5 Healthy Expectations Within Marriage, According To A Relationship Therapist

Mutual respect and embracing change are key to a healthy marriage.

Couple spending quality time together bbernard | Shutterstock

Many people have asked me what a healthy relationship is supposed to look like. When you don’t grow up seeing a loving and connected marriage between your parents, it can be difficult to know what to expect within marriage.

Most of my clients are adult children of dysfunctional families. It is nearly impossible to know what “normal” looks like when you never had a template for affectionate, reciprocal, and mutually respectful relationships.


With this in mind, I’ve tried to condense healthy expectations for partners over the course of their lives together into five major points. 

Here are 5 healthy expectations within marriage, according to a relationship therapist:

1. You will both change and grow, constantly

People today are increasingly distressed by the idea that aging happens and affects you whether or not you like it. There is no use denying that aging happens and that both your energy levels, sex drives, and interest in the relationship will change over time.


Certainly, women’s drives and interest in romance change more dramatically in their 40s and after menopause. Women also admit more readily that they are changing, as they are used to biological changes (e.g., pregnancy, menstruation, nursing, etc.). But the reality is that a 55-year-old man does not act or look (or have sex) like a 25-year-old man either.

When people become tied to earlier, younger versions of their partner (more paranoid people even imagine that a conscious “bait and switch” occurred), this is linked to significant marital dissatisfaction. Couples who are happy together in older age have learned to accept and even find joy in their partner’s growth and change, even if this change is initially in areas that make them uncomfortable, like new interests, new priorities, or new values.

RELATED: 19 Ridiculous Expectations That Keep Your Relationship Unhealthy

2. Decisions are made together, taking both people’s needs and desires into account, in a spirit of balance and empathy 

I just discussed that aging and changing are normal and healthy. This in no way means that this age and change should lead to one partner completely denying or invalidating the other’s needs.


It is healthy to expect that partners will not make unilateral decisions in major areas, such as deciding to quit their job or stop having sex, without a discussion with their partner and acknowledgment that they do not exist in a vacuum. In healthy marriages, major decisions need to be made after efforts to deeply understand and empathize with your partner. Decisions need to make both people feel okay, even if they are not as happy as they each would be if they fully got their way.

3. Your partner should not treat you with disrespect or try to hurt you

People who grew up seeing parents constantly fighting often have no idea that healthy relationships do not have much conflict and have zero name-calling, yelling, threats, or anything that scares the kids to observe.

Couples counseling can help you if you are trapped in a vicious cycle of escalating conflict, anger, and inability to move forward. It is healthy to expect that you are treated with basic respect, meaning, among other things, that nobody keeps you awake to fight, mistreats your kids, or threatens to leave you repeatedly.

If you struggle with low self-esteem and observed conflict growing up, it is very hard to advocate for yourself when you are mistreated. It is also hard for other people to stop lashing out in anger if they experienced unchecked anger in their home growing up. Therapy can help you truly understand that this dynamic is not okay and that you need to expect more of your intimate relationship, your partner, and yourself.


RELATED: 15 Signs Of A Healthy Relationship That's Built To Last

4. Your children will be the priority, but not the entire focus of your marriage

It makes perfect evolutionary sense that you and your spouse would focus a great deal on ensuring that your kids are healthy and happy. However, some couples, due to their own parental anxiety or lack of connection with one another, hyperfocus on their kids in a way that is unhealthy for both the kids and the adults. In these situations, one parent often grows jealous of the other parent’s focus on the kids, and/or becomes the non-preferred parent because they can never approximate the other’s level of focus on the child.

It is healthy to expect that, after the newborn stage at least, parents will go out together on date nights at least once a month, and that this will increase as kids get older and more independent. It is also healthy to expect that your sexual intimacy will occur whether or not the kids are at home. And it is certainly healthy to spend time talking to your spouse and not let the children constantly interrupt and become the immediate focus. This sort of hyperfocus ruins your marriage and also makes your kids self-absorbed and rude.

If you struggle with your kids treating you poorly, it is likely because you failed to set boundaries earlier in their lives.


RELATED: Don’t Overfocus On Your Child

5. You can’t be the sole focus of each other’s lives, but need to spend some time together just the two of you

In the honeymoon stage, it feels like you and your partner are alone in a private bubble, and this is totally normal. However, over time, most couples understand that they need to also focus on other aspects of a well-rounded life, including friendships, parenting, careers, hobbies, and so forth.

The change from the honeymoon phase to the ongoing normal couple phase is a point of contention for those with preoccupied attachments. These people struggle with spending time alone or require unusually high levels of texting/calling when they are apart from their partner. This level of focus can feel stifling to the other person.

On the other hand, avoidant partners overfocus on hobbies and work, and consider having sex to count as sufficient “couple time.” Making this even harder is the fact that preoccupied and avoidant partners are drawn to one another and exacerbate each other’s attachment issues, in the classic pursuer-distancer dynamic.


Hopefully, this post gave you some interesting topics to introspect about, on your own and/or with your partner!

Remember that couples counseling can help your relationship breakthrough challenging dynamics and get to a place where both partners feel more accepting, loving, and close. And till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, This Would Be A Great Post To Discuss On Date Night!

RELATED: How To Stop Expectations Vs. Reality From Killing Your Relationships

Dr. Samantha Rodman Whiten, aka Dr. Psych Mom, is a clinical psychologist in private practice and the founder of DrPsychMom. She works with adults and couples in her group practice Best Life Behavioral Health.