Agreement in marriage and dating is a critical element in great relationships. Just as Amos 3:3 says so pointedly,
Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?Amos 3:3
The truth is nope, they can’t.
At least not very well, and not without conflict, disappointment, hurt, and headaches.
I just had a conversation with a couple about their vacation. I could tell they both saw the vacation differently, and it was headed for a total disaster. Have you ever known that a vacation was going to be a train wreck but didn’t know how to change it from happening? What about the weekend or a particular evening that was going to be a horrible experience? As I listened to this couple, I knew that if they did not align their expectations, it was going to be painful – for everyone.
Aligning expectations is critical to getting what you want.
This exercise will help couples save so much frustration and pain. Before you blindly head into the weekend, the evening, the vacation, the work week, or spending the bonus money, ask your partner about what they hope and expect to happen. This means that both of you are willing to declare what you hope will happen and hear what the other person hopes will happen. The goal is to work together to see if you can align your expectations.
Doing this means that you are both willing to think through ways to include the other person’s ideas, adjust schedules and activities, and/or find a third alternative that had not been considered before.
Too many marriages approach these crucial times with a view that it will be a win for one person and a loss for the other person. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There is always a way to create a win-win-win opportunity out of something that was going to be a win-lose situation if both of you are committed to looking for the wise use of the time, money, and energy. There is some option out there that is really good for everyone.
Now this kind of thinking, which is what the Bible calls “wisdom,” is becoming more and more rare in a world of five hundred channels of television. Our world has become so segmented that each person is able to watch something that is specifically delightful to them with little thought of whether it is interesting, helpful, or enjoyable to anyone else. We often don’t need to make compromises anymore to enjoy a broader kind of fun that includes more people. We know exactly what we want to do and refuse to settle for something less than specifically what we want.
Aligning expectations is a simple process of first listening to the other person’s ideas, expectations, and dreams about a period of time, spending of some money, or expending some energy. Then you get a chance to state your expectations about the same period of time, spending the same money, and expending the same energy. I say to my wife all the time, “There are always options.” “I just need to know what you are thinking and expecting, and we can find something that will work for both of us.”
It is possible that when your partner first states what they were expecting to do with the weekend or the vacation, and so on, there could be a sense of doom or disappointment because it is so different from what you were expecting to do. They may feel the same way at first, and that’s ok. Just keep listening and be willing to say what you were expecting. There is a way to find the wise choice.
Some things you could say to your spouse are:
- “Let’s work on aligning our expectations about this weekend, this paycheck/work week… I want to make sure we are both on the same page.”
- “What do you see as the wisest use of this time, this money, this vacation, or weekend?” or “What are we trying to accomplish? Is it realistic given our budget, length of time, and energy level?”
- “How much can we accomplish, and what are the options to get the most done while still having it be the wisest use of our time?”
- “Do we want this vacation to be adventurous, relaxing, a bit of both? What kind of activities do you want? Are there people we should try to visit?”
This process of aligning expectations is one of the great tools for marriage harmony. It is so much better than waiting until you are in the midst of the weekend or vacation and then you discover you both have differing expectations, which usually leads to fights, anger, disappointment, or significant moodiness. All of that can be totally avoided.