On Communication and Expectations in Marriage

Justin and I celebrated 10 years of marriage in May with a few nice words spoken to each other and hand-written cards. We really don’t make a big fuss about holidays or anniversaries. Well, except for birthdays. I tend to make a big fuss out of birthdays.

I can genuinely say that marriage to him has been one of the greatest joys in my life. Our marriage has been generally easy, with occasional difficulties like any long-term relationship would have. I think a lot of the ease comes from the deep respect that we both have for each other, as well as true love.

We met in college when we were both working on our undergraduate degrees. He was a bit older since he had spent a few years in the Air Force, but we had a philosophy class together and fell for each other pretty fast. I wrote all about our love story here if you have any interest in reading that!

While we certainly don’t have everything figured out, I will say that I believe we did one thing right from the very start of our marriage:

We are explicitly clear on our expectations about something, and share those thoughts & hopes with each other.

I think this is important for any marriage, but especially a marriage with children involved. It became more important as we had more children to have a very clear expectation with each other on the childcare front. We both have hobbies and enjoy doing things alone “just for ourselves” so making sure that we can give each other that time is essential to our relationship.

Since we both work from home and only have childcare for a few days of the week, our need to communicate about what any given week or weekend looks like has only increased. When Justin worked outside of the home he was gone from about 7am-5pm and traveled a lot. Now that he’s home some days, growing his business, and working for mine as well, we have to be better than ever and honest about what we need from the other person.

We typically have a debrief of the week and a discussion about what is to come for the weekend on Friday evenings. He has maintained his routine of taking the kids out for “men’s breakfast” on Saturday morning (which needs a new name since Emily now tags along!) so I can pretty much count on getting some free time while they’re out. There’s something magical about being in the house alone after you have kids, isn’t there?

Beyond that, we both share what we hope to get done personally, what we’d like to do as a family, and any other necessary to-do’s (like cutting the grass or doing a drop off at the donation center). We enter the weekend with a pretty detailed plan of how it’s going to go and, for the most part, we stick to that plan!

Other than sharing expectations, we’re also pretty clear communicators. We both make an effort to share upfront when we want to do something with our friends or want to schedule a date night. There really isn’t any guessing involved in planning for our daily life. We try to give the other person some time alone, or time with friends, on a regular basis.

This type of communication about daily life and individual needs is most prevalent, but I’d also say it’s important to keep the conversation going about what your life looks like and where it’s headed. We do an annual “end of year review” where we look back at the last 365 days and discuss what worked, what didn’t work, and what we’d like to do differently (or the same) for the next year. This allows us to reflect and share some thoughts in a prepared and appropriate environment. And just to clarify, I believe it’s always fine to tell your spouse whatever you need to tell him or her, but timing is important when you are discussing potentially hard subjects. So knowing that we have this annual “meeting” of sorts allows each of us to be ready to hear the other person out fully.

I believe that the fact that we both emphasize how important communication and clear expectations are in our marriage has contributed significantly to our success. I’m glad there isn’t any guessing or wondering about what the other person may need, or holding a grudge if the other didn’t do what you imagined him or her to do.

photo via Jordan Maunder during a lovely, romantic trip to The Biltmore Estate earlier this year