Complaining and Expectations

 Written By: Dewey Wilson, Ph.D.


According to the National Science Foundation, the average person thinks around 12,000 thoughts per day. The deeper thinker can have upwards to 50,000 per day! Well, if that’s not bizarre enough, the majority of thoughts also come with expectations. For example, when you insert a key into the lock of your home’s front door, you expect it to become locked or unlocked. When you deposit money into a vending machine, you expect to receive a candy bar. When you visit a restaurant, you expect to receive a certain level of service.

Now be honest! What typically occurs when we turn the key while holding a sack full of groceries and the door won’t unlock? What about when the vending machine takes our last dollar and doesn’t deliver a candy bar? Or, when our hamburger arrives overcooked and the fries are cold? Thank you! For a moment, I thought it was just me who tends to complain about these injustices! But, why do we tend to complain so easily?

Most of the time, people complain believing it will, at a minimum, make them feel better. Some even tend to believe that by complaining louder and longer, they will actually obtain their desired outcome. And why not? We have been successfully employing these strategies in order to get our way long before most of us can remember.

Considering all this, it’s no wonder marriage can often be frustrating. It involves two people with at least 24,000 combined daily thoughts (most of which are attached to expectations), who are prone to complain when they don’t get their way! So, how can we begin to do things differently? Here’s a couple of thoughts:

  • Examine your standards. Standards are the basic codes, principles, or ground rules one tends to live by. Most of us like to believe we have high standards and do a pretty good job of living according to these codes. Yet, as a Christian, whose standards should we really be following? You might be thinking, “Yeah, well that’s next to impossible!” It is true that God’s standards are much higher and different than those of man (Isa 55:8-9). Even so, His standards are not out of man’s reach (2 Peter 1:3). Lamentations 3:40 encourages us to “examine and probe our ways, and let us return to the Lord.” Maybe it’s time to examine which standards we desire most (ours or God’s) and which we claim to live by vs. what is really going on?
  • Learn to effectively communicate with yourself. All of us communicate using our self-talk. You know, those scripts and reels of experiences running in our mind that tend to shape what we believe about ourselves and others. Many times, we automatically complain because we allow our self-talk to quickly convince us that we deserve something better than what we have. Next time your self-talk tries to manage or dictate your thoughts, instead of allowing your-self talk to tell you what you deserve, consider telling your-self talk that you’re not falling for it this time, and take control of what you’re thinking.

So, how much complaining is going on in your marriage? Have you taken the time to analyze your expectations around those complaints? If not, I encourage you to do so. You may possibly be surprised to find that your expectations are somewhat unrealistic. If you feel your complaints are legit but aren’t getting favorable results, instead of grumbling seek counsel for how to approach the issue from another angle.