Expectations Nearly Killed My Marriage
The other day, I read a Facebook post from a well-known blogger warning wives that expectations kill marriages.
It sounds like pretty solid advice on its face. Unspoken expectations do attack marriages. However, what are wedding vows but spoken expectations? I expect fidelity from my husband, for instance, and he expects the same from me. As I continued reading the post, it wasn’t just the lack of definition for the word expectation, but the type of expectations that raised my eyebrows.
“Do you expect your husband to help with household chores? If you do, you won’t have a happy marriage, because expectations destroy relationships. If he helps, great, and if not, do your housework cheerfully as unto the Lord.”
She goes on to remind us wives that we did not marry our husbands for their skills in housework, but so they could be our “protectors and providers.” Even more, she says we “should also have married him because you deeply loved him and wanted to be a great helpmeet to him, and make his life better, not worse, and put more burdens on his shoulders than he already has to carry in providing for his family.”
Apparently, it’s okay to expect your husband to protect and provide. And it’s okay to form our existence around the expectation of loving him by easing his burdens.
So not all expectations kill marriages. Just the ones that unburden wives around the house.
Expectations on a Burdened Wife
These were my ideals before I married Phillip.
He worked full-time while I worked no more than part-time because my real job was in the home. Whenever he visited, I would scurry around in a servant-hearted cloud fixing his plate, clearing his dishes, and laundering his clothes.
One day, my mom grabbed my arm as I walked into the kitchen to fill his glass up with water. “You know,” she teased me, “he can get some things for himself. You haven’t sat down since he got here.”
“I know,” I told her. “But I love him. And his love language is service. And I’m trying to love him well.”
Mama nodded. “Give him a chance to love you too.”
A wiser young woman would have taken her mother’s advice. After all, my mom knew exactly what she was talking about. As a stay-at-home-mom of nine children, she kept her house a tighter ship with seven sons than I ever have with my one. But I wasn’t wise. I waved her off. And, for the next two years of my marriage, I became increasingly bogged down and resentful as my husband’s expectations—set by his doting wife—piled on my shoulders.
Expectations of Other Women
“When I’m a stay-at-home mom, he won’t have to lift a finger.” That’s how one woman responded to the Facebook post. I told myself the same thing in early 2016 when I was pregnant, working full-time, and failing miserably at my attempt to juggle housework and 115 writing students. I was convinced that when I could finally stay at home full-time, the expectations I had while dating would once again become reasonable.
They didn’t. Postpartum depression made sure of that. I lost huge chunks of my day weeping inconsolably, shuffling through menial tasks, and staring at a single spot on the wall all the while trying to acclimate to motherhood.
I was miserable, but I never felt the freedom to admit I was sinking. Because my expectations were killing me and my marriage.
The “Should” and the Scripture
The counseling students I know here in Jackson have a well-worn phrase: “Stop shoulding on yourself.” That five-letter word—should—drips with shame.
There are shoulds in this life, to be sure, mined from the word of God. But the should of being a doting housewife has more to do with cultural expectations than a biblical one.
I know what some of you may be thinking. What about Titus 2? It’s always amazed me how the ideas of loving your spouse, loving your children, and working at home have become uniquely female tasks. Men are also commanded to have a well-ordered home. And 1 Timothy 3:4 likely includes a husband’s duty to ensure his wife isn’t lying in the fetal position on the bathroom floor.
Husbands are to love like the model of the foot-washing, children-welcoming, self-sacrificing savior of the universe. Yet we hesitate to imagine a household dynamic where wives are allowed to ask for their help—let alone expect a positive answer.
This is not what I see in the scriptures. Abraham cooked the meal for his heavenly guests, after all (Genesis 18:7–8). Both men and women are commanded to outdo one another in acts of service, love, and humility (Romans 12:10). And leaders are likened to the model of a servant (Philippians 2:1-11).
Growing up, my dad cooked dinner more nights than my mom and would not allow her to lift a finger one day a week on her chosen “day off.” Without Dad, my mom would’ve never gotten a break. Because unlike working dads, who clock out at the end of the day, a mother’s work—stay-at-home or otherwise—is quite literally never done. And perhaps a father’s should not be either.
Unspoken expectations kill marriages.
Unspoken expectations almost killed me.
But living by the spoken expectations of our wedding vows saved me. It caused me to see our marriage as a partnership between two servants. Rather than homing in on the extrabiblical bifurcation of household “roles,” I am focused on my responsibility for giving love, respect, and honor, just as he is to me. Those spoken expectations allowed me to look at my husband as servant-leader and my submission to him as a form of protection and provision, not an ax ready to chop me down whenever I failed in my should.
That is the marriage that I desire. That is the marriage that I see in God’s word. And that is what I have come to expect.
Phillip and I fail every day. We’re just under four measly years in, and some days, I feel like we’ve failed more than couples who have been married three times as long. But those spoken expectations are the focus of my heart. And beneath their direction, our marriage has finally started to thrive.