We’ve been talking in my office about expectations of relationships vs. the reality of them. I was especially impacted by one young couple that came to see me after 15 months of marriage. I was very curious to hear their story. This is a good example of how people can get into a situation they don’t expect simply because they didn’t have the conversations they need to have before they get in too deep. This is what Judy (not her real name) told me in our individual session when we met for the first time.
“When I got married I thought that my life would be complete. We’d finally be together forever, it would be like a dream. He’d bring me coffee in bed, we’d do laundry and clean the house together. We’d cook together and have romantic dinners. We’d spend our weekends lounging in bed and we’d be idyllically happy and never fight!
Our honeymoon was a week in Jamaica and we came back filled with Reggae beats and smiles. We had never lived together, so we were filled with excitement upon our return. Ready to get down to the business of living as Mr. and Mrs. we just knew we were going to be blissfully happy forever. I had so much fun unpacking and decorating our little apartment. It was so great opening the wedding presents and putting everything away; washing the linens and the dishes. Deciding where everything would go. I was filled with a happiness I never thought I’d have. My own home, with my own husband! What a feeling!
My expectations were not realistic. The reality of living with someone day in and day out is not like a honeymoon, I can tell you that!
I honestly didn’t know what we were getting into. The absolute sameness of living with someone was overwhelming. Instead of that light and airy feeling I expected, I became stressed and anxious. Living with my partner was nothing like I expected it to be, and I have to say, I was more than a little disappointed, confused, and not sure how to cope. No matter where I turned, there was something that didn’t seem right, not how it should be, and I felt so helpless to figure it out.
We both went back to work after we got back. Todd (not his real name) and I hadn’t really talked about how we were going to split up the chores. He grew up in a home with a very traditional family. His Mom was a housekeeper and a stay at home mom. She cooked and cleaned and took care of the kids while his dad worked. I didn’t know it at the time, but Todd thought that I would do the same.
Well, I work full time, and my job is very technical, and demanding. I sometimes have to work long hours and don’t get home until late. Todd’s expectation that I have dinner on the table each night was totally unrealistic, and frankly, I felt a little insulted that he would expect that without even discussing it.
We really began to butt heads when it came to chores and keeping the house. I get two days off a week, and Todd gets two, but they’re not always on the same days. I expected that he would pitch in and do whatever needed doing on his days off, but I would come home to dishes in the sink, a pile of dirty laundry and Todd sometimes was not even at home.
These all may seem like little things, but over the past 6 months it’s gotten to be a real sore subject. I feel like we were totally unprepared to live together! We fight about everything, money, who’s going to take care of the bills, who’s going to do the grocery shopping , who is going to do the laundry, the vacuuming, everything. It seems like all we’ve done our whole marriage, is to bicker about who does what. When I push back, he gets mad. When he tells me I should be doing something, I tell him why can’t he do it? We just can’t seem to get together. It feels like anything he sees as “women’s work” is beneath him. I have asked him to do things together, but he wants his time off to be relaxation, not menial chores. Apparently it’s ok if I do them on my day off, but not him.
To his credit, he’s hired a housekeeper to come in every two weeks to do the deep cleaning and “give me a break” but the daily responsibilities still fall on me”
He has taken on the role of banker and is handling all the bill paying for our household, but doesn’t really discuss it with me, which can be frustrating.
We’re just at the end of our rope with these little things that have become a thorn in the side of our marriage.
The fighting is getting out of hand, and we both knew that we really didn’t know what we were getting into when we got married”
A Counselor’s Response:
The truth of the matter is, you don’t know what you don’t know. Ignorance IS bliss. The idea of marriage is often vastly different from the reality of living with a partner. You look for and hope for the best and you may feel that love is the great equalizer, and that because the two of you love each other so deeply, that is going to fix everything. The truth is, love is wonderful, and love in action is what will allow you and your partner to work through everything, but it’s not a magical balm that will cover every situation. You and your partner need to have sometimes difficult conversations and be very authentic about what each of you needs in the relationship.
