Expectations and Adjustments, Part 3
About the Guest
Allegiances to parents must shift after marriage. Dennis Rainey continues coaching newly married couples on the why's and how-to’s of leaving and cleaving.
Dennis RaineyDennis Rainey cofounded FamilyLife®, a ministry of Cru®. Since the organization began in 1976 through 2017, Dennis’ leadership enabled FamilyLife to grow into a dynamic and vital ministry in more than 109 countries around the world helping families discover the joy God intended for their relationships with God, spouse, and kids. Dennis has authored or co-authored more than 35 books, including best-selling Moments Together for Couples and Staying Close and has received two Golden Medallion...more
Allegiances to parents must shift after marriage.
Expectations and Adjustments, Part 3
Bob: Well, most people do begin a new marriage with that kind of a storybook vision,
but don’t you wish you could look in six months later and see whether Eric and Lina are
still enjoying that sunset that they rode off into or whether the sun has gone down and it’s
nighttime now in the kingdom.
Dennis: [Laughs.] And all because of the subject we’re talking about all this week on the
broadcast: unmet expectations. In some regards I believe that it’s how you manage unmet expectations over the lifetime of your marriage that determines whether your marriage moves to harmony, peace and unity, or whether you harbor bitterness toward … toward your spouse.
Bob: When you come up against an unmet expectation then you’ve got to learn to adjust,
and sometimes the question is who’s going to adjust to whom and whose expectation is going live and whose is going to die.
Dennis: And we’ve talked about how there’s a cycle of unmet expectations. They result
in disappointment, disappointment results in hurt and hurt usually manifests itself in anger. Anger usually punishes the other person, either by lashing out and saying things or doing things that hurt them or by withdrawing and retreating and killing them with silence, so to speak. But the whole progression starts with unmet expectations.
And we’ve been quoting all week Proverbs 13:12, which is a very familiar passage. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick: but desired fulfilled is a tree of life.” And you know really, Bob, our goal in marriage ought to be with our spouses to be a tree of life, to fulfill desire, to meet those expectations. As we’ve been talking about for the past couple of days there are going to be situations, times in our marriage, where we simply miss one another. We’re … we’re not clued in to the expectations of our spouse and so we don’t meet them and we are absolutely clueless that we haven’t achieved our spouse’s ideal … what they really wanted and needed from us.
Bob: You and your wife Barbara have written a book that’s … well, it’s like a primer for
newly married couples. It’s called Starting Your Marriage Right. It can be used as a devotional. You can once a week go through one of these chapters and there’s some discussion questions at the end.
And I was thinking back because I looked at what’s included in this book. When Mary Ann and I first got married we had been a part of a … of a larger group of singles. You know I had guy friends and she had girl friends and we all kind of hung around together.
Bob: In fact, some of my guy friends were also close friends of Mary Ann’s. Some of
her girlfriends were close friends of mine. When you get married those close friendship relationships with members of the opposite sex …
Dennis: That were okay when you were single.
Bob: All of a sudden it just feels a little different.
Dennis: And it is different and I think … it can be a woman who makes a mistake here
but I would say probably seven maybe eight times out of 10 it is the man who is a little naïve when it comes to continuing on with a similar relationship with the opposite sex and kind of acting as though he’s not married. And if … if you want to see your wife hurt deeply early in your marriage just miss this one because our wives do expect our loyalty, our focus, our attention to be on them and not to have a lot of the in-depth relationships.
And frankly, Bob, I’m going to go a little bit further than that. I’m not sure … and I’m going to sound horribly legalistic here … but I’m just not sure I ought to have any in-depth, profoundly intimate relationship with a woman other than Barbara. I think it’s playing with the fire. It’s asking for trouble in the long haul of your marriage.
Bob: But I’m not sure that what you just said anybody would react all that negatively to.
I think the question comes, what do you mean by in-depth and intimate? What defines the boundaries of an appropriate relationship with somebody of the opposite sex from one that may go a little too far? And … and I’ll give you an example. Again, before I was married I would be funny, playful, maybe even flirtatious …
Bob: … with girls who were friends even when I was dating Mary Ann. Sometimes I’d
do it with her right there. She didn’t think anything of it. But that kind of behavior after you’re married well … both us realized it … it doesn’t feel right.
