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  • Silvia Farag

Healthy Expectations in Marriage




Many people ask me what a healthy relationship is supposed to look like. I often say that the biggest issue in every relationship is unmet expectations. But I want to talk about some expectations that are healthy and transformative.


When you don’t grow up seeing a loving and connected marriage between your parents, it is very hard to know what to expect within marriage. Lots of my clients are adult children of dysfunctional families. It is nearly impossible to know what “healthy” looks like when you never had a template for affectionate, reciprocal and mutually respectful relationships. I’ve tried to condense healthy expectations for partners over the course of their lives together into five major points.


You will both change and grow, constantly. Growth is good. Its healthy. We grow in the struggle and in the discomfort. Even in aging. There is no use denying that aging happens, and that both of your energy levels, sex drives, and interest in the relationship will change over time. Certainly, women’s drives and interest in romance changes more dramatically in their 40’s and after menopause. Women also admit more readily that they are changing, as they are used to biological changes (e.g., pregnancy, menstruation, nursing, etc.). But the reality is that a 55-year-old man does not act or look (or have sex) like a 25-year-old man either. When people become tied to earlier, younger versions of their partner. This is linked to significant marital dissatisfaction. Couples who are happy together in older age have learned to accept and even find joy in their partner’s growth and change, even if this change is initially in areas that make them uncomfortable, like new interests, new priorities, or new values. This means grace and acceptance.

 

Decisions are made together, taking both people’s need and desires into account, in a spirit of balance and empathy. I just discussed that aging and changing are normal and healthy. This in no way means that this age and change should lead to one partner completely denying or invalidating the other’s needs. It is healthy to expect that partners will not make unilateral decisions in major areas without a discussion with their partner and acknowledgement that they do not exist in a vacuum.  In healthy marriages, major decisions need to be made after efforts to deeply understand and empathize with your partner, and decisions need to make both people feel okay, even if not as happy as they would each be if they each fully got their way.

 

Your partner should not treat you with disrespect or try to hurt you. People who grew up seeing parents constantly fighting often have no idea that healthy relationships do not have much conflict and have zero name-calling, yelling, threats, or anything that scares the kids to observe. Couples counseling can help you if you are trapped in a vicious cycle of escalating conflict, anger, and inability to move forward. It is healthy to expect that you are treated with basic respect, value, among other things, that nobody keeps you awake to fightmistreats your kids, or threatens to leave you repeatedly. If you struggle with low self-esteem, and observed conflict growing up, it is very hard to advocate for yourself when you are mistreated. It is also hard for other people to stop lashing out in anger if they experienced unchecked anger in their home growing up. Therapy can help you truly understand that this dynamic is not okay, and you need to expect more of your intimate relationship, your partner, and yourself.

 

Your children will be the priority, but not the entire focus of your marriage. I have written about the issues of a child centered marriage and you can read it here. It makes perfect evolutionary sense that you and your spouse would focus a great deal on ensuring that your kids are healthy and happy. However, some couples, due to the lack of connection with one another, hyperfocus on their kids in a way that is unhealthy for both the kids and the adults. In these situations, one parent often grows jealous of the other parent’s focus on the kids, and/or becomes the non-preferred parent because they can never approximate the other’s level of focus on the child. It is healthy to expect that, after the newborn stage at least, parents will go out together on date nights at least once a month, and that this will increase as kids get older and more independent.  And it is certainly healthy to spend time talking to your spouse and not let the children constantly interrupt and become the immediate focus. This sort of hyperfocus ruins your marriage and also makes your kids self-absorbed and rude. If you struggle with your kids treating you poorly, it is likely because you failed to set boundaries earlier in their lives. You can read about some tips here when your child is misbehaving.

 

You can’t be the sole focus of each other’s lives but need to spend some time together just the two of you. In the honeymoon stage, it feels like you and your partner are alone in a private bubble, and this is totally normal. However, over time, most couples understand that they need to also focus on other aspects of a well-rounded life, including friendships, parenting, career, hobbies, and so forth. The change from the honeymoon phase to the ongoing normal couple phase is a point of contention for those with preoccupied attachment. These people struggle with spending time alone or require unusually high levels of texting/calling when they are apart from their partner, and this level of focus can feel stifling to the other person. On the other hand, avoidant partners overfocus on hobbies and work, and consider having sex to count as sufficient “couple time.” Making this even harder is the fact that preoccupied and avoidant partners are drawn to one another and exacerbate each other’s attachment issues, in the classic pursuer-distancer dynamic.

 

Hopefully, this post gave you some interesting topics to introspect about, on your own and/or with your partner!  Remember that couples counseling can help your relationship break through challenging dynamics and get to a place where both partners feel more accepting, loving, and close. 




Silvia Farag, MSW, LSW, PsyD Candidate runs the Christian Center for Counseling and works with adolescent and adult clients in individual, couples & family therapy. Her personal philosophy is that through human connection, we can foster the encouragement needed to take courageous steps toward creating positive change. She uses evidenced based and strengths-based approaches & believes in the inherent ability of everyone to overcome when they are willing to step into their potential. Therapy illuminates the path so the client can make conscious steps towards emotional health. Her attitude is one of respect and acceptance of each client’s individuality, allowing for the creation of a safe, therapeutic space. Silvia serves with Coptic Women Fellowship, an archdiocese ministry focused on enriching, supporting, and strengthening the lives of women, along with the clergy and several accomplished women of the Coptic Orthodox Archdiocese of North America.

 

 

 

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