“Blaming others for the pain we feel each time someone fails to live up to our expectations is no different than burning our tongue on coffee that’s too hot to swallow, and then calling our cup an idiot!” – Guy Finley

“If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.” – Bible

Both Tom and Theresa thought they had found the ideal marriage partner. Theresa just knew that big strong confident Tom would take care of her for the rest of her life. Tom saw in Theresa the person who would be his constant companion on his hunting trips and would be right alongside him in all his adventures.

After marriage, however, Tom found out that Theresa’s idea of a wilderness adventure was staying in a two-star rather than a four-star hotel. And with Tom frequently absent on his escapades, Theresa felt alone, neglected and insecure.

Neither one of them got what they expected.

We all enter relationships with expectations. When we meet someone, we unconsciously set up some expected behavior for them. She may dress or resemble someone from our past who brings unpleasant memories. Or maybe he has mannerisms which have a certain association for us.

These expectations don’t just address some predicted behavior on their part; they are often driven by what we want out of the relationship.

In particular, couples enter marriage with many and significant expectations. They love someone, and they expect to be loved.

The primary challenge to a successful marriage is in understanding that each of us has a different definition of what love looks like.

Larry James, in his book, “How to Really Love the One You’re With: Affirmative Guidelines for a Healthy Love Relationship,” says the No. 1 problem in relationships is undelivered communication. He believes the No. 2 problem in relationships revolves around unfulfilled expectations.

Notice how closely the two are connected. If we have expectations for someone else, it is best that we communicate those expectations. Otherwise how could the other person possibly know what we are looking for?

This communication process also helps us decide together which expectations are low priority wishes and which are high priority needs.

Elwood Smith, in his book “Marriage Clues for the Clueless: God’s Word in Your World,” suggests some actions couples can take to minimize disappointment.

1. Talk about your expectations. The best time to do this is before marriage. Take off the rose-colored glasses for a while and be realistic or at least clarify what the roses look like. But don’t stop talking after marriage; expectations may get modified, but they are still there.

2. Do away with unrealistic expectations. Listen to each other. Understand why your spouse (or intended) has these expectations. Decide together what is realistic and what isn’t.

3. Compromise. Once the expectations are understood and decisions have been made about which are achievable, then make whatever modifications are necessary for both husband and wife to be satisfied. If you both have expectations on travel – but to different locations, compromise as necessary on when and what to spend.

4. Learn the difference between hoping for something and demanding something. Back to the travel expectations. You can hope for a trip to Europe but if you insist on it at this time it may break the bank – and do serious harm to your marriage. Demanding that someone do things your way is very seldom a good idea.

5. Learn the art of contentment. As the Apostle Paul says in the Bible, “For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” If we can start out being satisfied and even appreciative of what we have and where we are now, then it will be easy to set mutually beneficial expectations.

6. Be accepting. Rather than expecting something from someone, learn to accept them where they are. Understand that their way of loving us may not be exactly what we expected, but from their perspective they are doing the best they can.

The Family and Marriage Coalition of Aiken, Inc. (FAMCO) provides resources for you to succeed in your marriage and families. Roger Rollins, executive director of FAMCO, can be reached at 640-4689, rogerrollins@aikenfamco.com or www.aikenfamco.com.