Mind the Expectations Gap

“Mind the Gap” is repeatedly blared in the London Underground train stations to remind passengers not to stand between the train door and the station platform. The catchy phrase was developed in 1969 and caught on so well that they now sell t-shirts with the admonition. Minding the gap in our marriage is also important, but unfortunately you won’t hear a daily reminder shouted out at you as you begin your day.

Marriage researcher Terri L. Orbuch, PhD, says in a new book 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great that most marriages do not break up due to conflict, communication problems or sexual incompatibility. Instead, it’s regular frustration that drives a wedge between couples. “It’s the day-to-day disappointment or the gap between what you expect and how your partner acts—that is most damaging,” she says.

Take a minute to think about that fact, and you’ll probably agree that when one or both partner’s expectations are not met during the average day, tensions mount, conversations become tense and intimacy is nearly nonexistent. You were counting on your partner to follow through on something, and now it’s on your plate. You’re disappointed. You may move into negotiation mode to get through your day and your to-do list. You inherently become a bit more selfish to protect your interests, and you feel less generous in helping your partner. There’s little chance you will go out of your way to please him or her.

Orbuch suggests sharing your expectations regularly with your spouse to help keep tension levels low. If you aren’t receiving enough affection or dedicated time, or if your spouse isn’t helping in an area that was agreed upon, take time to talk it through. A previous post on hMindthegapow to get through to your spouse offers some techniques to communicate effectively and to listen well to your spouse.

Even when things are great for a few years, job, home or family changes can shake up expectations again. Make it a recurring topic to address so that it doesn’t appear one spouse is complaining about the status quo, but rather both spouses are interested in minimizing the expectations gap. If you have trouble remembering to do this, you can always order the t-shirt.

2 responses to “Mind the Expectations Gap

  1. Someone once said that another name for unspoken expectations is “premeditated resentments”. I like that because that’s exactly what happens. The expectations we carry that go un-communicated are akin to playing a board game where only one person has the rules… but the other person is expected to know what those rules are, somehow. If both people are going to “play the game” successfully, i.e. where both can win, then the rules/expectations need to be clear to both. As John Gottman has said, keep updating your love maps, folks!

  2. In my sermons I always refer to expectations as
    “silent killers.” A lot of times they are things we haven’t thought through and don’t even know are there until someone violates one of them and then we end up mad.

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