Additional Information for Chapter 11, page 175

Expectations are referred to only fleetingly in The Compatibility Code; however, few issues sound the death knell of a marriage more certainly than unfulfilled expectations. One of the complaints heard most frequently by marriage counselors is, “my needs are not being met.”The oft-heard lament is typically translated “what I expected has not come to pass.” Let’s take a closer look at expectations: What are they, and how might they be understood and dealt with effectively?

Examples of Expectations

So, what do you expect from your future partner? What does your future partner expect from you? The answer to these questions can make or break your marriage. The difficulty with expectations is that they are often poorly defined and sometimes completely unknown. What follows is a list of typical expectations that might be held by some: “I expect that my husband will discuss and resolve disagreements in a systematic and logical manner.” “I expect my wife will be excited about making love with me every night.” “I expect a good deal of affection and a great deal of physical contact in our marriage.” “I expect that my wife will nurture and comfort me when I am ill.” “I expect that my husband will climb the corporate ladder and make ever increasing amounts of money.” “I expect that we will have daily devotions and prayer in our home.” “I expect that my wife will remain slim and shapely throughout our marriage.” “I expect that my husband will take pleasure in sharing the events of the day when he gets home.” “I expect to have dinner waiting for me when I get home at 5:30.” “I expect that my husband will do his fair share of household maintenance.” “I expect to entertain a large army of family members at major holidays.” “I expect to have an open home in which people feel free to drop by at any time.” “I expect a $25,000 wedding with a three-carat diamond ring—I deserve the best.”

The list of potential expectations is endless, and even while reading the brief inventory listed above, you may find yourself feeling comfortable with some whereas others may seem worse than a nightmare. There are 13 expectations listed. Let’s explore two of them, starting with the first:

“I expect that my husband will resolve disagreements in a systematic and logical way.” If the husband is skilled in that style of resolving conflict (or is willing to learn and able to do so) all is well. But if the husband has never thought logically about conflict resolution and tends to follow the pattern of his family of origin (violent verbal outbursts with wild yelling, arm waving, and finger pointing) the marriage is in for some major trauma. Let’s try another.

“I expect my wife will be excited about making love with me every night.” There are women who would enjoy that, but not the majority. Where did our friend get his expectation? Perhaps he has watched many romantic or soft-porn films in which the female star is well paid to be excited about lovemaking. Perhaps his wife’s expectation is “I will enjoy the flurry of lovemaking on the honeymoon but look forward to settling down to once or twice a week upon our return.” Often these expectations not only remain unexpressed, but also are entirely unknown to the individuals themselves. How well do you think the marriage will progress between our sexually enthusiastic husband and his more sexually moderate wife?

Expectations Versus Interests

A critical distinction compares expectations with interests. Expectations may be fulfilled even when interests differ. For instance, one interest may carry with it an expectation for participation while for another there may be no such expectation.

A couple of personal examples illustrate. Elizabeth and I share many interests with the expectation that we enjoy them together. These range from the inconsequential (watching Frank Capra’s You Can’t Take it With You) to the momentous (writing a book together). One of the better examples of something we did not share (and had no expectation that we should) was the 2001 IAAF World Championships of Track and Field, held just a short drive up Highway 2 in Edmonton, Alberta. I was nationally ranked in the marathon in my youth, have followed the sport closely ever since, but had never attended a world championship. Elizabeth, realizing my interest, contacted our extended family who all chipped in to purchase a full ten-day pass. I went all ten days, enjoyed every moment, and Elizabeth did not go with me. I shared the excitement when I came home each evening, but it was my thing, and neither of us had any particular expectation that she attend. By contrast Elizabeth has been heavily involved with rural tourism in Central Alberta. She’d tell me the stories about her presentations and interactions and I’d listen with interest. However, I was not particularly involved and Elizabeth has no expectation that I should be.

Let us now return to the contrast between interests and expectationsInterests are related to things I want. Expectations are related to things I want from someone else. While I may have a good deal of control over whether I partake of my interests, I typically have only limited control over whether others fulfill my expectations. We might suggest then that interests are uniquely associated with my own activities, behaviors and attitudes; whereas expectations deal with other people’s activities, behaviors and attitudes.

To assist in understanding the interplay between interests and expectations observe the chart below. There are four quadrants developed by contrasting

  • high and low expectation with
  • high and low interest.

In each of the quadrants a hypothetical example is inserted. For each of the four examples,

  • the statement associated with interest is coded “A”, while
  • the statement associated with expectation is coded “B”.









A) Paul wants to have a slim and shapely wife for the duration of their marriage, and B) expects Monica to pursue a diet and exercise regimen that keeps her fit and attractive.





A) Sally demands the garbage to be taken out dailyand insists that B) her husband, Brad, should be the one to do it.






A) Joe enormously enjoys watching NFL football games but B) doesn’t particularly care whether someone else watches with him or not.





A) Walter finds jigsaw puzzles kind of fun and builds one every year or two.B) If someone wants to participate that’s fine, if not, that’s fine too.


