This past year, I read Off the Hook by Dr. Timothy O’Malley, a book created for the college-aged student figuring out romantic relationships in a culture that only knows sex as the end goal. O’Malley gives statistical, emotional, and spiritual evidence explaining the benefits of living a life of chastity with a partner – before and during a marriage.
In one chapter, he shared his pre-conceived notions of marriage versus the reality of his own marriage. He explained how he assumed that his wife would wear lingerie to bed every night (just as the movies portrayed), but actually, she consistently preferred an oversized shirt. He had pre-marriage expectations of his wife, yet he was shocked to find out that it wasn’t what she had in mind.
Through movies and media, our culture can paint an unrealistic picture of romance.
It persuades us to believe that our relationships will be filled with playful Saturday chores, constant inside jokes, and all the downtime in the world (I bet your top three favorite chick flicks follow a scenario like that, right? Same).
Even with holy romantic relationships, Catholics can create the most aesthetic-looking Instagram façade ever. For example, if he isn’t driving you to Chick-Fil-A after every Saturday Vigil Mass or making coffee as he narrates JPII’s Love and Responsibility to you, then are you really a #CatholicCouple? (Truthfully, I don’t know anyone who posts those specific things, but sometimes it feels like the bar is this high, right?!)
Sisters, this is why communication is the most essential component of a relationship (other than God, obviously). Both you and your significant other could be blinded by Hollywood or Instagrammed-Catholic-couple expectations. Unmet expectations create confusion, constant confusion creates frustration, and frustration creates fallout.
My boyfriend and I have been dating for nearly two years, and in those two years, we’ve had two chaotic fallouts. The first occurred when I felt as if my opinions were going unvalued. Whether I was suggesting a way to improve his prayer life when he was struggling or suggesting a better route to get to the movie theater, I felt shut down. Instead of telling him how I felt, however, I decided to become absent; I ran away from explaining how I felt in those moments. After a very long while, we talked out what exactly happened. Turns out, he was feeling insecure in that season and didn’t know where to turn. Instead of giving him an opportunity to explain that, I assumed he didn’t know how to properly love.
The second time was when we were both growing spiritually, yet on different pages. This time my boyfriend backed away from the situation. Once we finally discussed what was happening, we realized we were trying to figure things out on our own without every bringing our differences into the light.
We were not communicating.
I expected that he would cling on to every word I say when it came to productivity, and he expected the same when it came to faith. We had never discussed those specific expectations, more so how unhealthy they are for our relationship. Above all, I guess we expected that we could easily read each other’s minds.
We have definitely learned the importance of communicating and listening to the other, but that doesn’t mean our relationship now looks like those in the movies or in social media. Communication and transparency with one another have made it possible for us to be real about how we’re feeling; it has been a process so necessary and beautiful.
So, sister, how do we communicate expectations to our significant other?
I think first and foremost we should know what we expect from ourselves. Do we know that our source of love should not come from our boyfriend/fiancé/husband first, but ultimately the Lord? If that isn’t recognized prior to or early on in a relationship, then you could be in for some trouble.
Secondly, I would suggest writing down or consciously recognizing the expectations you have of your significant other. Then, stare down each expectation you have and ask yourself, “Why is this an expectation of mine? Where does this stem from? Will having this expectation lead me to Jesus?” Besides the influence of Hollywood and Instagram, some expectations are unhealthy remnants from past relationships. Be careful.
Thirdly, pray about those expectations. Does the Lord want to remove some expectations? Does He want to add a few to the list?
Finally, invite your significant other to follow the same steps, compare the expectations, and communicate through them. I could see this exercise working at any stage of a relationship, but definitely when you’re months or years into it.
Will this exercise solve all of your future problems together? Absolutely not. However, it will provide clarity as to how you both see the relationship and the kind of care you both need to give and receive. Yes, give.
I highly recommend taking the 5 Love Languages quiz (https://www.5lovelanguages.com/) to see how you and your significant other prefer to receive love: through words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, or physical touch.
Furthermore – especially for us women – please do not create or accept mediocre expectations. You are worthy first and foremost because you are a daughter of the Most High God. Don’t let past relationships or hurtful experiences give you leeway to settle for a so-so relationship.
Cherish the man who treats you like precious glass – with delicacy and provision, yet honoring its great worth.
There may be slipups, but remember that he is human, he cannot read our mind. Also, men and women experience life differently, so he may not understand everything you’re feeling and vice versa. That’s OK. Keep your girlfriends close, sisters. If possible, find a healthy couple (preferably who are already living out the sacrament of marriage) to mentor both of you as you get deeper into your relationship.
Communicate when things are rough. Communicate when things are lively.
So today I ask you to ponder: Are you comparing your relationship to another? What expectations do you currently see in your relationship that are unrealistic, whether it’s what you expect or what is expected of you? In what area of your life do you see yourself communicating most effectively (i.e. at work, friendships, family)? Do you communicate with similar care in your romantic relationship? What’s one way you can consistently pray for your significant other this week?
Mother Mary, pray for us.