Dennis: Yes, and … and you know, Bob, it … it had felt right to you as a single man for
years. I mean, you’d been used to relating to members of the opposite sex and maybe
Mary Ann as you dated but now all of a sudden there is a switch that has been thrown, a
pledge and a vow that has been made that has set her apart from all the other members of the opposite sex. And she needs to know, as a woman, that there is loyalty to none other; that there is appropriate friendliness and being nice to the opposite sex, yes, but never approaching being flirtatious or playful.
I was talking with a couple a number of years ago who had been married only a matter of months. The husband had traveled away on a business trip and during the … the actual trip he ran into a friend of his, a classmate from school that he graduated from college with and she, too, was on a business trip. And interestingly enough they were both going to the same city so they had a hub city they went to and they had connecting flights on the same plane to the same city. And so when they arrived at the same city he asked her where she was going and, interestingly enough, it was to the same hotel. And so they said, you know, I was going to get a car. And she, well, I was going to get a car. Why do we just get the same car?
And it turns out that they traveled together all the way to the city on the plane, then they got in a car together and traveled together to the same hotel, checked in, obviously had separate rooms. And the next day the husband called back home and just shared how on his way he’d met this friend and traveled with her, they’d shared car together and they’d gone to the hotel with one another. And the telephone got kind of quiet. The husband didn’t understand why his wife would take offense at that.
Now there may be some wives who would say, I wouldn’t think anything of that, but I would imagine, Bob, they are in a minority. With all the unfaithfulness that is occurring in our culture today I think the standard of scripture is that we are to be above reproach and that concept in scripture calls us to avoid any appearance of evil. And in this case, this expectation by this wife of her husband provided a great opportunity for them to talk about what her expectations were of him and the opposite sex. This is a huge area for couples that I believe they must work through early in their marriage.
And I’d like to suggest four steps that a husband and wife work through if they’re going to hammer out some degree of comfort about how they both relate to the opposite sex.
Bob: There is a wide spectrum here, Dennis, of husband and wives who as you’ve said might not think anything of that casual encounter in another city to others who get really jealous when a wife just says “hi” to someone at a church function or when a husband simply stands up to greet somebody at another social function. This is a tricky area where we’ve got to understand what’s going on in the heart of our mate and set up some clear boundaries and definition so that we can adjust to one another’s expectations and do what’s appropriate at the same time.
Dennis: That’s exactly right. The first thing a couple needs to realize is it’s not wrong to have expectations in this area. I want you to hear that loud and clear. It is never to have expectations of your spouse in this area.
In fact, early in our marriage Barbara shared with me that one of the men who was coming over to an early morning Bible study in our home that I was leading was being overly friendly with her. Initially Barbara felt kind of flattered by his kindness and then she began to realize that his niceness was going on what was appropriate for him as a man to her. Then she went through a little mental gymnastics process where she thought it’s really nothing. Then it happened again the next week we had the Bible study and then she thought it was silly that I should feel this way. What will Dennis think of me if I tell him that this guy seems to be too friendly toward me?
She had a choice and fortunately she told me and at that point whatever mystic or attraction that could have happened by that other man was gone. There was no temptation and I believe there were some non verbal cues from Barbara to this other guy telling him that what he was doing was inappropriate. The reason that occurred was because both of us knew at that point. In fact I think what I did was that I moved the Bible study from our home to another location to completely eliminate any chance for that guy to communicate with my wife.
Bob: Now again some folks are going to hear that response and go, don’t you think you over reacted just a little bit? I mean, can’t people get wildly paranoid with these expectations that you are describing?
Dennis: Sure you can but this guy was a womanizer. Actually he came to faith in Christ out of situation where he had been unfaithful to his wife. I think my actions were warranted. Barbara’s actions and concerns were warranted. In fact we both look back on that and think that is one of the wisest decisions we made early in our marriage.
Again, it is not wrong to have expectations of your spouse in this area.
Secondly, you need to realize that you may have a differing standard or expectation than your spouse does in this area. And that’s what I want you to hear: that that standard is something that you’ve got to listen and you’ve got to communicate over.
And really … that’s really the third point. Begin the process of discussing this with one another, communicating your expectations with one another and hammering out standards that you both embrace.
