communication, however, this issue can be resolved successfully.

            Another faulty expectation is that of eventually coming to “love someone” if there is no initial spark existing (colloquially known as “chemistry”). Through this can and does occur, to expect this to occur is not necessarily realistic. Sometimes people fear becoming too close to others and do not “allow” this natural connection to form. Some people's character types are very different and this chemistry may not be created between them. If however a couple finds themselves in this situation, there are specific ways to work with this occurrence in therapy.

            The most unrealistic expectation of marriage that some spouses still live with is that of expecting marriage to solve all their problems, especially that of loneliness. Two people bringing each others vision of life together creates a waving of two souls, yet each soul is still imperfect, not one that completes the  imperfections of life for the other.

            A couple needs not to lower their expectations of marriage, but to reevaluate what is essential and less essential in daily life, in terms of marital satisfaction. In reality, marriage is a calculated risk, as people change throughout their lives. The “product” one begins with may not be the same “end product” some 30 years later.

            Rabbi Y.Y. Jacobson aptly relates this story: Why did the first Jewish family of Yaakov, Leah and Rochel have to emerge in such an enigmatic manner (in relation to bride switching)? Leah represents fate – she is the woman whom Yaakov first married. Rochel represents choice – she is the woman whom Yaakov chose to marry. When you get married, although you may think you are marrying Rochel, there is bound to be some element of surprise, and you will discover that you also ended up with Leah, who represents those elements of your spouse you never knew you were getting. These elements, however, may be exactly what you need.

            When the groom veils his bride, he is saying, “I will love, cherish and respect not only the 'you' that is revealed to me but also those elements of your personality that are covered from me. As I bond with you in marriage, I am committed to crating a space within me for the totality of your being. For all of you, all of the time.

            Though one has expectations, one needs to take the reality of one's spouse's being and see how it can be interwoven into one's life. In this way, one can help develop one's marriage into a tapestry of positive direction, each fulfilling one's own potential and working as a united force.