As noted above, the A-statements (slim wife, garbage out, watch football, build puzzle) areInterests and deal with one’s own desires. The B-statements (Monica’s diet, Brad’s chores, others watching football or others building a puzzle) are Expectations and relate to what you expect from someone else. Let’s explore further, quadrant by quadrant.

High Expectation. The first two quadrants (1. Substance2. Neurosis) both entail high expectation. High expectation is often associated with the desire to control our environment.Control is typically a desirable thing. For instance: If we have money, we have control over material possessions; if we have a car that runs, we have control over where we go and when we arrive; if we have excellent time-management skills, we have control over the things we wish to accomplish; if we possess exceptional professional skills we have control over the job we hold. Personality psychologists pound home the importance of controlling one’s environment as a prerequisite for emotional health. But sometimes we do not have control, and other times one’s need for control may be excessive or neurotic.

In the case of Paul, he wants Monica to remain fit, trim and attractive. But that presents a problem. Paul has some level of control over his own fitness, trimness and attractiveness, but no amount of dieting and exercising on Paul’s part is going to keep Monica fit. High expectation is often associated with important issues. If it is important to Paul that he and his wife remain fit and attractive, high expectations in this area are almost certain. There are scores, yes, hundreds of such issues that emerge during the course of a marriage. How, then, do you ensure before the marriage that these types of issue will not turn into painful, destructive conflict? We address that question later on.

The second quadrant (Neurosis) also involves control. But in this instance it is high expectations for a trivial issue. “But taking out the garbage is important!” I hear someone cry.Well, yes, particularly if it hasn’t been taken out for a month. But have you ever walked through a cemetery and read an inscription that eulogizes the deceased with the inscription “He took out the garbage every day”? To millions of families, taking out the garbage happens daily, automatically, and takes just moments. That is why we call this the quadrant of neurosis. One simple definition of “neurosis” is “an emotional over-reaction to some stressor.” To have high expectations for a trivial issue often suggests this over reaction. Take the case of Sally and Brad. If Brad doesn’t have time to take out the trash, it might be possible to assign the task to one of the children, or Sally could take it out. If taking out the trash is the issue, the problem is solved. But in many instances the trash is only a symptom of another concern. Sally may have an inappropriate need to control Brad, or possibly taking out the trash is symbolic to her of something else—perhaps that Brad loves her. John Gottman, in his book The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work, presents innovative ways to determine what the true motive is.

High Interest. The first and third quadrants (1. Substance3. Deception) both entail high interest—that is, important issues. We have already discussed the first quadrant; now let’s look at the third. In the previous section we established that high interest typically correlates with high expectation. However, in our example Joe states that he has no expectation that others watch NFL games with him. This statement may mean one of three things: 1) The statement may simply be true. He loves watching football, he doesn’t care particularly if anyone watches with him, and if things come up that prevent his watching, that’s fine; there will always be another game. In this case the title “Deception” would not be appropriate. 2) The statement is not really true. Usually if you love something you like to share it with others. But if Joe feels that no one else is interested, fear may urge him to settle for a lower standard and to not make requests that may be disappointed. 3) Although Joe may not expect others to watch with him, it is likely that he expects to be allowed to watch without external demands. If you don’t think so, consider: It is Super Bowl CXIV. You reside in Seattle and have lived and died by your team’s successes and failures. The Seahawks are trailing by 2 points with 35 seconds remaining.Following a fumble recovery, they have possession on their own 30-yard line with two time outs remaining. Your wife comes in frantic, urging that you go to the store right now and purchase some lemons to be sliced and put in the iced tea. What red-blooded football fanatic would suggest that Joe should not be allowed to finish watching the game? This is an expectation—a strong one.

The fourth quadrant (Irrelevance) does not evoke much of a reaction. If Walter is building the puzzle and something intrudes, he stops and does what’s necessary without irritation. He can always come back to it, and even if he doesn’t, there’s no big loss.

How to Deal With Expectations

We have explored some typical expectations for marriage, distinguished between expectations and interests, and explored interactions between the two. We now move to the question of how to deal with them. There are three foundational principles that enable you to deal effectively with expectations:

1) You must know that expectations exist.
2) You must discover and then clarify what they are.
3) You must share expectations with your partner.

1) You must know expectations exist. As suggested earlier, many are unaware of their expectations. You may recall the hit film Parenthood, starring Steve Martin and Mary Steenbergen. When 17-year old Julie, in one of the frequent fights with her mom, lays out the rationale for her anticipated marriage to Todd she says, “Todd and I love each other; when he touches me I quiver.” Her mom’s snort of utter disgust is an expression that reflects her experience. When people make broad, simplistic statements about what they expect, it is typically a good sign that they have little awareness of specific expectations. Statements such as “all I want is a loving wife to come home to,” “I really don’t mind, fix whatever you like for supper,” “I don’t really care what he looks like, just so long he’s kind and caring.” Such naivety is uncovered when in real life he discovers that in addition to a loving wife, he wants one that looks attractive as well; in addition to wanting something cooked he would prefer that it be tasty; in addition to him being kind and caring she does wish that he’d bathe occasionally and pick up after himself. Sooner or later people become aware of expectations. The thoughtful person addresses them long before the ceremony.