Bob: Now typically in that situation, Dennis, one person is going to have, well, more
strict standards than another and it could be the husband or it could be the wife. But one of the two is going to feel that certain limits are more appropriate than another is going to. If you’re going to err on one side or the other, do you go with the strict side or do you go with the … the relaxed side?
Dennis: There is no question. It’s 10 times out of 10. If you’ve got to err on one side or
the other, in my opinion, you honor the spouse who has the strict standard. Why? Because that will result in trust. If you ignore their standard you dishonor their point of conviction and their concern, and at that point your spouse is left with unmet expectation, and in this situation it’s not only the hurt that can occur from the unmet expectation but it’s the … it’s a point of being dishonored by. And it’s also a point of trust. If my husband, if my wife doesn’t honor me, doesn’t prefer me … well, let me just read a passage of scripture here.
I’m going to turn over to the book of … of Romans, chapter 12. And I’ll tell you this is a great passage of scripture for any couple starting out there marriage to one another. Romans 12 is just chock full of great practical advice that … I want to give you one verse. Verse 10 of chapter 12: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Give preference to one another in honor.” “Give preference to one another in honor.” And Bob I – I think if your spouse is weak here you defer to them, you honor them. You do everything possible. You go out of your way to give them no reason to struggle or wonder or question or be hurt. You do everything you can to meet their expectation.
Bob: Now if that strict standard winds up becoming unreasonable, leading to controlling
or manipulative behavior, if it starts to drift toward that kind of jealousy that you were describing earlier, then at that point you made need to bring in some mentoring … help from an older couple. You’re not talking about simply deferring to somebody who would be a manipulator here.
Dennis: No, absolutely not. In fact I’m glad you brought that up because the couple you
just described where there is a controlling sense, it’s unreasonable, it’s unworkable, it’s untamable, it’s not able to be worked out either at … in church or in the workplace or in your neighborhood. I think at that point you’ve got to find a third party to begin to address the issue with both of you because truthfully, Bob, there are some areas in one another’s lives that we can’t fix. A man can’t fix everything in his wife that needs to be addressed or that needs to be improved. Same thing is true of a woman. She can’t fix, she’s can’t get her husband to improve in every area of his life and so it’s …
I think this really points out another need and another way you can use this book that Barbara and I have written, Starting Your Marriage Right, is to have a mentoring couple step into your lives once a month, twice a month and take on an issue like this and kind of hammer on it and maybe … maybe this issue demands more than … more than one discussion. It may mean this month and next month you talk about it. But you … you discuss who’s being unreasonable. You talk about what’s practical and how you work this out with one another.
Bob: I’m going to let you know at the end of the broadcast today how you can get a copy
of the book Starting Your Marriage Right so stay with us. You may want to grab a pencil and a piece of paper.
But it’s so freeing, Dennis, to be able to talk with another couple and … and open up about your feelings and your thoughts in this area and to learn that you’re not alone in having those feelings or thoughts; that other couples have had to work these things out before you and that they’ve done it successfully.
Mary Ann and I were just with a group of friends recently and we were talking about raising children and about the challenges of raising children. And Mary Ann said, “I’ve just found great freedom in knowing …”
Dennis: Oh, yes.
Bob: “… that we’re not the only family who struggles with teenagers who aren’t
respectful all the time or little kids who get into trouble. It’s just nice to know you’re not going through this alone and that pretty much everybody has these same struggles.”
Dennis: That’s exactly right and it helps you realize, you know what, we’re normal.
We’re not weird. These are normal adjustments that two people who spent 20, 25, 30 years of their lives being single who now, all of a sudden, realize they have to begin to learn a different way of relating to the opposite sex.
And that really leads to my last one. I’ve already touched on it a bit. Show honor to one another by becoming accountable to one another. Ephesians 5:21 talks about being subject to one another in the fear of God. And I think being subject to one another is one of the … one of the hallmarks of a Christian marriage. It means that I listen carefully to Barbara’s concerns and as a result early in our marriage I never counseled a woman without my door open. In fact, I can still remember the last time I was ever in a car alone with a woman. And it came about because of discussions that Barbara and I had with one another.
And it might interest our listeners to know that it wasn’t in the first years of our marriage. I made the mistake … well, it was 10, 12 years into our marriage relationships and found myself in a car with another woman who wasn’t married, and all of a sudden I realized, you know what, I do not like the way this looks, I don’t like the way it feels and I want out of here. [Laughs.] I really didn’t want to be in that car. And it came as … as a result, frankly, Bob, of seeing some very, very good friends lose their marriage, lose their family and lose their ministries because they had … had been naïve in how they related to the opposite sex.
