The Line Between No Expectations and Doormat
Sarah posted a comment this morning on my Should I Stay Married for the Kids? post with a really great question. Here is what Sarah wrote:
I love the idea that "An expectation is a premeditated resentment"; it has me thinking. On one hand I think it is a great idea, but on the other hand I feel that if we should "Never settle for being a doormat" then we have to have expectations and make them known. Maybe it's a fine line.
Before my big wakeup call at the end of my first marriage, I, too, feared it was a fine line. If it were, we would need to be vigilant all the time, and wouldn't this suck the fun out of marriage?
You are not a doormat if you take out the trash when your husband fails to. If you were not married, there would be trash to deal with. If you take out trash AND have a husband to love you, you are well ahead of the game.
Where you shoot yourself in the foot is when you let yourself expect that if your husband loved you, he would do more around the house or be as prompt as you are with chores. Now, you have trash to take out and what looks like an unloving husband, even though it's the same husband and the same bag of trash.
And while you're stewing over the garbage, you may very well miss out on some great loving. He might have walked in the door ready to kiss you, but turned right around when he sensed your mood. He might have wanted to tell you he sucked it up at work today and did not quit on the spot because of his commitment to your wellbeing.
You are not a doormat if you expect your husband to support your plans to organize a neighborhood produce coop and instead he dismisses those plans—unless you so resent his lack of support that you resolve to stay home and be miserable instead of doing what you believe to be important and worthwhile.
If your husband spends more than you can tolerate, expecting him to spend less will make you a resentment-filled wife. Nagging him to do what feels unnecessary to him will make him a resentment-filled husband. Setting aside a savings account cushion in your own name to keep yourself comfortable while he does his thing is what will keep you from being a doormat.
If you expect a husband who loves you will not harm you or do things that any decent person would stop a stranger from doing to you, the expectation will not keep you from getting hurt. It will probably keep you watching every little thing he does for signs he no longer loves you, eventually convincing yourself to flee in fear and anger.
But your husband may still love you and do things that any decent person would stop a stranger from doing to you. If you assume love and look for a possible explanation of this, the only one is a loss of the ability to control his own behavior. Drugs, alcohol, Alzheimers, and brain tumors are some of the things that can cause this. Expecting him to stop behavior he does not want to engage in and cannot control will certainly lead you to resentment and him to shame, both of them marriage-killers. The expectation will only get in the way of protecting him and yourself from his out-of-control behavior, saving your marriage and possibly your life. You are much more likely to behave like a doormat until it's too late if you don't see through your expectation and look for signs you are loved.
There is a difference between an expectation and a request, even a request with consequences. You have every right to request help with the trash or the cooking or your political campaign, to request your mate enter rehab so you can live together again, to request he not have sex with other women. You have every right to advise him of what you will do if he disagrees with your request (and better yet, if he agrees).
And if you two disagree over your request, you have a great tool for finding a third alternative that suits both of you. My husband says no to a lot of my requests, but he often helps me find another way to get what I want, a fine third alternative for both of us. Doing this, he's avoiding being my doormat, no expectations required and fully open to all the ways I might show him my love for him.
Doormats are people who believe they must say yes to things that fill them with resentment so they can hang onto love. Expectations are attempts to gauge how much love we're hanging onto while overlooking most of it and inviting resentment over how little we find as a result of our search strategy. They provide no protection from becoming a doormat. In fact, they can convince us we're running out of love and ought to lie down to hold onto whatever's left.
When I let go of my expectations, I was completely shocked by how much love I could see in my marriage.