Expectations Before a Life Together

By Fedde Ypma 

“After our marriage I had about three years of mourning, because of unmet expectations. It took years to readjust my expectations,” said William, who thought that married life would be heaven on earth. His wife would just do what his mother and his grandparents did:

“They literally did everything at home. So, my expectation was: I don’t need to do anything; everything will work automatically.”
“My wife expected me to fulfill her emotional needs, but I felt a constant failure as a man. I was focused on myself.”

William and his wife became aware of their different expectations after facing problems in their marriage. They ended up in a marriage workshop, where there was a lot more work to do.

William grew up without a father and was a man who easily gave up when things were difficult. His wife grew up with an emotionally absent father who was a man who never gave up; he even built his own house sitting in his wheel chair.

The good thing, and a blessing for their children, is that they stuck together, determined not to give up. The road William and his wife took could possibly have been easier if they had attended a pre-marriage program. Family Ministry Netherlands runs these workshops based on the Becoming One program developed by Albert and Jeanette Jupe.

just do it

After hearing William’s story I wondered: do we really go into this subject of expectations? What actually were my own expectations when I entered married life? I think it was similar to William: we would just do it. I saw my parents doing it, so I thought that not much was needed for it to be a success. Later on I realised that I also had expectations, but wasn’t very aware of them at that time. As a couple we did not talk about them.

One would expect that couples would prepare themselves for sharing life together, and the good thing is that we have pre-marriage programs available today. One of the things that surprised us is that most couples complain about a lack of time for good conversations. I remember that during our early season of marriage we could talk for hours, but maybe we didn’t talk enough or in depth about what really mattered for our future together.

We generally start our programs called “Yes, I do!” with a list of expectations. Topics most frequently mentioned are communication and dealing with conflicts. We also touch the area of personal backgrounds, differences in personality and the importance of healthy self-image.

What about expectations of married life itself? In the program couples discover that different personalities easily lead to conflict. How we were raised, think and act are all different. What about future roles in and outside the home? Dealing with finances? Whether to have children etc.? During our sessions we give room for couples to discuss these important issues.

Our expectations are rooted in our personalities, upbringing, and how our ideas were formed. Research shows that people with low expectations tend to be in relationships where they are treated poorly. People with high expectations tend to be in relationships where they are treated well. 

We had already had some conversations about expectations and it was helpful to share the experiences of others in our small group, to hear the ideas of others. The most useful was our conversation with the facilitators who helped us get some issues straight. For me as a perfectionist it was good to hear that things will never be perfect.

a participant from one of our workshops

In our workshops, we give opportunities for such conversations, which turn out to be helpful. A weekend, a workshop, a sermon or a pastoral consultation can be a promising, hopeful start for couples beginning married life.

Fedde Ypma is married to Julia (est. 1982), and together they live in Heerde, The Netherlands. They have been with YWAM for many years, did an FMS in Germany in 2010 and have run numerous pre-marriage and marriage workshops over the years. They have 4 children and 1 grandchild.