And you know, it’s back to the question you asked earlier, Bob. Are you going to err on the side of being a little too tight or are you going to err on the side of being, you know, too free? Well, I want to tell you, as you relate to the opposite sex, if you were my brother, my sister, my son, my daughter it wouldn’t matter. I would advise you all the same. Steer clear of anything that even appears to be, looks likes evil or an inappropriate relationship with the opposite sex.
Bob: I know there have been occasions here in … in our ministry where we have had
people traveling to other cities … men and, on some occasions, women … folks who are unmarried. They may fly on the same flight and they’ll get to the city and they’ll think, are we really supposed to take two taxi cabs or rent two cars to get to the hotel? I mean, aren’t we being a little legalistic here? And yet we have said as a ministry we’d rather pay for two taxi rides to and from a hotel than to sow seeds in a marriage relationship that are going to help disintegrate it.
Dennis: Yes, and Bob, I can tell you right now there are some listeners who think that
we’re extreme and all I can say to you if … if you think that’s extreme … certainly if two people want to have an affair they’re going to find a way to have it. But I do not want to pour gasoline on a campfire. I do not want to bring combustible elements near one another. And you can disagree with our decision on that but maybe you’ve never sat across the table or across the desk or in a counseling room with a woman who has been profoundly hurt by a husband who has breached his covenant by being unfaithful, but I have.
I just want to do the best job I can as a husband and as a father and as a leader of ministry who is attempting to set a standard for our people here and to, again, avoid any appearance of evil.
Bob: I think one way that couples can avoid some of these early pitfalls in marriage …
and instead of waiting for them to materialize in your relationship, have an opportunity to talk about some of the things that may be coming that you haven’t even anticipated. There are 52 chapters in your book, Starting Your Marriage Right, where you and Barbara take 52 different issues that couples are likely experience in the first years of marriage. And these chapters give you an opportunity to begin discussing together these issues so you don’t have to wait until something pops up in your marriage and creates a problem. You can already be thinking ahead about how you’re going to respond when and if these situations occur.
Dennis: That’s right. And if they do occur than I think one of the other things the book
helps you do is apply grace; forgiveness, understanding and just an understanding that goes, you know what, we’re okay and I’m going to forgive you. Let’s move forward and let’s get a game plan for how we move forward from here, so that we grow together as a couple, we’re building harmony, we’re building peace and Bob, most importantly, we’re building trust that both of us are in the process of making Jesus Christ the Lord of our lives and the builder of our marriage and family.
Bob: I’m thinking of the number of young couples I know who are on the verge of
getting married this spring or the couples who have just recently gotten married who would benefit from a book like this. The problem I have is that most of the people I know who are getting married also know other people here at the ministry so these couples wind up with about 35 or 40 copies of Starting Your Marriage Right as wedding gifts. [Laughter.]
You may not have that same experience in your community. You could be the first on your block to get somebody a copy of this book as a wedding gift.
Dennis: You know I think of all the … the wedding invitations we get here. One of the
things you can do is you can still give them that dish or that goblet of that silverware …
Bob: Ice cream maker. That’s our preferred gift.
Dennis: That’s it. That’s it. Ice cream maker. But stick this book in it. There are a lot
of gifts that we give that don’t help them turn their commitment into a marriage. Give
them something that helps them in their marriage. Make it last after the honeymoon is
over. There’s a tremendous need today for couples to be equipped and that’s why this
book was put together.
Bob: Again the title of the book is Starting Your Marriage Right and you can find it
online at FamilyLifeToday.com. We’ve got it available in our FamilyLife Resource
Center. You can order by phone at 1-800-FL-TODAY. 1-800-358-3629. That’s 1-800-
F, as in family, L, as in life and then the word “today”.
Now tomorrow we want to talk about the loneliness that couples find themselves experiencing sometimes in the early months of marriage. It takes them a little bit by surprise because they thought once we get married the loneliness will go away. We’ll talk more about that on tomorrow’s program. I hope you can be back with us for that.
Thanks to our engineer today, Phil Krause and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. Join us tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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