Unrealistic Expectations are Premeditated Resentments

I was interested in Laura’s last post since she is saying what I say to most of the couples I prepare for marriage: Unrealistic expectations are premeditated resentments.

“What’s that?” You say. Well, think about it. Have you every been  told by a friend that a certain movie is the best thing they have ever seen and that you have not truly lived until you see it? They built the movie up into a life changing event. And then you go and see the movie and it’s OK, you like it, but there is a certain disappointment when it doesn’t live up to all your expectations. Part of the problem was the sky-high expectations. Had you gone to the movie without them you might have enjoyed the movie more! At least it wouldn’t have had to live up to the “better than the second-coming” expectations.

This is often what happens with marriage. Despite all our cynicism about so many things today, many people still have powerful notions of the perfect marriage, the perfect mate, the “happily ever after” scenario. When marriage fails to live up to these sky-high expectations, there is disappointment and resentment. This is what I mean by the expression “Unrealistic expectations are premeditated resentments.”

What if marriage was a more normal thing? Rather than being an epic drama or romance, what if it was a normal way of living in a less than perfect world? What marriage had ups and downs like everything else in life? What if spouses didn’t have to be perfect but could be like everyone else, having good points and things we wish were different? What if our expectations of marriage were more down to earth and accepting of the human condition?

Sadly though, many people want their marriage to be an ideal, and if there’s any ordeal, they want a new deal!

Almost every couple I have ever talked to who had what I’d call a “good marriage” admit that there are difficulties and challenges in their marriage. Most speak of difficult periods in their marriage, times of transition and adjustments, times of financial difficulties, struggles related to the kids and so forth. Yet also there were great blessings, shared love, support, encouragement. The secret seems to have been that they were willing to take the bad with the good and accept that marriage is good but not perfect. At some point the perfect can become the enemy of the good. That is, the insistence on the perfect blinds one towhat is good and adequate.

A few thoughts to conclude:

  1. Be careful who you marry. But sure that you share fundamental values and faith. Being “in love” isn’t usually enough. We all have certain “non-negotiables” and we need to honest with ourselves about what they are.
  2. But don’t wait for the perfect spouse to come along, as Laura said in her post. Our insistence upon the perfect candidate will leave us frustrated, resentful and alone. Somewhere we have to accept the fact that we going to marry a  sinner, and that we ourselves are also sinners.
  3. Once you are married, ask God for the grace to continue to see the good things in your spouse. Thank God every day for your spouse and express that gratitude to your spouse.
  4. When you experience the imperfection of your marriage say this before you say anything else, “My marriage is not perfect because I am in it.” Begin with your own “stuff” and realize that you aren’t always easy to live with either.
  5. Realize that even difficult things in a marriage are often times “gifts in strange packages.” Spouses do not only bless each other with the good things, but even the bad things can help us grow in holiness. Spouses give each other plenty of opportunities to learn to forgive, be patient, be kind, be understanding, be slow to anger, be merciful. Last time I checked these are basic virtues we must grow in if we ever hope to enter heaven.
  6. Get over the fairytale stuff and live in the real world. You married a sinner and you are a sinner. Unrealistic expectations are premeditated resentments.
  7. Baby steps. Organic growth. Your marriage can and will get better and better if both of you cooperate with God. But grace builds on nature and it is our human nature to change slowly, almost imperceptibly. Forgive, be patient, keep praying, keep loving, and did I say forgive? Yes I think I did say that.

 Here’s a video of a couple who have fallen out of love, are resentful and know each other’s  bad habits a little too well. They both want a better spouse, a perfect spouse. You might say they have unrealistic expectations. Once upon a time they were in love but the “I Do” became “You’d Better!” and they grew apart. Can this marriage be saved? Buy the movie  FIREPROOF and see.

14 Replies to “Unrealistic Expectations are Premeditated Resentments”

  1. wow. so instead of marriage being idealized, this post makes it seem like a less-than-ideal proposition. Makes me think it’s better to pursue your own interests and find belonging there.

    1. Well, this post doesn’t make it seem so, it claims that it IS so. Fact is life itself is “less than ideal.” I have had lots of dreams about my ideal life, my ideal world. But to learn to live in the world as it is can bring great peace. THe world as it ought to be, the ideal world if you will, is an important reference point to strive for. But meantime we can also learn to accept things as they are. I think you’ll find that your “solution” of simply persuing your own interests results in the same conclusion. Why? Because whatever interests you can be idealized and usually is. The reality is less than perfect or ideal. Funny, I guess we’re back to life itself again. Looks like it is the human condition to live under less than ideal conditions.

  2. Fr. Pope: All good points. I’d only add that there’s equal danger in lowering expectations too far…

    Mark: God said “it is not good for the man to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18). From my experience, he was not kidding.

    1. Yes agreed, I think that was my idea in point # 1. Some folks felt that I was too negative in this piece, but my attempt was to teach that we have to be realistic. Marriage is like life. It has ups n downs, good things and bad things. Simply coming to accept this brings peace and more contentment.

      1. I understand the need to be realistic and that nobody is perfect, but this all feels “contractual” and isn’t that the problem with marriage today? That we treat it as a contract where the parties protect themselves with pre-nups and get out of it with divorce?

