Tom and I recently had a conflict that we didn’t see coming. The conversation grew tense, yet there wasn’t anything said to cause the conflict. We didn’t quite know how to fix it since the issue wasn’t obvious to us.
We broke it down by discussing what had just happened.
That’s when we realized there are times when we have unknown expectations. The only way you discover them is when they aren’t met and suddenly your mood changes leaving you and your spouse at odds.
Here are a few scenarios that may make this tendency easier to detect:
- You’re planning a date night and haven’t talked about where to go. When you both realize no one has planned the date–there it is!
- Your spouse has a day off from work planned. When they announce plans to do something with friends–there it is!
- You get a substantial IRS refund this year. When your spouse pays extra on the credit card–there it is!
- You get a substantial IRS refund this year. When your spouse buys new golf clubs–there it is!
How do you navigate such a volatile moment without exploding? One word comes to mind, and it’s the only word that will help–Communication.
When you are both sidelined by an unexpected conflict you have to keep calm and communicate. (Tweet that!)
Your spouse most likely didn’t realize you had an expectation. We must give each other grace in such moments; Think the best; Give them the benefit of the doubt; And by all means don’t attach motives as to why they did what they did. You didn’t even know you had the expectation yourself, so how were they to know? They can’t read your mind.
What it boils down to is this: We are two individuals attempting to do life together as one. When conflicts arise either seen or unseen, we must communicate to get through it. The silent treatment never solves a dispute it only makes the accused defensive. Be mature. Do the hard work and your marriage will be stronger as a result.
In what ways have you had unexpected expectations?
Without a doubt, I would agree that the solution is communication. Your title caught me by surprise until I thought it through a bit. It would seem to me that a more root-sensitive title would be uncommunicated expectations. Let me give more detail as I look at the scenarios you mention and add one more that I have experienced and learned to “expect” from my wife:
1. Date night is planned — on the calendar and one person has a definite idea of where they want to go or what they want to do, but they have never said what they would like. The spouse choosing what to do, unaware of the uncommunicated agenda, chooses to initiate doing something else. Then the conflict ensues.
2. One spouse has a day of work coming — the other one has plans, but not stated for what they are wanting for that day. When the off-work spouse starts to do what they have chosen to do — unaware of someone’s agenda — then conflict starts.
3. Tax refund — one plans what to do with it, but doesn’t state the plan ahead of time. Money arrives and the other allocates — conflict ensues.
4. Vacation is planned — one person wants to do certain things while on the planned vacation, but never details the exact desires. End of the vacation nears and tensions rise because the uncommunicated expectations are not going to be met.
Solution: early and constant communication. As a pastor and counselor, I have often told couples (and people in general) that there are very few circumstances when “over-communication” can lead to problems. Everyone of these circumstances can have tensions reduced or eliminated with early communication.