The honeymoon phase: so cliché, but if you have been there, or even seen others who have, you know what it is about and what invariably happens afterward. For some the honeymoon phase lasts months, others a couple of years. It depends on many things, but most of us eventually reach a place where suddenly things just are not quite what they used to be: we no longer have fun, we do not spend time together, we may even find that we are unhappy, stressed, indifferent. In short, we become disappointed, and then we start thinking of divorce.
Disappointment. A key component of disappointment is expectations; without them we would not find it possible to become disappointed. Some expectations are certainly warranted, others may be frivolous, but each deserves careful consideration. Be wary, however, about focusing on your partner’s expectations. Instead, let’s take time to examine our own expectations, and how we can work to resolve them.
First, I want you to meet Sasha. At just over 20 pounds and full of energy, Sasha is my terrier/heeler mutt. She is a needy dog, and subsequently taught me a lot about expectations. I was going through a particularly rough spot with my wife, becoming exceedingly frustrated and feeling hurt. As I was sitting on my couch, head in hands, Sasha came up to me begging, as always, for some affection. I was thinking to myself, ‘the nerve of her! I’m the one who needs some attention!’ but I reached out to pat her head and stroke her back anyway.
I have to be honest; the return on investment I receive from my dog is, in a practical sense, less than zero. I feed her, I wash her, I comb her, I pet her, and I clean her messes. I do everything for her, but she really does not do anything for me. Being a pet owner is not about being practical, though. We go through all of that effort and expense because of the moments when our pets make us feel good the way they make us laugh, the way they seem to understand exactly what we are saying, the way they taste the salt of our tears are so very worth all of the trouble we go through for them.
Most of us are familiar to some extent with Abraham Maslow and his Hierarchy of Needs, so let’s consider that for a moment. Graphically, we depict his five categories of needs physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization as a pyramid with self-actualization at the top. This provides us with the idea that self-actualization is the pinnacle achievement; it is what we are aiming for.
The rest of the needs become expectations since they are requirements to achieving our goal. Most of us are quite capable of resourcing the first two, physiological and safety but the next two are dependent upon other people. There is no group of just one person we can belong in. There is no way to receive or give esteem without others around us. Those two needs are in all ways community needs.
Let’s go back to our partners now. When we arrive at a point where we say, ‘I choose you, and only you, to be my partner for the rest of my life,’ we have essentially designated that person as the primary provider of our community needs. The fact that they agreed to marry provides the assumption they have accepted that duty, though we rarely communicate that assumption beyond the ‘have and to hold’ part of a marriage ceremony. With so few words we have placed a heavy burden on our partner, but we do not notice while we are still relaxing in the honeymoon phase.
What makes the post-honeymoon phase different is that we become distracted. Maybe work has been taking up all of your time, maybe you have children with their own needs, or perhaps the novelty has simply worn away and you have found yourselves in a monotonous rhythm. Whatever the case, we begin to fail in our duties, whether articulated or not. Even worse, we do not recognize that we are failing, only that the other person is not meeting our needs. The failure, however, is generally found outside of the expectations. Namely, the failure is in communication and submission. We fail to communicate our needs and provide reasonable modes they might be met, we fail to submit adequately to the other in order to place their needs in a position of precedence in our efforts at making the marriage work.
Marriage takes work
The resolution is really quite simple, but it takes work. We often have a tendency toward believing a ‘true’ relationship happens naturally, that love is effortless. These expectations are the only truly unreasonable ones. We cannot expect our partner to know what we need if we have not communicated that need to them. It is not sensible to expect them to make a concerted effort to meet our needs if we are not meeting theirs. These expectations must go: purging yourself of them will not only make things easier but it will also lift a huge burden from your own shoulders.
Once this exorcising has occurred, it is time to start working. The biggest gift you can give yourself and your spouse is time. We easily believe we do not have enough as it is, but start taking just 30 minutes each day to sit down and talk, without distractions. In his book ‘the Friendship Factor,’ Alan Loy McGinnis refers to this, because we might do it over coffee or tea, as the ‘coffee-cup Concept.’ It is a simple thing really, and yet it provides us with an opportunity to continue the processes of discovery that so intrigued us while we were dating. It gives both partners a chance to communicate needs and introduce plans to submit to those needs.
Also use this time to make plans for other stress-free times to spend with each other. A weekend away, a day at the spa: whatever it is, take some time together and relearn the feelings and love you had during the honeymoon phase. There are resources to help you along the way in this venture, use them. I promise you, if you take some time and commit to the work, you can meet each others’ expectations and move happily beyond the honeymoon phase.