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Do unrealistic expectations ruin marriage?

Posted on Monday, October 10, 2011 in Happiness, Honesty, Kat, love, Marriage, Relationships, Women

“Was marriage what you expected it would be?” Mia asked, not quite directed to anyone in particular as we sat at Sam’s, enjoying the post-rain sun.

“No way! I had no idea how mind-numbingly boring it could be,” Sara said. “Like ‘Groundhog Day.'”

“Mine wasn’t boring, well it had its boring moments. We just stopped being nice to each other I think,” Mia said. “What about you, Kat?”

“I didn’t have many expectations. I don’t think I knew what I wanted it to be; I just knew what I didn’t want it to be — my parents’ marriage.”

“I hear that!” Mia exclaimed. “But, did ours turn out any better?”

That was a good question. All our parents have been married for 60-some years. Mia, Sara and me? All divorced in under 20 years.  

Who’s happier? Our parents didn’t shake it up but we sure did at midlife. After divorce, we threw ourselves into our careers, our friends, our passions. Still, we all wanted love, too. And we’ve found our way, sorta kinda. Mia was happy with Rex, until that ended horribly and she’s been floundering since, including dating a man who’s newly separated. Sara has been floundering, too, striking out with Yoga Man, who was just too emo for her, but then she met Todd — a nice guy who wants a threesome (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and who has a pretty cool ex. I’ve been incredibly happy with Sean, a great guy whom I adore — and not just because he thinks my small breasts are perfect. But we don’t and probably won’t ever live together (which may actually be why we’ve lasted this long).

Our parents? As kids, then sharp-eyed teens and eventually cynical adults, we’ve seen a bit (or more) of their marital dysfunction — and who knows the secrets they’ve kept from us? But they toughed it out, for better or worse, probably without any of the expectations we had when we married. Of course, our moms didn’t have the same choices we women have today. Neither did our dads — a stay-at-home dad in the ’50s? I don’t think so!

I honestly don’t know who’s had it better or easier. Do we want too much from a marriage? Did our parents expect too little?

Experts are blaming our 50 percent divorce rate and the increasingly loud chorus of those who think marriage is obsolete on our unrealistic expectations of marriages.

I didn’t have those expectations, but I guess I had a picture in my head of what a happy marriage looked like. You know, a little Norman Rockwellish because I’m a sentimental romantic at heart. But my observations of my own marriage is pretty much like my observation of life — there’s a lot of mundane stuff interrupted by some really nice stuff. I embrace the nice stuff, accept the mundane stuff and try to make the mundane parts a little less boring and get more of the nice stuff. And, I can’t really count on someone else doing that for me.

I’m not sure if that’s a sustainable model for a marriage — you obviously have to pick the right person from the beginning and some of us really don’t. Plus, you really do have to want to be married — some of us are just not cut out to be in a long-term, monogamous relationships. And, that’s OK.

Maybe we need to go into a marriage with no expectations — then we’d be constantly surprised!

  • What expectations did you have in your marriage?
  • Were they “unrealistic”?




© Volker Gerstenberg –

Bring on the comments

  1. Kat Wilder says:

    Do #unrealistic #expectations ruin #marriage?

  2. The Observer says:

    I went into my marriage, some 35+ years ago with it in mind to establish a monogamous, lifetime relationship. I was in love and wanted exclusivity for us. It was “for life”. Not a life sentence. Based on both our parents’ model this was possible and preferred. And our marriage became the basis of a strong family unit and produced two f*cking awesome sons. I cop to having some misgivings (due to her misgivings and unhappiness) a decade later. We separated, she got cancer. I moved back in. Still here.

    You nailed it about “you obviously have to pick the right person”. All our ups and downs aren’t in bed (whole ‘nother story) but due to our offspring I’m pretty happy with the way things have turned out. Would I like to be able to schtoop that fine young lady I see walking down California Street most mornings–you bet!!! But sometimes there are trade-offs and a lifetime of companionship is best when you grow together, eventually, even if in the past you grew apart. Your experience may vary. Peace.

  3. brian says:

    at 61 cynical about a lot of things
    but last week was the 50th anniversary of Breakfast at Tiffanys
    and i still tear up at the ending

  4. Kat Wilder says:

    TO — I think there are always trade-offs. We don’t always get what we want, as our mothers and the Rolling Stones told us.

    Brian — “Cynical” doesn’t look good on most people. You still seem to be a romantic — don’t let cynicism take over!

  5. Edgar says:

    We can always count on you to get those neurons in the noggin fired up, Kat. I look at my parents and see a couple in their 80’s who have gone through lots of ups and downs and seem to be at peace with each other. Mostly. But they don’t seem all that happy. Their options (especially my mom’s) were more constrained, I suppose.

    My few long-term relationships (never marriages, but may as well have been) have been like yours – both mundane and riotous, and all good experiences. Were they missing anything? Perhaps, but I still have the communities of friends and the extended families in my life.

    As for expectations, not having any is a good idea for many facets of our lives – including marriages. That way, gratitude for even the smallest of joys is easy to come by.

  6. Edgar says:

    But no expectations should not be construed to mean that you should put up with anything less than that which inspires you and fills you with passion.

  7. Kat Wilder says:

    Edgar — Ah yes, navigating the fine line between acceptance of “what is” and being a door mat. But, you say we shouldn’t put up with anything less than that which inspires us an fills us with passion? Can a long-term marriage/relationship continue to do that?

  8. The Observer says:

    Kat, I read recently that most marriages maintain the “passion” for 2.5 years. After that the “compassion” is the bond for a couple.

    A wise friend told me: “When you argue for your limitations–you get to keep them.” Are you arguing for marriage-less partnership? We know the stats on marriage success(50-50), but what are the stats on life partnering? Inquiring minds…ttfn