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Undercurrents of Marriage

Do you know where your expectations derive?

There are three major undercurrents of marriage in regards to expectations. Like water undercurrents, these marital undercurrents can cause explosive riptides. These three can be applied to all relationships, but the focus will be on marriage in this series. The three main undercurrents are unknown expectations, unhealthy expectations, and unspoken expectations. Each category has its unique value and danger if not recognized. It is important to understand how we arrive at our expectations as much as it is important to know them.

Expectation Formation

Expectations derive from nuclear family experiences. We watch our parents or those who raise us model relationships. According to social psychology, we learn behaviors from others. It is the debate between nature versus nurture. Our relatives often say the apple does not fall far from the tree. It is believed that we mirror what is before us.

The other side of the nature versus nurture coin is genetics. Research also supports that inherited genes influences behaviors. This viewpoint believes certain behaviors are inborn. The genetic inheritance of behaviors that are passed to the next generation whether or not exposed to behaviors by observation.

Expectations are formed from our worldview and self-view. A worldview is a set of assumptions about our physical and social realities. Our worldview develops from life experiences with family, friends, and other influences.

When a woman believes all men cheat, her experiences from multiple sources influence her view. If a man believes all women are dominating, past and present experiences have influenced his thinking. We often repeat negative cognitive patterns unless we become aware of distorted views and the foundation of these beliefs.

Self-view also impacts expectations. The American Psychology Association defines self-view as an umbrella term for various forms of self-definition, including global self-esteem and specific beliefs about oneself. The way we view ourselves definitely impacts how we interact with others.

If a person believes they have too many unattractive qualities, then he may become possessive, wanting to control the partner's focus. If a person sees herself as "the one who is a level up" in the marriage, she may dismiss her husband's feelings through entitlement. Entitlement leads someone to believe that privileges or special treatment are deserved regardless of their behavior. Our worldview and self-view can be the making or destruction of a marriage and our inner peace.

Unknown Expectations

A few years after college, I married a coworker. I did not anticipate marriage during my late adolescents and early young adult years. I did not think about marriage expectations or couple goals. We participated in premarital counseling for the tradition; at least, I did.

The only expectation learned from those sessions was to pray together. Well, no one taught me how to calm down quickly after an argument to pray. So most days, prayer didn't happen. The fact we argued indicated there were expectations but they weren't identified.

We did not discuss our desires, needs, or wants. No spoken or written plan. Because of frequent arguments, we attended marriage counseling. It was the starting point in understanding the why of disagreements and learning communication skills to lessen the arguments' intensity.

There was more work that would need to be done. I couldn't have articulated any expectations. I didn't have a clue about what I should or could expect. If he had expectations, they were never expressed.

Undeveloped self-awareness leads to unmet emotional needs. Unmet emotional needs can lead to depression or loneliness within the marriage, which stunts the growth of the marriage.

Unhealthy Expectations

Most often, couples will have expectations but unhealthy expectations. Unhealthy expectations are unrealistic or cannot be successfully maintained, or they will take extreme measures to fulfill. Unhealthy expectations cause emotional, mental exhaustion, and physical exhaustion, if not abuse.

A wife who is expected to work a full-time job, take care of the children's needs, cook, and clean without consistent partnership in the home will more than likely burn out as a mother or employee, or both. A husband who is expected to be a sole provider while his wife lives like a "Real Housewives of America" will fall under the pressure of not bringing home enough though he may work two jobs to support the family.

When a spouse feels unappreciated or unsupported, the distance between the couple will occur. If left unchecked, the marriage may survive, but true intimacy will die.

Expectations need to be attainable. Expectations should not be at the expense of the person's mental, financial, spiritual, or physical health. Of course, there are times each may have to sacrifice. But the sacrifice should be planned when possible, accepted by both without pressure, and short-termed for the better good of the couple.

Unspoken Expectations

Fear. Fear is the root of unspoken expectations. Fear of arguments. Fear of rejection. Fear of disappointment from attempting to have a similar conversation that appears to be dismissed. Unspoken expectations bred resentment and bitterness.

It is the foundation of many passive-aggressive communication and actions. Unspoken expectations create a barrier between the couple. The barrier bridges loneliness to hopelessness, causing the marriage to exist without Divine purpose. The couple simply coexists. The marriage may appear peaceful and successful but lacks a cohesive oneness.

Unspoken expectations rotten the communication between a couple. It takes courage to speak what is expected. It takes grace and emotional maturity to receive what is heard. One must be able to hear the unspoken need without being defensive. This is a skill that must be learned and practiced by both.

Since many couples do not receive counseling or the proper skills to communicate, being objective is most often obsolete. Most people learn to communicate their emotions but not their needs. And when one person does learn and tries, the other may not be receptive. Therefore, the previous negative patterns of communication resume.

Breaking Away from the Undercurrent

In swimming, to break away from an undercurrent requires the swimmer not to panic when the undercurrent is recognized. The swimmer must not fight against the current, or physical exhaustion will prevent getting back to safety. The stronger the current, the stronger the resistance. Techniques are required by the swimmer to get back to shore, likewise with couples to reprieve from unhealthy and unspoken expectations.

Each person will have to recognize their own undercurrents. We often focus on our own spouse when change is desired. However, change does not occur because we are able to point out others' faults or weaknesses. Once we become more self-aware, we can approach a situation with emotional maturity.

With emotional maturity, we can recognize the other's needs while maintaining personal boundaries and integrity. We can allow for grace to enter the marriage and allow God's spirit to take control. It's easy to manufacture the words, "God is the center of our marriage." When Jesus is Lord over each person's life, and we each abide in Him, then God's will is done.

Parallel Strategy

Swimmers can break away from an undercurrent by swimming parallel to the shore, not head-on. In other words, have the right alignment. For Christian marriages, alignment should be measured by the Word of God and not worldly standards. Considerations are:

  • What are my beliefs about marriage? Is marriage like the military, 20 years and out?

  • What are my beliefs about the gender of my spouse? Do I believe in traditional gender roles?

  • Do my beliefs mimic the pattern of my nuclear family? Are my nuclear family ideals of marriage supported by scripture? If not, where do my beliefs regarding covenant relationships stem from?

  • Are my beliefs aligned with God's word? If the answer is yes, but unbalanced in the relationship, then more than likely, your beliefs aren't aligned.

  • Are my actions aligned with my beliefs and Biblical principles? When we focus on ourselves along with God's design and purpose for marriages, we can escape the riptides of destruction.


Let's look at a Biblical power couple. I used the word power couple loosely because this is a secular and cultural term accepted by many Christians. By our cultural terms, we could call them a power couple because they had land to sell and apparently enough to divide the dividends between themselves and the growing church.

We are introduced to Ananias and Sapphira in Acts chapter 5. Ananias and Sapphira were interestingly on the same page. They have the same expectations of one another. Their expectations were unhealthy though they were spoken.

Each person expected the other to deceive the apostles. What's interesting is neither spouse tries to swim parallel to God's word or encourage the other to rethink the decision. Each submitted to the other's will. At separate engagements with the apostles, each maintained the expectation which led to their deaths.

Submission not under the umbrella of God's word is false submission. False submission malign our witness.

Expectations that lead to life must be rooted in Christ. If they are rooted in Christ with understanding, then the marriage has the opportunity to thrive in Divine purpose giving life to the next generation.

Write your expectations of yourself and your spouse. See if your expectations align with God's word. We cannot have a purposeful marriage without the marriage Creator's design. Be willing to attend counseling in order to understand self and world views.

Expectations that are identified, healthy, and communicated respectfully will give a marriage the foundation for each person to thrive.


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