“But I Thought Husbands Took Out the Garbage!”

Talk about your expectations before you get married.

Jim loved football. His affection for the sport had blossomed as he grew up. He fondly remembered Saturday afternoons at the stadium, his family snuggled together under warm blankets as they drank hot chocolate and savored the thrills of the game. Sally, Jim’s fiancee, did not share Jim’s passion for football. Her family had considered football to be a waste of time, and Sally felt that there were more important things to do on a Saturday than to squander several hours on a ball game.

During their courtship, the topic of football seldom came up. Jim felt that even though Sally wasn’t too keen on the sport, she would probably like to attend football games because they were a wholesome family activity. Sally knew Jim liked football but assumed he wouldn’t want to spend time at a football game when they could be doing errands or special projects.

As you might suppose, Jim and Sally ended up quarreling about football after their marriage. They did manage to compromise, but not before they had hurt each other’s feelings and questioned each other’s priorities.

Like Jim and Sally, all couples bring certain expectations to marriage. Personality traits and lifelong patterns and values contribute to a person’s expectations. They may be quite simple, such as who should take out the garbage. Or they may be deep-seated and complex, such as how spouses should treat one another. Unfortunately, differing expectations can be the source of serious conflict in a marriage. But you can prepare during courtship to reconcile expectations and lessen the possibility for contention.

Most couples usually disclose their major expectations before marriage, such as religious beliefs or views on parenthood. Many other couples, though, do not discuss the less-obvious details of married life, such as who will balance the checkbook, pay the bills, or scrub the bathtub. There are several reasons for this. You may feel that a subject isn’t important enough to mention or is too sensitive to bring up. Maybe you’re not aware of some expectations because you have not yet experienced a situation that would bring them to mind. You may not mention other expectations because you have never given much thought to them.

Thus, before trying to reconcile expectations, recognize that not all differences are bad. A couple usually find that many of their differences affect their marriage very little. Sometimes they can even enhance a marriage. George, for instance, had little experience in studying the scriptures, while Karen loved the standard works and read from them frequently. After marriage, George did not expect the scriptures to play a major part in his life; but he soon saw how much Karen benefitted from them, so he started to read them himself.

The solution is to identify the differences that can hamper your marriage relationship and then resolve them. The following steps, taken during courtship, can greatly increase the foundation of love and respect on which you will build your marriage.

List expectations according to their importance. A useful way to clarify expectations is to write them down. Try listing thirty expectations about marriage, covering areas such as division of home responsibilities, financial management, careers, child-rearing, education, hobbies, religion, ethics, authority (including priesthood authority), and treatment of spouse and children. Making the implicit expectations explicit is a major step in preventing future problems.

Next, identify those expectations you will not change. These include beliefs concerning marital fidelity, honesty, integrity, responsibility, and love. Then arrange the remaining expectations in groups of about five according to their importance to you. Place a 1 by the group that is most important, a 2 by the group that is next in importance, and so on. This exercise will help you determine the priority of your expectations.

After you and your sweetheart have prepared your lists, discuss them positively. As you talk, ask yourself the following questions: Are you as interested in understanding what he or she has to say as you are in explaining yourself? Do you view many of your expectations as flexible? Do you understand that expectations in such a discussion are not demands? Remember that even serious differences in many expectations can be worked out.

Develop positive feelings of self-worth. If you feel good about yourself, you can look more objectively at someone else’s thoughts and won’t have to work through your own emotional problems first. Pride, self-centeredness, self-pity, and a low opinion of oneself interfere with resolving differences in marital expectations. Janene, for instance, felt inadequate at almost everything she did. One day, her boyfriend asked her what she liked to cook best. Janene, a good cook, had learned many recipes from her mother, but because she felt that her meals were always flawed, she told him that she didn’t like to cook. Then she worried even more that she could never measure up to her boyfriend’s expectations.

An awareness that the Lord accepts you, imperfect as you are, and loves you will go a long way to developing a proper, realistic view of your individual worth. Appreciate who you are and what you can do.

On the other hand, complacent acceptance of our weaknesses is detrimental to our spiritual growth. We need to strike a balance between accepting ourselves in our imperfections while patiently working to overcome those same imperfections. I remember vividly a statement one husband made during a counseling session: “Look, I am the way I am. If I was supposed to be different, Heavenly Father would have made me different. I can’t change.” Unfortunately, this statement reflects the feelings of many, single or married. It also contradicts the Lord, who said, “For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves.” (D&C 58:28.)

Fortunately, because we have the ability to analyze our behavior, beliefs, values, self-concept, and expectations, we are not locked into lifelong habits and attitudes. We can change to meet the needs of others. During one disagreement, Roberta accused Paul of being unkind to her. This astonished Paul and he replied, “But I am kind! I don’t interfere with what you want to do. I don’t criticize you. And I try to be dependable.”

Roberta said, “But you seldom tell me you love me. You don’t show any appreciation. Even a hug would be nice!”

Though the couple were using the same kinds of words, they gave them different meanings. Words such as consideration, sensitivity, gentleness, patience, and selflessness can be applied in different ways. One person’s idea of selflessness may be to sacrifice, while another person may think of selflessness in terms of helping. Define specifically what you mean. For instance, if you read “I want my spouse to be kind to me” on your sweetheart’s list of expectations, instead of saying “OK” and moving on, you could say something like this: “Sounds good to me. What can I do to show kindness?”

Focus on the need behind the expectation. Expectations arise from needs. Vivian and Gerald, for example, nearly called off their wedding plans when Vivian learned that Gerald expected her to have the house clean and dinner ready by the time he came home from work. She felt that Gerald was being inflexible, selfish, and insensitive; her expectation was that Gerald should help clean the house!

They were able to resolve the impasse when each learned about the other’s expectations. Gerald felt a need to manage household operations, and Vivian felt a need to have someone share in household responsibilities. By agreeing to review all important decisions together and by deciding together who would do what in the home, both their needs were satisfied, and they were able to develop more acceptable expectations.

If you reach an impasse, you might try this simple plan. Express clearly and specifically to each other what you expect. Then ask your sweetheart, “Why is that important to you?” Not all problems can be resolved in this way, but at least you can communicate and make adjustments with greater understanding.

Look to the Spirit for help. The Holy Ghost is one of the great gifts of God, and it is comforting to know that, in our efforts to build marriages that will last eternally, he has not left us without help. The Lord has promised that the Holy Ghost can help you to resolve conflicting expectations. It can guide you to truth. (See John 16:13.) It can comfort you, teach you, and bring things to your remembrance. (See John 14:26.)

Is there any reason, then, not to seek the spirit of revelation, which the Lord says is the Holy Ghost teaching us in our minds and our hearts? (See D&C 8:2–3.) By turning to this divine source of help, in addition to stating our expectations and developing the needed communication skills, we can confidently expect to build a marriage that is strong, vibrant, and loving.

[photos] Sculpted by Davy Jones; photography by Craig Dimond

Kenneth W. Matheson, a member of research and staff development for LDS Social Services, serves as high priests group leader in the Provo Twenty-fourth Ward, Provo Utah North Stake.