2) Discover and clarify. You discover expectations by thinking about and discussing them.Even if many of your expectations are initially vague, nothing helps to clarify as much as personal exploration and discussing them with others. As you have created lists in other chapters, we suggest that you create a list of some of your expectations here as well. To assist, we suggest that you identify your own expectations in the following broad areas:

a) profession or vocation,
b) physical health and grooming,
c) family and social life,
d) having fun,
e) spending money,
f) spiritual life,
g) important goals,
h) close or intimate relationships.

While the focus here is expectations associated with close relationships, in close relationships, all the other areas are likely to be affected as well. Make a list of the most important expectations, perhaps two or three in each category. What is important? In this case, it refers to expectations that may have a significant impact on your relationship with your partner. There is no need to try to be comprehensive. As you discuss and consider, other important expectations will emerge. Also, some you initially thought important, may, upon reflection, not be of much consequence.

3) Share your expectations with your partner. As you each bring your lists and begin to share, a sharpening and focusing of what you really expect will emerge. In this practice you may discover that expectations shift as you take a careful look. That’s fine. Through this process you get to know yourself better and each of you develops a greater understanding of the other. While this process cannot cover all areas or future events, it provides a solid starting point and teaches you how to relate to expectations in the present. Then when different ones emerge during the course of the relationship, you are better equipped to handle them.

Actually, the fact that certain expectations change over time presents a real problem. For instance, there may be certain expectations for dating. These may be well defined and coherent.But as the relationship becomes closer, the expectations will shift. Even more dramatic shifts will emerge after you are married. For instance, when college students date, their expectations may revolve around, “I hope she’ll watch Minority Report with me.” “He better take me to someplace nice for my birthday.” “I expect him to get past the dorm deans so we can smooch.” “I expect that he will help me safeguard my study time.” The contrasting questions early in a marriage might evoke quite a different set of expectations—previously unknown,

“How does one cover $3300 of expenses with a $2800 income?”
Expectation: Perhaps she should go back to work.

“How do you deal with bone-level exhaustion of tending to a colicky baby 24 hours a day?”
Expectation: he should get up with the child and allow me to sleep.

“How do you cope with painful disagreements with your spouse?”
Expectation: He should be reasonable in his demands and carry out my suggestions.

“How do you deal with the often-conflicting demands, needs, and advice of your parents, your in-laws, your siblings and your friends?”
Expectation: Will she please arrange some times to escape from all this noise?

Typically, the couple has not anticipated these situations and is unaware of what expectations might emerge. If, however, they are educated in the nature and demands of expectations, and have already spent time sorting through some early expectations, they will be better equipped to handle the unexpected ones.

Match and Mismatch of Expectations

The matching and adapting of expectations follows a pattern similar to the matching and adapting of essence qualities. If you are comparing expectations with a partner right now, you might apply the same principles of comparing used with essence qualities (see Chapter 10).Some expectations will be perfect matches, others will require some adaptation, and there are some essences that cannot coexist and spell doom to the relationship. Examples of impossible matches include:

  • The extreme extrovert wanting her profoundly introverted partner to go to parties with her;
  • The hard-working goal-driven individual seeking participation and integration with someone who is passive and
  • unmotivated;
  • The logical sort who values systematic processing wanting to resolve issues with someone who is incapable of rational thought;
  • The person who anticipates sharing the quiet pleasures of reading the Great Books together with someone raised on Nintendo, cartoons and National Enquirer;
  • The deeply spiritual wanting to share his world with an atheist who is antagonistic to anything religious;
  • A very frugal person expecting cooperation in maintaining a responsible budget with a shop-till-you-drop enthusiast.
  • The earnest, altruistic person who wants someone to spend a lifetime ministering to the unfortunates in a third world country with a partner who wants to get rich, live in a penthouse in Beverly Hills, and mingle with the rich and famous.

The wise couple will be able to discern clashes of expectations that can be resolved from differences that suggest termination of the relationship.

Summing it up

We finish this section with a brief summary of the most important points:

  • Disappointed expectations is one of the leading causes of marital disruption
  • People’s expectations are often poorly defined, sometimes completely unknown
  • Interests are associated with my own activities, behaviors or attitudes
  • Expectations are associated with someone else’s activities, behaviors or attitudes
  • Strong expectations are typically associated with important issues
  • To deal with expectations, you must
    Know they exist
    Discover and clarify what they are
    Share your expectations with your partner
  • Determine matches and mismatches of expectations in a manner similar to considering matches and mismatches of essence qualities

Finally, sharing and acknowledging expectations together dramatically enhances the likelihood of their fulfillment.

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