Esther Perel is a guru in the counselling field. She is well respected, an excellent writer, and has very little controversy surrounding her opinions. Of all the keen observations she’s made over the years, one of the keenest is: “We live in a time in which we no longer divorce because we are unhappy. We divorce because we think we should be happier. We demand a lot more from a marriage in terms of satisfaction, happiness, and emotional and sexual intimacy.”
Stop and think about it for a moment — and you’ll realize Perel is right.
With today’s rate of separation and divorce, the topic of divorce has become commonplace for the average therapist. We understand and respect that a couple may have made a wrong decision by getting married in the first place, or they simply may have not done the necessary things to maintain a quality relationship. That said, this blog has been written neither for the former or latter. No. It has been written for the preventative crowd — those who have a good relationship and wish to keep it that way.
So let’s get to it, shall we?
I would have to agree with Ms. Perel. Daily expectations, circumstantial expectations or specific subject expectations are a central theme of disaffected relationships. Let’s look at the anatomy of an expectation, what some people may call their picture. At its most basic element, an expectation is a demand, an imperative, a standard — perhaps, at times, even a command. One has a vision of how an event or a moment will evolve. Sometimes these are conscious, other times they are based on prior experiences. Mostly we are unaware of our expectations until the picture unfolds contrary to the way we had thought. Then, we will try to force the picture by protesting to those involved, particularly if it is a person with whom we have close experience.
We often have another expectation that if they simply came around to our way of thinking, they would see their errors. So our protest will persist, and most likely elevate everyone’s emotions to the point of profound anger and hurt.
The functional opposite of an expectation is expressing a preference, a desire or perhaps even a deep desire. These will seldom lead to anger or the sharp hurt that comes from intimate expectations. Yes, it may leave the person with varying degrees of sadness or disappointment. But that is rarely as destructive as intimate anger or hurt.
So here’s a hint to help maintain a good marriage: STRIVE TO ELIMINATE EXPECTATION.
Work hard to increase the quantity and the quality of the clarity of your desire. Try to teach your partner the difference between a desire, your deep desire, and demands/expectations. Try to show how their expectation will bring out your worst just as your demand on them will bring out their worst. Model for your partner how you were disappointed (not devastated ) by a failed desire. Perhaps even be clear that you were profoundly disappointed. It is very unlikely that demonstrating anger and hurt will draw your partner in. Showing and explaining disappointment is more prone to cause your partner to be attentive. Also, look at your whole life. Try to find well-being, happiness, and satisfaction from multiple sources — not just one.
Just as we are told to keep a “diversified financial portfolio”, equally keep a wide source of well-being, not just from one person.
— Dennis Coates