One common theme in my office as a marriage and family therapist is poor communication in relationships. When people enter marriage, there are countless and usually unspoken expectations that we have of our spouse. These usually are a mixture of the examples we saw from our parents, past experiences from other romantic relationships, and our perception of cultural norms. The problem lies where we do not communicate these expectations, ideally prior to marriage, or at least once we are married. The problem with unspoken expectations is just that – they are unspoken. Would you sit down at a restaurant and expect the chef to know what you want to eat or how you want it cooked, and then complain when you got the wrong food? Of course not. If I do not know a need or a want, I cannot meet or fulfill it. Similarly, if I do not communicate an expectation to my spouse, he or she cannot meet or fulfill it, and I cannot rightfully be upset with him or her for not reading my mind.
The solution? Talk with your partner. It is best to do so before marriage and even before engagement. Ask questions and give honest answers. If you would like, write your answers to the same questions and compare them. Are they similar? If so, it will go a long way in helping your relationship. If not, you and partner have different expectations that need to be discussed. If you are not already married, you may choose the end the relationship and seek someone who has more similar expectations to yours. If you are already married, you will need to discuss the differences and negotiate some compromises in your expectations of each other. The main idea is to communicate. Unspoken expectations, usually expectations we do not even think about, that we assume are a given, can make relationships much more difficult than they need to be.
What kind of marriage questions should you ask?
- Where will we live?
- Will we raise children?
- Are you open to adopting or fostering children?
- Who will work? Whose job will take precedence if required to relocate or if we have children?
- Will someone stay at home with children?
- Who will do/be responsible for the household chores – Cooking? Cleaning? Shopping? Any outdoor maintenance? Vehicle maintenance?
- Will we attend religious services? Which ones?
- Will we teach any children religious practices/views? Which ones?
- How will we handle finances?
- How involved will we be with our families of origin and extended families? How involved in our lives will they be?
Julie Perron, M.S., L.M.F.T.A.
Julie Perron is a marriage and family therapist at Wright Directions Counseling in South Bend, IN.