NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Sunday, December 31, 2017

Marriage: Are You Expecting Too Much From Your Spouse?

People are relying much more on their spouses these days to fulfill all their needs, which puts a strain  on the relationship and can lead to the demise of the marriage.  If you're having problems in your marriage due to possible unrealistic expectations, you might want to ask yourself if you're expecting too much from your spouse, which is the subject of this article (see my article: Relationships: Your Spouse Can't Meet All Your NeedsWhen Love Doesn't Conquer All and Developing and Maintaining a Happy Relationship).

Marriage: Are You Expecting Too Much From Your Spouse?

Spouses With Unrealistic Expectations: Your Spouse Can't Meet All Your Needs
Over the years, I've seen many couples in my psychotherapy practice in New York City who love each other and want to make their marriages work, but one or both of them have unrealistic expectations.

When these expectations aren't met, the spouse with the expectations often feels angry and resentful.  The spouse who is being blamed for not living up to expectations can feel pressured by the demands and resentful that s/he is being held responsible for the problems in the marriage.

Traditional marriage vows include cherishing your spouse, remaining in sickness and health and for richer or poorer.  Those used to be the expectations people had when they entered into a marriage.  But now many couples expect, in addition to those expectations, that their spouses will make them feel emotionally fulfilled, attractive, successful, competent, and help them to grow psychologically.

This would be a tall order for several people to fulfill, but to expect one person to fulfill all these needs is too much pressure and can lead to an erosion of the marriage.

I think most people, who have unrealistic expectations, don't realize how much pressure they place on their spouses because they haven't stopped to think about it.  They might be focused on one aspect of their expectations at any given time and not think about all the other demands that they've made.

Complicating all of this is that so many people see less of close friendships and family members after they get married and rely solely on their spouses for all their needs.

Whereas before these other relationships probably fulfilled them to a certain degree emotionally, intellectually and perhaps creatively, now they expect their spouses to fill all these roles.

Let's take a look at a fictionalized vignette which illustrates the typical dynamics in a marriage where too much is being demanded of the spouse:

Fictional Vignette: Are You Expecting Too Much From Your Spouse?

Nina and Dan
Two years into their marriage, Nina and Dan began couples counseling because they were constantly arguing (see my article: Starting Couples Counseling).

When they first started dating five years before, they enjoyed each other's company and hardly ever argued.  They had a passionate relationship and enjoyed similar interests.  But after two years of marriage, they were each questioning whether they made a mistake by getting married.

Nina complained that Dan used to make her feel attractive, intelligent and fun to be around.  But after two years of marriage, she felt that he hardly ever complimented her and no longer made her feel special.

She also complained that they were no longer having as much sex as they used to have before they got married, and there were times when the sex felt boring rather than how passionate it used to feel while they were dating.

Nina also resented that Dan took less interest in her personal growth, whereas before he spent time encouraging her and making suggestions on how she could grow as a person.  All of this made Nina feel lonely, sad and angry.

Dan fumed that he was currently working 80 hours or more a week at his law firm, and he was often exhausted, "The last thing I want to hear when I come home exhausted is that I'm not living up to Nina's expectations.  I love her, but I can't take all her demands.  She used to see more of her friends and her sisters, who were emotionally supportive of her, but she hardly sees them now.  She expects me to be everything to her.  But I can't be everything.  She doesn't understand that."

Nina acknowledged that she used to spend more time with her sisters and friendships, but she thought once she got married, Dan would fulfill her needs.  She said she knew he came home exhausted and she didn't want to pile on a bunch of complaints, but she felt increasingly unhappy and she didn't know what to do.

As Nina and Dan began to work on their problems in therapy, Nina came to see just how much she was expecting from Dan and that she needed to reconnect with friends and family to get some of her needs met.  For his part, Dan acknowledged that he could cut back on his work hours to spend more time with Nina.

Over time, they were able to discuss in couples therapy what each of them could reasonably expect from the other.  Nina spent more time with her friends who met many of her needs.  She also spent more time with her sisters, who were emotionally supportive and fun to be around.  She realized how much she missed these relationships once she reconnected with them.

Dan was able to cut back on the hours he worked so he could come home and spend more time with Nina.  Once she stopped criticizing him, he also felt more open to her emotionally and sexually.

Nina also realized in couples therapy that, after a while, sex isn't as passionate as it was during the early stage of the relationship, but it could be more emotionally fulfilling. Together Dan and Nina planned special evenings together to revive their emotional and sexual intimacy.

As they got closer, Nina told their couples therapist that prior to coming to couples counseling, she didn't realize that she was piling all these demands on Dan.  But after talking about it in their therapy, she realized that it would have been too much for any one person.  She was also happier to be reconnected with friends and family and to discover that some her needs could be met in these relationships.

Marriage: Are You Expecting Too Much From Your Spouse?

Dan said he was now pleased to come home to Nina.  After she reconnected with family and friends, he felt a weight was lifted from him and he no longer felt like "a bad husband."  He was glad that Nina no longer saw him as failing in their marriage.

Generally, people have greater expectations these days that they will have all of their needs met in their marriage.  This is especially true if one or both people in the marriage have given up other important emotional connections with family and friends who met some of those needs.

It's important for each person to be open and to discuss what they want from their spouse and what they each can reasonably do (see my articles: Are You Too Afraid to Talk to Your Spouse About What's Bothering You?  and How to Communicate More Effectively in Your Relationship).

Becoming aware of what you're demanding of your spouse is the first step in resolving this problem.  Each of you needs to be able to listen to and respect what the other person has to say, even when it's difficult to hear.

Once you've become aware of your spouse's feelings, you both have an opportunity to renegotiate your expectations.  This might mean that you don't get everything that you want or need, but you might have a happier marriage.  Also, consider the importance of maintaining connections with supportive family and friends.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you've gotten to a point in your marriage where you can no longer communicate with each other without your discussion devolving into an argument, you could benefit from seeing a couples therapist (see my articles  Relationships: When Expressing Your Feelings Turns Into Verbal Abuse and The Benefits of Therapy).

Choose a licensed mental health professional that you both feel comfortable with and who has experiencing helping couples with your issues (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Getting help to discuss what you would like and how you can renegotiate your relationship could save your marriage and help you both to feel more fulfilled.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during regular business hours or email me.