Handling Stress and Changing Expectations in Marriage

After 18 years of marriage, I have a new wife.  Gratefully, this one’s much better than the old one.  Let me explain.  Before she slaps me. 🙂

Last week, my wife and I enjoyed a dinner out to celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary.  During the course of our conversation, she made an interesting observation about our lives:

Nearly everything about us has changed.

And boy, was she right.  I am not the man she married.  And she is not the woman I married.  In fact, here are just a few of the changes that have happened throughout our marriage so far (most have changed more than once):

  • Weight
  • Body shapes
  • Hair
  • Interests
  • Hobbies
  • Jobs
  • Children
  • Homes
  • Dreams
  • Habits
  • Goals & priorities
  • Finances
  • Beliefs about money
  • Philosophy of educating our children

Dealing with Changing Expectations in Marriage

As we reminisced, we realized that we came into marriage with one set of expectations and beliefs about how things were going to be, but things have certainly changed over time.

My wife was going to be a career business woman.  But after our first child was born, she was destined to be a stay-at-home mom.  We were just going to have 2.1 kids, but now have 5.  We bought a quaint “starter” home…and have stayed there 15 years so far. I was going into politics, but sensed a call to ministry (which worked out OK because there’s a lot of politics in the church).

Some changes, like the ones I just described, are fairly serendipitous – they just happen and everyone takes them as they come.  Some are caused by external forces beyond our control – like when our oldest son was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Others were desired by both of us mutually. And some things were wanted by one of us, and ignored or maybe even resisted, by the other – like when one of us was passionate about healthy eating and living while the other wasn’t so much.

Over the years, we’ve noticed that some individuals and couples have an easier time handling unexpected change than others.  Some can make adjustments and go with the flow.

Others can’t handle it when things change, when their expectations aren’t met, or when things happen that they “didn’t sign up for.” They feel hurt, angry, and frustrated.  Thoughts of divorce might even enter their mind.  Maybe it’s because their spouse isn’t on the same page with them as they move through the situation.  Or, maybe it’s because their spouse caused the situation.

Yes, there may be times when you’re justified for having these kinds of thoughts or feelings.  And a few situations may be legitimate grounds for divorce.  But they are also grounds for give and take, a sense of adventure and humor, and even forgiveness and grace.  They are times to move closer together, not pull further apart.

Tips for managing unanticipated changes in your marriage

So, how can we survive and thrive through the unanticipated changes that come our way in marriage?

1.  Realize that change is to be expected. You talked about it on your wedding day, remember?   When you promised to love, honor and cherish in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer!

2.  Don’t think the grass is greener on the other side. If the grass on the other side seems greener to you right now, you can be sure that the water bill is higher and the cost to achieve and maintain it is greater.

3.  Keep it simple. Those who are debt-free and have a modest lifestyle can weather most any storm better than those who have the stress of debt and stuff hanging over them too.

4.  Decide that you’re in this together. Tough situations can make or break a couple.  Choose to let it make you stronger and better, together.

5.  Good communication is key. Don’t shut down or keep your thoughts and fears to yourself. But don’t make a scene, start an argument, or pass blame either.  Find a time, and a way, for both of you to share your thoughts and feelings in a positive way.

6.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your minister, a counselor, support group, or a trusted friend can be invaluable in helping you deal with the situation.

How have you handled change and changing expectations in your marriage?  Is there anything else you’d add to my list?

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  1. We live in a through away/trash it society that makes everything replaceable. The zipper is broken – you get a new pair of pants; the sole comes off – buy new shoes. If the marriage is not working, get rid of it?
    Not every marriage is fixable and when it comes to an abuse situation, it should be the end right there. But what about having indeed an open conversation and and update on expectations. If both sides are willing to work things out, we could have a lower divorce rate.
    Thanks for sharing your tips.

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