Mark and I got married 37 years ago today. I took a picture of the picture in our printed photo album. (That’s what we did then. People took pictures, printed them, and put them into photo albums. Also, my dress is totally 1984.)
I was thinking of our expectations of ourselves back then. We had no idea how our lives would unfold. Which is probably a good thing!
IMNHO, marriage requires continual adaptation. Each of us evolves as individuals. That means our relationship has to evolve, too. We learn to adapt to each other and the context.
With any luck, we adapt in ways that help us live together, not apart. If we can manage the daily living, we also choose who and where to be responsible to and for:
- Children, animals, and other relatives (family and extended family)
- Our work and how that work might affect our lives together
- Our communities, both professional and personal
All of those responsibilities require adaptability and resilience. However, adaptability and resilience aren’t enough. We also create and fulfill expectations of ourselves. And the other people.
That’s what I want to discuss a little here.
Create Reasonable Expectations of Ourselves
IME, If we want great long-term relationships, we need to set boundaries on what we will and won’t do—and when. (See Where Do You Choose to Draw Your Boundaries?) We need time for ourselves and the other precious people in our lives.
As an example, I make room to read every day. My family has heard (possibly too often), “I’m reading. Don’t bother me.” (There’s an implied “unless you really need me” at the end of that sentence.) I had an expectation that I had free time to read every day. I expected that I could relax with a good book at the end of the day. Sometimes, on the weekends, it was the middle of the day.
I could set the reading expectation because I was responsible to the other people in the house. We could all expect I finished my responsibilities earlier in the day.
That’s because I set reasonable expectations about my house responsibilities. While I am careful about cleanliness, I am not careful about piles of stuff. My piles might irritate other people, but they don’t irritate me.
Create Reasonable Expectations of Others
Because families live together, we all need reasonable expectations of the rest of the people in the house. If we give ourselves slack but don’t extend the same consideration to others, we’re incongruent. (See When and How Do You Ask for What You Want?) That meant I needed to manage my various piles.
It’s not reasonable for me to make everyone accommodate my messes. It’s also not reasonable for people to expect me to maintain a pristine environment. We create the give-and-take so we can maintain our relationships. We adapt. To and with each other.
Fulfill Those Expectations
I often recommend teams create working agreements that describe their reasonable expectations of each other. In some ways, Mark and I created working agreements. And those agreements have changed over the years.
We no longer need working agreements for how to manage the children. And we manage our money differently than earlier in our marriage. I rarely cook, so he decides a lot about the meals. Since I do most of the laundry, I get to say how we organize it.
We focus on the give-and-take, and how we feel about that give-and-take.
I don’t have a recipe for a long marriage, except to say that we continue to work at it. (And yes, I asked Mark if I could write this today.) We adapt to changing circumstances—together. When one of us needs support, the other offers. And when we both need support? We ask for help from others.
That’s the question this week: How can we fulfill reasonable expectations of ourselves and each other?