Expectations in Marriage
In this post we feature some extracts from a homily by Bishop Anthony Taylor of the Diocese of Little Rock, Arkansas.
Read the full article: here
Expectations and Happiness
Happiness is determined by our expectations and our ability to notice and rejoice in little things. If our expectations are modest, life will usually exceed our expectations and we will be happy; if our expectations are unrealistic, we end up disappointed.
For instance, I spent the summer of 1979 in Kenya and most of the people in our parish lived in tiny homes with no running water, electricity or indoor plumbing. But since that was the only life they knew, they didn’t expect anything else and so weren’t disappointed in their expectations and indeed rejoiced in what they did have — they were by and large happy.
By contrast, when I came home I was struck by how unhappy many Americans are: Young couples disappointed that their starter home will not be as nice as they had hoped, employees angry that their boss isn’t more caring, parents disappointed that their children are just average, adults unable to cope with an elderly parent’s death. Other people are happy to have a home at all, to have a job at all, to have children at all, to have had their parents as long as they did.
It’s a matter of expectations and being able to notice and rejoice in the little blessings of life. And the same thing is true about happiness in marriage.
Why are so many marriages unhappy?
Why is it that so many marriages are so unhappy that 50 percent end in divorce? There are lots of reasons, some of which are understandable and even unavoidable — say in the case of domestic violence — but often the problem is simply that people had unrealistic expectations that sabotaged their marriage right from the start, coupled with an inability to notice and rejoice in the small blessings of daily life.
Some expect their spouse to do what only God can do: To meet all their needs for security, support and closeness.
If we take the ideal to be the minimum, we should not be surprised when our spouse can’t meet our unrealistic expectations. All of us have defects and so all marriages are less than ideal and to expect otherwise is self-defeating.
A week ago I was in Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families in which eloquent speakers gave insightful presentations touching on many of the cultural factors that have led to the breakdown of the family and resources for healing broken families and broken hearts. This culminated in an outdoor Mass with Pope Francis last Sunday in which an estimated 1 million people participated.
In this Mass Pope Francis focused on tenderness and noticing all of the little miracles of everyday life, and on how faith opens for us a “‘window’ to the presence and working of the Spirit.” He said faith “shows us that, like happiness, holiness is always tied to little gestures. ‘Whoever gives you a cup of water in my name will not go unrewarded’, says Jesus (cf. Mark 9:41).
These little gestures are those we learn at home, in the family; they get lost amid all the other things we do, yet they do make each day different. They are the quiet things done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers, by children, by brothers and sisters. They are little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion. Like the warm supper we look forward to at night, the early lunch awaiting someone who gets up early to go to work. Homely gestures. Like a blessing before we go to bed, or a hug after we return from a hard day’s work.
“Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love. That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches. They are the right place for faith to become life, and life to grow in faith.”
Expectations and Standards
Does this mean we should lower our standards? Of course not, but it may mean we should have more realistic expectations. A glass that is half empty has just as much in it as a glass that is half full, it’s all a matter of how you look at the glass.
In this as in so many other areas of life, happiness is determined by our expectations.
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