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How do you define marriage? Friends? Partners? Lovers?

“Marriage, also called matrimony or wedlock, is a culturally recognized union between people, called spouses, that establishes rights and obligations between them, as well as between them and their children, and between them and their in-laws.”   – Wikipedia With an accepted definition like that, it’s no wonder marriage is loaded with expectations. Sometimes those expectations are exceeded and we fly high, alight with butterfly wings all keeping time inside our belly. Other times, those expectations are dashed and we experience a dreadful prison of loneliness. I have discovered three primary types of expectations in marriage: friends, partners and lovers. Think of the three types of expectations as legs on a stool, each contributing key elements to the stability of your relationship. When all expectations are being met, the stool has a firm foundation. When one area is coming up short, the stool is tipped and topsy-turvy. It’s normal to be lopsided.  I have never seen a marriage with all three areas of expectation perfectly balanced. The aim, rather, is to shore up each leg, one at a time, then circle around to the next and the next, strengthening rather than perfecting the balanced top. In this blog post I’ll offer an overview of the three types of expectations and discuss the needs that are met as well as what happens when a particular leg of the stool is lacking. For the purpose of this writing, let’s get a sense for how the three types of expectation function. Friend We want a Friend to offer us: Companionship. Comfort. Ease. When your spouse is your friend you are at ease because you feel: I am known. A relationship that is well anchored in friendship assures you that: someone understands me. When I am able to be a good friend I…

  1. am at ease.
  2. am relaxed.
  3. am flexible.

Friendship is important to me because I want…

  1. to laugh with my spouse.
  2. to relax and be unguarded.
  3. someone to hear my secrets.

When my spouse is not my friend…

  1. I rarely laugh in their presence.
  2. I’m stiff, formal and guarded.
  3. I withhold information. I don’t share secrets.

Instead I…

  1. tell my secrets to someone else.
  2. laugh with other people.
  3. find my relaxation in other places.

Partner We want a partner to offer us: Togetherness. Teammates. Tribe. When your spouse is your partner you are secure because you feel: I am taken care of. A relationship that is well anchored in partnership assures you that: someone is helping me. When I’m able to be a good partner I…

  1. am energized.
  2. am fulfilled, satiated and gratified.
  3. am satiated.

Partnership is important to me because…

  1. I love the feeling of how contribution spurs more contribution: it’s an energy builder.
  2. I get joy from meeting someone else’s needs.
  3. I have so much to share.

When my spouse is not on my team I…

  1. am more likely to count and keep track; questioning, “Is this fair?”
  2. am less likely to see my spouse’s needs because I’m worried about taking care of my own.
  3. get greedy about what is mine and I rarely feel like I have enough. I’m insecure.

Instead I …

  1. look to work or a volunteer organization where I can find reliable teammates.
  2. look for needs in others and feel fulfilled by serving them.
  3. hoard my own things/time/energy and draw a line of demarcation.

Lover We want a lover to offer us: Chemistry. Desire. Lust. When your spouse is your lover you are confident because you feel: I am wanted. A relationship that is well anchored in being lovers helps you feel: someone wants me. When I am able to be a good lover I am…

Being a lover is important to me because…

  1. it keeps everything lubricated and nothing much bothers me.
  2. I’m confident in my choices and I am eager to demonstrate that.
  3. I have a zest for life and I love expressing it.

When I’m not wanted…

  1. resentments are easier to build and nothing feels fair.
  2. I stop caring about being attractive. “Why should I care? I’m not wanted anyhow.”
  3. Passion dies. Zest for life dies and I become bored or boring.

Instead I…

  1. get prickly about tiny things. I’m agitated and annoyed easily or I disconnect entirely.
  2. let myself go or fix myself up and start looking elsewhere.
  3. Become dull and boring or pour myself into other projects/people outside my home.

It’s not an all or nothing prospect, even though it might feel that way. I’ve listed the extremes of each element so they are easy to identify. Let’s look at how, over the natural growth of a relationship you might see one area of the triad stronger than others:   Two people meet and fall in love because they have awesome chemistry. During this phase there are rarely enough hours in a day for the number of kisses wanting exchange. As time passes, that hot and lusty feeling makes room for companionship when the two lovers now look forward with anticipation the game night out with friends. As even more time passes the couple has children or buys a house and there is a deep security born out of the partnership when tasks like childcare or yard work are shared.   It’s great when your relationship can shape-shift between the three, but every relationship I know about has struggled multiple times with unmet expectations. Often these expectations arise because one spouse is looking for a specific area of need to be met like friendship and the other spouse wants to be partners. Here’s an example:   In a spirit of partnership, I ask my husband if he will build a garden bed with me. I am energized by this shared project and want to connect with him. He hears the invitation differently, however, thinking it is an invitation to hang out together outside and relax in the sunshine. In a spirit of friendship, he accepts my invitation eager to enjoy the spring air, relax and connect.   Notice that we are both eager to connect. But we have different ideas of how connection will happen. This is about to cause problems.   I gather the tools together and we get a strong start, smoothing the ground, and getting bricks ready to shape the raised bed. Just as we are hitting our stride, my husband takes a deep breath, leans on his rake, and lays down on the grass staring up at the sky. “Come here,” he says as he motions me to lay down beside him. He wants me to share the moment of beauty gazing at the clouds. He loves my companionship.   But I wasn’t looking for companionship. I want a teammate who will help me get this task accomplished. Rather than accept his invitation to relax with him, I begin making a list in my head:

  1. I gathered all the materials for this project.
  2. I got the tools together and motivated us to get outside.
  3. Just as we are hitting our stride, he stops our momentum.

I wanted his help.   I want to end the day celebrating what we have built together. I am inviting him to build our life together one shared step at a time by having the same focus. I feel like he is diverting our attention.   He wanted to enjoy a day together outside in the gorgeous, Colorado spring air. He is inviting me to slow down and enjoy the moment unfolding. He feels like I value the garden more than I value him.   The conflict arises from what is the priority for each of us. Neither of us is right. Neither is wrong.   We are coming at the activity with different expectations.   I am curious how expectations have helped to shore up your relationship and how you’ve been hurt by unmet expectations. Please join my mailing list so we can stay connected.

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