Have you heard the story of the high profile female lawyer who was in a “state of desperation” about her marriage—bringing in the majority of the family income, raising two daughters, working full-time and rarely seeing her husband who was serving as a state senator? She constantly criticized her husband and reminded him that his role as a politician paid very little and would likely lead nowhere. Why did he get to pursue his dream, while she did all the hard work of child rearing and family support?
Then Michelle Obama had an epiphany. She remembered why she fell in love with her husband, Barack. She realized she couldn’t change him and certainly liked what he was about. While she needed more support, she realized she could get that support from people other than Barack, such as her mother. She solved her biggest concerns on her own.
This story was just one snippet of a very interesting article from Psychology Today called “The Expectations Trap,” which explains that very few couples are able to come to the same kind of realization before destroying their relationship. Expectations are often born out of a cultural phenomenon that causes us all to daily evaluate how our needs are being met. In addition, we are regularly transferring “desires” into the “needs” column, making it more difficult to satisfy our so-called needs.
Andrew Cherlin, author of The Marriage-Go-Round, says our relative affluence has created additional choices for us all. “The result is an ongoing self-appraisal of how your personal life is going…You get used to the idea of always making choices to improve your happiness.” The interesting part about this is that negative emotions get priority processing in our brains, while the positive emotions get pushed back. So, if we have 20 things we are happy about, and 1 thing we’re unhappy about, guess which one gets our focus? This process is causing us to be less, rather than more, satisfied with our relationships.
Cherlin adds that we tend to look upon any unhappiness we experience—whatever the source—as a failure of our partner to satisfy our longings. It’s our expectation of perfection, not our spouse, that is often to blame.
Family therapist and author Pat Love adds to the article, saying marriage is now about how it makes us feel rather than about what we do.
So, when we aren’t “feeling” super about our life and love, we may begin to say “this is not what I signed up for” or “I deserve better.” We may even convince ourselves that we are tragic figures in this thing called life. Everyday disappointments become intolerable aspects of life, says William Doherty, author and professor of family sciences at the University of Minnesota.
As in the case of Michelle Obama, it would have been much more typical for her to believe hers was a case of giving much more than she was getting, or becoming a tragic figure of being a super mom and breadwinner wife with not enough support from her husband. It would have been much more typical for her to file for divorce or give an ultimatum rather than to change her own behavior. But things did turn out OK for them, and that dead-end job didn’t turn out to be quite what she believed.
The article suggests many solutions Marriage Gems has offered in the past but bear repeating:
- Spend time together in new, interesting or challenging activities. Dance, play games, or even have interesting conversations together to enhance closeness and increase passionate love and feelings of commitment.
- Pat Love’s advice is to “get over yourself” and to grow up. Mature individuals are needed for a happy, mature marriage.
- Focus on the positive aspects of your relationship and don’t over-emphasize the negative.
- Remember there’s no perfect person for you, and even if you could find a perfect person, they wouldn’t be the same over time. But you and your partner can help each other become more perfect with mutual support and love.
Photo courtesy of Stockvault by Bina Sveda