Brandon Back is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist. He is also a husband and father and shares with us his thoughts on what expectations—right and wrong—newlyweds have for their future life together.
Your wedding day is a long-awaited dream that may or may not go quite as planned, but it’s yours and that makes it great. Your honeymoon is even more fun but goes by way too fast.
Once you are home, you get months of joy working through surprises that come your way as a new couple. President Spencer W. Kimball said, “Two people coming from different backgrounds learn soon after the ceremony is performed that stark reality must be faced. There is no longer a life of fantasy or of make-believe; we must come out of the clouds and put our feet firmly on the earth” (Ensign, Mar. 1977, 3). Some of the surprises a new couple could face as they come out of the clouds and face reality may include finances, expectations, managing new extended family relationships (yes, your in-laws are now your family), and intimacy.
I know what you’re thinking: “None of those sound like surprises; I thought of those things before we even got married.” Maybe it’s not the actual situations that are surprising. Maybe it’s the emotions that are stirred up now as these things are happening. Maybe it’s your expectations of your spouse, regarding those topics, that aren’t being realized. Maybe it’s the realization that you are not as equipped with handling these surprises as you thought you were. Specifically your ability to communicate with your spouse to work through surprises becomes clearer. Just because you’re in love and you feel that you’re the perfect match for each other does not mean that you know how to communicate with each other. Communicating effectively is hard.
In my experience, two major surprises most newlyweds face are unmet expectations and difficulty communicating your thoughts, feelings, and desires with your spouse. I believe that if these two surprises can be effectively worked through, the other surprises can be managed more easily.
Expectations—everybody has them. They are not always realistic and are often not shared by your spouse. Take it from me. I was the open, go-with-the-flow guy who could not possibly be taking unrealistic expectations into my marriage. Now having been married almost four years—just ask my wife if I ever have unrealistic expectations. I was just as surprised in the beginning of my marriage as I am sure you have been (or will be) in yours. Simply accepting that you will have unmet expectations in your marriage is key to being able to prepare for how to manage them when they happen. You may not be able to predict what those expectations will be, but knowing they will come can help eliminate the surprise.
Realize that no matter how similar you and your spouse’s backgrounds may be, you both come from different families and have different expectations regarding family life, based on your individual experiences. Ask yourself these questions: What expectations for my spouse do I have going into marriage? Are they realistic expectations? How might I react if my expectations are not met? How would I talk about my expectations with my spouse?
In addition to accepting that you will have unmet expectations, clearly communicating your expectations to your spouse is vital. This leads to the second surprise I feel is important to warn newlyweds about: communicating with your spouse can be difficult at first. My wife and I were friends for about four years before we even started dating. As I reflect back on when we were only friends, communicating was easy because our relationship didn’t have such high stakes. It wasn’t until we were engaged that we realized it was difficult to figure out each other’s communication styles and patterns. This is something we are still working on. Having a hard time blending your communication patterns is not an indication that your love for each other is insufficient; it’s probably an indication that you are a normal married couple.
Elder Marvin J. Ashton explained that “to be effective, family communication must be an exchange of feelings and information” (“Family Communications,” Ensign, May 1976, 52). One way you can prepare for the difficulty in communicating is to clearly share your feelings about how your spouse’s actions make you feel. This communication is most effective when it happens in the moment as you identify your feelings. Good listening is also a part of good communication. When your spouse is speaking to you, be quiet. Try to find ways to validate your spouse when he or she has finished communicating. Each person will need a different kind of validation, but you can try simple things such as paraphrasing what he or she has said or smiling or nodding.
Newlyweds experience many surprises. As you prepare yourself with realistic expectations for marriage roles and communication between husband and wife, these two potential surprises will be easier for you and your spouse to navigate.