        “Getting married so you’re not alone” does not seem to live up to the sacramental nature of marriage: the fact that in it, we are supposed to mirror the Trinity.

    1. The expression “premeditated resentments” is not mine, it comes from 12 step literature. What it means is that refusing to accept the invitation to live in the world as it is invites resentments. The resentments are premeditated in the sense of, knowing ahead of time that insisting on unrealistic things leads to this, we do it anyway. We know the result (resentment), but we do it anyway.

      As to your remarks that this all sounds “contractual” I cannot help how you hear it. But the opposite is what I mean: Stop expecting other people to be perfect or sinless or ideal. as though you could oblige them (contractually) to this anyway. People who have contracts DO have lots of expectations of a rather specific nature. But those who enter into covenants enter into a relationship of the whole person. And every person has good and bad qualities. So I am surprised you think of the blog post as sounding contractual.

  3. Whether others have unrealistic expectations of us or we have them of ourselves, we have a natural tendency to resent them. Children can go very far in sabotaging their parents’ expectations for their future. In Junior High, I was friends with an extremely talented and beautiful young girl whose intelligence I though was top of our class yet she persisted in breaking all the rules available in the book well into adulthood. Why? She resented her mother’s expectations to look good by following imposed academic interests! My friend totally sabotaged her own future and proved that her mother’s expectations were unfair – Tragedy of tragedies! By the way, imagine the possible sabotage effect on a boy whose father is unable to accept his artistic qualities.

    Here is a definition of sabotage:
    1. Destruction of property or obstruction of normal operations, as by civilians or enemy
    agents in time of war.
    2. Treacherous action to defeat or hinder a cause or an endeavor; deliberate subversion.

    My question is, between the extreme of the fairy tale world expectations of happiness and dedicating our lives to sabotaging our parents expectations, how can we get a hold of real happiness? How can we get a hold of the kind of person do I want to be and how can I become this person in reality? Laura’s friend has made the decision not to see chick flicks. Thai is one virtuous act I had not considered. Msgr. Pope, we need blogs to promote the beatitudes and the virtues.

    Mark, I agree with you that marriage is less than ideal. Marriage needs to get REAL, one real man and one real woman.

  4. May I add one more thought to conclude?

    8. Don’t forget some levity here and there. God is always the spiritual director of a marriage, but, I do believe He enjoys a laugh now and then. After all, He is very aware of our quirks – the question is, “Are we are of them?”

    Often times it is our partner’s little quirks that build up, get under our skin and lead to resentment(s) within the marriage. Heck, sometimes my own quirks get under my skin! The resentments tend to have a sneaky way of undermining the marriage. As Msgr. pointed out, marriage has its ups and downs, its highs and lows. It is rarely perfect.

    Laughing at ourselves, our partner and/or a marital issue may not be possible or appropriate until tempers have quieted and time has passed. There are also some marital or personal violations that leave no room for humor; i.e., they outright violate the covenant of marriage. But, in general, I think every marriage has its moments, and some of those moments are perfect to capitalize on with insightful humor. It may be the very thing that breaks the tension and serves as a reminder of past and future trials.

    My husband and I have a classic – one of us is engaged in a conversation and somehow the topic of marriage is brought up. The conversation moves onto how long couples have been married. I or he chime in with, “24 years (pause)……… and it feels like 24 minutes (pause)……. (a glance at each other if we’re there as a couple….……a few, “Ahh, that’s sweet” comments from those listening)……… 24 minutes – underwater.” We have a typical marriage – one that is far from perfect or ideal. We struggle, sometimes I’m not sure I have what it takes to make it better, sometimes I’m not sure our marriage will get better – but we’re still trying to figure it out. Some humor at ourselves has helped.

  5. Regardless of one’s initial expectations, It seems to me that in “good” marriages, both partners play by the rules. In the relationships that seem to really work, both partners follow the principles of virtues. I

    I was always and still am loyal, faithful and true, believe in unconditional love, to stand by your man through thick and thin, and am supportive. They are my convictions and they are embedded in my heart. They will not change.

    In taking an honest look at my own relationship failures, however, I recognize a repeated pattern of making wrong choices in men who didn’t have similar virtues, and I was hardly looking for Prince Charming. I had to search my soul to find out why I made those choices, and that wasn’t pleasant!

    It is important to really know one another’s views, talk about what you each want in life, get to know each other’s families before getting married, and if they have the same virtues, values, and goals, what you do together (and apart) is not an obligation because it comes from the heart. You partner becomes an extension of who you are and would like to grow to be- imperfections and all.

  6. My question is rather simple compared to the above. I know marriage has it’s ups and downs. It’s unrealistic expectations at times and I deal with it by praying. Not that it was that simple in the beginning years but as time passes one learns to pick their battles, so to speak. Anyway, here is my question: Is it unrealistic to NEED a compliment or see that WOW factor from my husband when I get all dolled up (which I do not do often)? Also, is it an unrealistic expectation to hear I’m sorry after he has said something hurtful. Am I supposed to just suck it up and go on as if it doesn’t hurt.

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