Are we expecting too much in our marriages nowadays? Some experts are saying yes.
In a recent Psychology Today article by Erica B. Slotter called The Trouble With Modern Marriage, Slotter examines the evolving marriage over the past few decades and discusses another “potential explanation” for today’s high divorce rate: couples expecting too much from their partners in marriage without investing the time “to make these expectations achievable.”
Citing Eli Finkel et. al’s article “The suffocation of marriage: Climbing Mount Maslow without enough oxygen,” Slotter summarizes Finkel’s research on these new expectations in today’s marriage, saying that we have evolved from relying on marriage for safety, security and resources, to also becoming reliant on our partners for personal growth and fulfillment, self-esteem and self-actualization on top of our needs.
Nowadays, not only does a partner have to be a provider, homemaker, parent, lover or protector; they’re also expected to be our best friend, our ego-booster, our intellectual sound board, our biggest fan and our confidant.
This, Slotter says, has become too heavy of a burden for partners to bear in a marriage without the proper effort put in to maintain our relationships. Thus, this is setting us up for a high divorce rate.
Marriage has become the ultimate test for multi-tasking. You have to juggle everything life throws at you on a daily basis (work, money, family, socializing) while playing 10 different support roles for your partner, not to mention your children if you have any. No wonder people are feeling the strain; no wonder those in a marriage who feels these expectations are too much or unbalanced try to find a way out.
So how do we balance our needs and expectations in a relationship to make things easier on our partners?
The quickest answer is: stop expecting so much and investing so little.
Slotter sums up Finkel and colleagues’ remedies by breaking them down into three solutions:
1) Reduce expectations in marriages. Realize that your partner can’t be everything to you all at the same time – it’s too hard – and instead start turning to friends and family more to extend your support base and spread out the weight of your problems on the backs of many, not one.
2) Work harder on your relationship. Invest more time and effort into your marriage by using your time wisely together. Turn the TV off and go for a walk (maybe even hold hands). It’s all about quality time, listening to one another again and communicating with each other.
3) Get more bang for your buck by optimizing how you use the time/effort put into your relationships to help them meet these growing expectations. There are many low-cost activities out there that can improve the quality of your relationship. If you expect your partner to be your confidant and support system, suggest going out for a romantic supper where the two of you can have a nice conversation without the distraction of kids or a hockey game. That way your expectations can be met and you’re investing the energy to make it feasible.
By learning to reduce or invest in our own expectations, the heavy burden they put on our partners can be lightened or even shared amongst family and friends. Remember that your partner is only human, not a super hero, and everyone has their limits. If you put too much responsibility on anyone, they can buckle under the weight or even come to resent you.
There’s nothing easy about being married in this day and age, but there are always ways that we can make things easier on ourselves and our partners if we’re willing to do the work and start investing in our relationships again.