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Lower the Bar, Save Your Marriage

Declining bar chart drawn on a green chalkboardMany people marry and soon find that their spouse is annoying — not constantly of course, but more than they expected. Fairy tales and romantic novels suggest that a good marriage is an effortless, happily ever after experience, with the emphasis on effortless.

Rabbi Yosef Richards offers this tongue-in-cheek, but really truer to life view of marriage: “People are annoying. So find the person who annoys you the least and marry that one.”

A good marriage provides companionship, comfort, security, sex, and for most of us, a sense of completion. We feel more whole and more at home with our spouse.

But don’t let fairytales and romantic movies and novels confuse you. Unrealistic expectations cause us to feel shortchanged. By keeping yours realistic, you’re much more likely to appreciate your partner’s good qualities and value your marriage.

The chart below shows how to change some common unrealistic expectations for marriage into relationship enhancing ones.   

                             What Do You Expect From Marriage?


It will be easy to transition from single to married. Getting married is a big change. It takes time to adjust to your new roles and to each other.
I’ll never be lonely again. One person cannot satisfy all your needs for companionship. Maintain friendships with others.
I won’t be bored anymore. You are responsible for keeping yourself entertained and interesting. It’s not his job.
We’ll never argue. Conflicts occur in close relationships. You can learn to manage them well.
He’ll change after we’re married, in the ways I want him to. “What you see is what you get.” Don’t expect him to change basic character traits or habits.
He’ll know how I feel and what I want; I shouldn’t need to tell him. He can’t read your mind. If you want him to know something, you should to tell him.
Marriage is a 50-50 proposition. It’s better to give and receive graciously than to get all even-steven about what’s “fair.”  
He’ll do chores the way I want them done. His standards and ways are likely to be different from yours. Best to accept this.
Sex will always be great. Sex should often be great but not every single time. Good communication helps here too.


If you hold some of the expectations on the left side of the chart, you’re in good company. Such beliefs are widespread. In my therapy practice I see the damage they create in marriages. I also see the transformation that occurs when spouses lowers their expectations bar and become more accepting of each other.  

The mindreading expectation is an example of a particularly harmful one because it often results in misunderstandings and hurt feelings. A spouse thinks, “Why doesn’t he do what I want (or get how I feel)? I shouldn’t have to tell him; he should know!”

The expectation for your spouse to read your mind can cause lasting harm to a relationship. A wife who’s disappointed with her husband for not sensing her needs may act out her feelings. She might give him the silent treatment or withhold sex. A husband who’s angry at his wife for not knowing what he wants might withdraw and sulk. Grudges build and the relationship gets compromised over time.

What if the wife in this example realizes that it’s unlikely to expect her husband to read her mind? She now tells herself, “If I want him to know what I feel, think, or need, I have to tell him.” And then she does express herself clearly and kindly.  

By stating our feelings, wants, and needs directly and respectfully to our partner, we enhance understanding and strengthen our connection. Step by step instructions for how to use seven positive communication skills are included in Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted.

By changing naïve expectations about marriage into a more realistic ones, we become more accepting of our mate and foster a happier, more fulfilling marriage.

Lower the Bar, Save Your Marriage

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Marcia Naomi Berger, MSW, LCSW

Marcia Naomi Berger, MSW, LCSW, author of Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted (New World Library, 2014, audiobook, 2020), has a private psychotherapy practice in San Rafael, California. She offers and workshops for couples and singles, and continuing education classes for therapists at NASW conferences and online. She has taught also at the UCSF School of Medicine, UC Berkeley Extension, and Alliant International University. A former executive director of a family service agency, she earlier held senior level positions in child welfare, alcoholism treatment, and psychiatry.

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APA Reference
Berger, M. (2018). Lower the Bar, Save Your Marriage. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 22 Feb 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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