Select Page

Three kinds of expectations

It’s still the most surprising thing Becky has ever said to me.

“OK,” she declared. “I’ve decided to lower my expectations of you.”

Becky has a theory and after two decades together I’m convinced she’s right: Most conflict and unhappiness in relationships comes from three kinds of expectations.


Sometimes our expectations are unreasonable. In the early days of our marriage Becky expected a certain standard of living but also expected me to be more available to her than I could be with a full-time job. I expected us to always have sex as often as we did on our honeymoon. We both find ourselves expecting too much from our kids today – a seven year-old is going to forget his coat at school sometimes. And it will be on the coldest day of the year. It’s just going to happen.

Sometimes the expectations we have for those we love are too lofty or misplaced entirely. Becky’s taught me to change, lower, or completely do away with those expectations that can bring resentment and frustration into our marriage.


Sometimes our expectations are reasonable but not communicated well…or at all. A friend of mine recently blew up at his wife because she never initiates sex. At the same time, it turned out, his wife had been harboring resentment against him for never taking her out on a date.

Dates and sex and compliments and a day off and flowers and…and a lot of other good things just mean more to us if we don’t have to ask for them, right? We think that if someone really loves us, really cares, really understands us, then they’ll just know what we need. And we’re wrong. Love does not give us the super power to read minds.

How many expectations could be met if we would only communicate them clearly?


Sometimes we get it right. Our expectations are reasonable and clear. But they’re still not being met.

Man, does that hurt. I feel devalued. I take it personally. I’ve learned from Becky’s example to clearly communicate that, too.


“I’ve decided to lower my expectations of you,” Becky said. What a gift that was! I no longer felt like a failure. I felt lighter. But I also wanted more than ever to be a better husband. I wanted to meet her expectations, no matter how high.

It’s still surprising how being expected to do less motivated me to do more. Maybe that’s just me. But maybe not. Maybe the people in your life will exceed your expectations, too, if you take the time to adjust your expectations of them first.

Reading Time:

2 minutes





  1. sarah @ little bus on the prairie

    I think it depends on the situation, because there can be times when expectations are lowered out of reasonable disappointment, as in the example of unmet expectations you present. In that case, lowering your expectations of someone can be just as damaging as leaving them too high because it tells them you’ve lost faith in them in that regard and that can hurt!

    It’s important to differentiate – I like the way you laid out all the different cases.

  2. SuseFish

    I think you’re on to something here… As the full-time homemaker, I’m happy doing the lion’s share of the housework but there was one thing I expected my husband to do: check all the doors were safely locked every night. And I expected this because it was what my Dad did; he made me feel safe and treasured by doing this action every single night.

    But my husband’s not the checking anything kind of guy! And it was only when I adjusted my expectation of him – realise he’s not actually my Dad (!) – and accept that his not checking doors was no reflection of how much he cared about me that I could move on a bit.

    Thanks Shaun – it’s lovely to hear a man’s view (and I think men over the world will be thanking you when their wives suddenly start initiating sex more often!)

    • MySelfieHurts

      He didn’t actually say that anything changed in the sex department 🙂

  3. Kiya Krier

    Wonderful article. I love that you address that the person with the expectations needs to evaluate themselves. So many times (and I am VERY guilty of this) the person with the expectations thinks the other person MUST change. Good food for thought.

  4. Chely

    Good advice!
    I just read Imperfect Birds by Anne Lamott, and this line has stuck with me (probably not verbatim…from memory), “Expectations are just disappointments under construction.”
    So very true.

  5. Leigh D

    Perfectly said Shaun. Your wife is so right. It’s when we realize these things above that we can start to work on the marriage that God wants us to have. Implementing them is another thing entirely, but starting here….starting to notice what we should be doing in our marriage and ways that can hinder it or improve it is the way to go.

  6. MarriageCounselingAlt

    Incredible! Thanks for sharing your observations with us! Great article! If you are looking for traditional marriage counselor, come to Marriage Counseling Alt.

  7. Lawrita

    This post feels like a fresh hair blowing hope through me, but can you please tell us the “how” behind lowering our expectations?

Join thousands of readers
& get Tsh’s free weekly email called
5 Quick Things,

where she shares stuff she either created herself or loved from others. (It can be read in under a minute, pinky-swear.)

It's part of Tsh's popular newsletter called Books & Crannies, where she shares thoughts about the intersection of stories & travel, work & play, faith & questions, and more.