My husband and I got married with only 4.5 hours of marriage counseling under our belts.
I usually say it was three “weeks” of counseling, but technically it was three 90-minute sessions.
When we got engaged we had never lived in the same city, and I didn’t want to tie the knot without experiencing some regular day-to-day interactions. So, I moved down from Portland, Oregon to San Diego, California where he was stationed, found a roommate, and Adam and I got to hang out.
Our engagement was only four months before we were to get married and move cross-country to Newport, Rhode Island. In our limited time we signed up for three marriage counseling appointments and in those few short sessions, we came away with a major truth bomb that has helped us through countless seasons of our marriage.
Recipe For A Happy Marriage: The Best Advice I Ever Received
What was the best marriage advice we ever got? Here it is:
Unmet Expectation = Frustration
So why was it the best advice? Here are six reasons:
It Helps Me Understand Why I’m Upset
The phrase “unmet expectation equals frustration” helps me understand why I start to get those irritated feelings creeping into my gut and up my spine causing my jaw to clench. When I have an interaction with my husband where I start feeling like that, I try to remember that it’s probably not something he’s doing on purpose to make me mad. Instead, we have a different expectation of what we think should be happening.
I have to realize that, often, I’m upset because of my expectations, not because of something he did or didn’t do.
For example, if I am expecting him to help me bring in the groceries, but he doesn’t help, I might get frustrated. But if he didn’t know I needed help, or he’s busy doing something so he can’t help, my feelings don’t come from him not acting, but from my false expectation of him.
This leads me to the next point…
It Encourages Me To Give The Benefit Of The Doubt
Even though it would be amazing to have perfect expectations and never conflict with the hubs, it’s inevitable to experience negative feelings and frustrations.
It’s just life.
But when I can stop for a minute and think, “OK he’s not trying to offend me” and give him the benefit of the doubt, I can step back and realize that I don’t have to get defensive. He’s not out to get me. We just have different expectations.
It’s easier said than done, and it takes practice, but believing the best about our partners brings so much more positivity to our interactions. When I can give him the benefit of the doubt, it can often prevent a disagreement or misunderstanding from turning into a heated argument.
It Taught Me To Be More Vocal About My Expectations
Sometimes talking about expectations is boring, awkward, and more annoying than hearing a kids toy play the same song over and over and over…
But talking about expectations helps avoid the frustration that leads to arguments and hurt feelings.
To determine if you’ve communicated your expectations, here’s a good test. Ask yourself if you ever think the following:
- He should know that I want him to do the dishes tonight since I cooked.
- He should know that it’s his turn to change the diaper.
- He should know that I need/deserve some alone time.
- He should know that I need him to help right away when he gets home since I’m about to lose my mind because of the kids…
- He should know ____________
Basically, if you start thinking “he should know” then your expectations are probably a bit unrealistic. Because what you’re really saying is that he should be able to read your mind and act according to what you think.
It can be hard to give your spouse the benefit of the doubt when deep down you believe they should know what to do, but they just aren’t doing it. But I’ve learned that most of the time, even when I think he should know, he really doesn’t. When we aren’t on the same page with our expectations, likely it’s because I haven’t vocalized what mine are.
It’s possible that maybe he did forget or is avoiding something… but then it’s an opportunity for a bit of grace and giving the benefit of the doubt (see previous point).
It Helped Us Through Big Transitions
When we went through a deployments, had a new baby in the house, or are going through a big move (like we are right now), tensions get high and we’re both pushed to our limits.
It’s so helpful during those times to keep the perspective that whatever irritation springs up is likely just a case of unmatched expectations. And talking about our expectations beforehand and throughout the stressful weeks helps us stay more unified as a couple. I consider that a win!
It Cleared The Way For Resolving Misunderstandings
Little misunderstandings can arise from day-to-day things such as who is taking out the trash, who’s changing the diaper, or if he’ll be home when you expect him to be. It’s easy to have expectations about little things without realizing it. When circumstances don’t play out the way you hope, frustration can set in.
It can be easy for me to let my tone of voice slide into irritation which then causes him to be defensive.
If I can realize it’s more of a miscommunication than anything, it’s easier to walk through each situation with an open mind and a little bit more calm spirit. I can keep a neutral tone of voice and ask questions, which usually helps us get on the same page without conflict.
It Reminds Me To Align My Expectations To God’s Truth
I don’t always realize what my expectations are until they aren’t met. The feelings of irritation are triggers that help me to recognize what I’m thinking will happen. It allows me to ask why I feel that way.. and I don’t just ask myself.
I’m learning to take those feelings straight to God and ask Him why. He has the best insight into the situation. I don’t want to ignore my feelings or deny them. That’s counterproductive and they don’t just go away anyway. They stay inside and fester.
So acknowledging my feelings and then asking God about them helps me align my expectations to His truth because the Holy Spirit points out where I’m not trusting Him.
When we don’t get what we want, often we’re self-protecting and trying to make sure everything works out the way WE want it, because it’s safe and comfortable. Allowing God into the conversation helps me to realize that I’m holding onto control of the situation. I am not relying on the Lord to work out the details, even the smallest ones.
I’m totally a work in progress in this area, but I’m finding great peace when I can pause and allow the Lord to remind me that He is in control, even when things aren’t working out the way I expect.
And after 10 years of marriage, those 4.5 hours of marriage counseling are still worth their weight in gold because the phrase “unmet expectation = frustration” has helped us have a happier, stronger marriage.