Todd Can’t sleep: Todd’s response to the story Judy shared was that he was so upset that things weren’t the way he’d planned them between he and Judy and that he was losing sleep at night over it. He honestly didn’t know any other way to live, and couldn’t understand why Judy was pushing back so hard on issues surrounding keeping the house and division of labor. He thought she’d be happy being his wife and taking on all the duties and roles that wives do.
He told me that she’d just gotten out of hand and her resentment was hurting their marriage. He had agreed to come because he loved Judy so much and while he tried to listen to her, he just couldn’t hear where the source of the problem was coming from. He was feeling desperate and worried that Judy was going to leave him.
Anytime he spoke to her , it seemed, it was turning into a fight. He was getting tired of it, and knew that something had to give. He was willing to compromise but didnt know if this would make her happy. He loved her so much but needed both of them to be happy and feeling like they were true partners.
The Couples Expert Breaks it Down:
The dishes in the sink: I explained to him that he wasn’t looking deeply enough. The issues weren’t about who did the dishes or the laundry. It wasn’t about chores and housekeeping. It was about them not having a true understanding of what each of them needed to feel loved in the relationship. It was about them giving each other the respect and appreciation they needed to feel important; for Todd not to reduce Judy to her role as a housekeeper. She is so much more than that. For Judy not to see Todd as old-fashioned and controlling, but as someone who loves her very much but isn’t sure how to show that in his actions. The worry and anxiety they were both feeling with this out of control situation can be solved but they both have to come together and work on not only the issues they are disagreeing about, but their relationship and the way they perceive one another and interact based on those perceptions.
Expectations were not realistic: It’s clear that Todd and Judy did not have realistic expectations about what living in a partnership was going to be like. They didn’t prepare themselves for the everyday reality of living with a partner. They had no concept of how to talk about what they would be facing nor did they have any insights about married life. There was no discussion about the details of how they would live together. How they would divide the chores and housekeeping, how they would handle the finances, budgeting and spending, sexuality, spirituality, and so many things. There was no training or preparation made for real life. Love sometimes isn’t enough. You have to do some very basic learning and discussion about the issues you will face as a married couple.
It’s the little things that become the big things. Small annoyances build into resentment that can build into anger that can tear you apart. So start there. Start with having conversations about the little things. No matter how unimportant you may think it is. If it’s something that’s on your mind, you need to be talking about it. You may be surprised to find that your partner is thinking or worrying about the very same things. Get it all out in the open and hash it out together. It may not be a fun conversation, but once you’ve got it resolved, you’ll be so glad you never have to fight about it in the future! Set some time aside on a regular basis to discuss how things are going. Talk about the positives as well as the challenges.
Now we’re talking: Having this couple come in to see me was a smart choice. It really didn’t take a lot of time or effort for me to put them on the right track. Helping them find the right conversations to have was a huge help. We went back to square one and helped to find some realistic expectations and goals for Todd and Judy to strive for. They remembered how much in love they are and how strongly they both felt about making sure the other feels loved by them. That was a great start to helping them repair their relationship.
Then they were able to talk about all of these difficult issues that had them starting to break apart. Once those conversations started, it was like a tsunami of emotions washed over them. They’d both been holding back so much because of fear and uncertainty. But the love that they had for one another is what shined through.
I’m happy to say that Todd and Judy have been able to work through these issues and are now back on track with their close and loving relationship.
Stuart Fensterheim, LCSW helps couples to overcome the disconnection in their relationships As an author, blogger and podcaster, Stuart has helped couples around the world to experience a unique relationship in which they can feel special and important, confident in knowing they are loved deeply and that their presence matters.
His weekend workshop,www.thecouplesexperts.com/hold-me-tight has become a popular venue for many to set off on their journey of connectedness. The Couples Expert Podcast consists of weekly provocative conversations offering the perspectives and insight of experts from a variety of relationship related fields. Stuart also offers daily relationship video tips on The Couples Expert YouTube channel and by subscription in Stuart’s Daily Notes. Stuart is happily married and a devoted father of 2 daughters. He lives and works in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Stuart offers a 12 Week Course in Premarital education called Before You Tie the Knot. Learn what conversations you need to have before you get married to avoid what Todd and Judy went through. Subscribe here: https://www.thecouplesexpertscottsdale.com/12-conversations/