Not-So-Great Expectations

I recently gave my husband a gift. It was Valentine’s day and I didn’t want to do something boring and predictable; no, I love personal, funny, surprise gifts that take effort and planning, so I thought up a terrific one for my husband and had it delivered to him at work for maximum publicity.

He texted me a photo of the gift, and when I called to ask him what he thought, he told me how surprised he was. Later, when I asked him if anyone at his office had seen it, he answered “yes” and gave me a few details.

I felt a little frustrated. I had poured thought, time, and energy into this gift that I thought was clever, funny, and personal. It wasn’t enough that he said he liked it; I wanted ebullient, appreciative feedback that made me feel good!

The next night, I asked again whether anyone at work had commented on the gift. (Of course I was fishing for HIM to comment on ME and how awesome I am.) He said, “I gave you all that information yesterday.”

Wrong answer. I picked a fight over it, which didn’t end well; we said some hurtful things to each other, and I went for a drive to clear my head. I called a trusted friend – someone who has been married much, much longer than I have – and she helped me to see the situation differently. She posed a few questions:

  • First, why did I give my husband this kind of gift? To delight him, or so that he’d think I’m clever and fabulous? If I expected him to make me feel clever and fabulous, it wasn’t really a gift.
  • Second, what did I think his reaction would be? Was I willing to accept that his responses are often different than mine? Did I want to test his ability and willingness to respond in the way I thought he should? If I expected him to pass a test, it wasn’t really a gift.
  • Finally, was I letting other factors – social media, TV, friends’ stories, books – create a picture of what I thought my husbands response should be? If I was expecting his response to be like someone else’s, it wasn’t really a gift.

Expectations can kill relationships. I think about gifts my husband or others have given me, and of how many times my reactions must have disappointed or hurt them. Yet I cannot remember a time when someone made me feel bad for how I responded to a gift. How could I have put my poor husband through that? When we do good for others or give them good things, we cannot attach expectations to our actions.

One of my favorite quotes (and coincidentally, one my sister and her new husband included in their recent wedding ceremony) comes from Thomas Merton, and it reads: “The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”


If I’m honest, I was looking to my husband for validation that he sees me as a cool, funny, creative person. When he didn’t compliment me, I felt hurt and offended. Also, I gave him a gift that I would have loved – not one that really fit his quiet, steady personality. He would have preferred a bag of Twizzlers and a night of watching sports on TV – a difference between us to be sure – but one I really do appreciate when it comes down to it.

If I could unwind the clock, I might give my husband the same gift, but I’d remember that the joy of simply planning and giving the gift should be and is enough. I’d remember that loving my husband means letting him be perfectly himself, ALWAYS – even when who he is threatens my ego or makes me wonder “what planet is this guy from?!”

Micah 6:8 is my husband’s favorite Bible verse.  It basically says that there are three “ways of living” that God considers good.  God tells us to act fairly, to be kind, and to live out a humble, selfless faith life.  If I could unwind the clock, that’s what I’d try to do.  Be fair, kind, and humble.

I’d soften my expectations, and I bet I’d see our love grow as a result.

When have your “great expectations” led to not-great-results in your relationships?

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  1. Thanks for beautifully sharing your honest and encouraging insight!

  2. Hey Catherine, I must admit it has happened to me as well. Got my hubby a $125 gift that he lost and it drove me mad that something so precious could be so easily lost as if it held no value to him. Really once we give something, we should not behold them to value it as much or react as we would like. Thanks for sharing!

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