On Communication and Expectations in Marriage

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Justin and I celebrated 10 years of marriage in May with a few nice words spoken to each other and hand-written cards. We really don’t make a big fuss about holidays or anniversaries. Well, except for birthdays. I tend to make a big fuss out of birthdays.

I can genuinely say that marriage to him has been one of the greatest joys in my life. Our marriage has been generally easy, with occasional difficulties like any long-term relationship would have. I think a lot of the ease comes from the deep respect that we both have for each other, as well as true love.

We met in college when we were both working on our undergraduate degrees. He was a bit older since he had spent a few years in the Air Force, but we had a philosophy class together and fell for each other pretty fast. I wrote all about our love story here if you have any interest in reading that!

While we certainly don’t have everything figured out, I will say that I believe we did one thing right from the very start of our marriage:

We are explicitly clear on our expectations about something, and share those thoughts & hopes with each other.

I think this is important for any marriage, but especially a marriage with children involved. It became more important as we had more children to have a very clear expectation with each other on the childcare front. We both have hobbies and enjoy doing things alone “just for ourselves” so making sure that we can give each other that time is essential to our relationship.

Since we both work from home and only have childcare for a few days of the week, our need to communicate about what any given week or weekend looks like has only increased. When Justin worked outside of the home he was gone from about 7am-5pm and traveled a lot. Now that he’s home some days, growing his business, and working for mine as well, we have to be better than ever and honest about what we need from the other person.

We typically have a debrief of the week and a discussion about what is to come for the weekend on Friday evenings. He has maintained his routine of taking the kids out for “men’s breakfast” on Saturday morning (which needs a new name since Emily now tags along!) so I can pretty much count on getting some free time while they’re out. There’s something magical about being in the house alone after you have kids, isn’t there?

Beyond that, we both share what we hope to get done personally, what we’d like to do as a family, and any other necessary to-do’s (like cutting the grass or doing a drop off at the donation center). We enter the weekend with a pretty detailed plan of how it’s going to go and, for the most part, we stick to that plan!

Other than sharing expectations, we’re also pretty clear communicators. We both make an effort to share upfront when we want to do something with our friends or want to schedule a date night. There really isn’t any guessing involved in planning for our daily life. We try to give the other person some time alone, or time with friends, on a regular basis.

This type of communication about daily life and individual needs is most prevalent, but I’d also say it’s important to keep the conversation going about what your life looks like and where it’s headed. We do an annual “end of year review” where we look back at the last 365 days and discuss what worked, what didn’t work, and what we’d like to do differently (or the same) for the next year. This allows us to reflect and share some thoughts in a prepared and appropriate environment. And just to clarify, I believe it’s always fine to tell your spouse whatever you need to tell him or her, but timing is important when you are discussing potentially hard subjects. So knowing that we have this annual “meeting” of sorts allows each of us to be ready to hear the other person out fully.

I believe that the fact that we both emphasize how important communication and clear expectations are in our marriage has contributed significantly to our success. I’m glad there isn’t any guessing or wondering about what the other person may need, or holding a grudge if the other didn’t do what you imagined him or her to do.

photo via Jordan Maunder during a lovely, romantic trip to The Biltmore Estate earlier this year


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Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog says · 07.22.19

I love every post you write about your relationship. I always learn so much from you, Kate. Thank you. ❤️✨

Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

Kate says · 07.22.19

Awe such a sweet post! You guys have created such a beautiful family. Thanks for sharing! 🙂


Ana says · 07.22.19

Love your thoughts, practices on communication and expectations! Thank you for sharing.
Men’s breakfast, new name: 3 men and a lady. 😉

Whitney says · 07.22.19

Happy anniversary!

Janie says · 07.22.19

I couldn’t be happier for you! I’m so inspired and impressed with the level of communication you all have.
After 38 years of marriage I could learn a thing or two! Thanks for your transparency.
PS. I just read a post by the author Karen Kingsbury. She said she and her husband are intentional about believing the best about each other and their family. It’s a mindset of hope. I like that. 😊

Sandra says · 07.22.19

Kate, thanks for sharing. You both are doing the important work to keep your marriage thriving and happy. I’m coming up on celebrating 25 years of marriage with my Hubby and a few things I’ve now learned, which I wish I would have practiced years ago. Put your husband/marriage first, our children have been our greatest blessing in our lives, but require a lot of work, love and patience. I tended to push more focus on my kids especially when they were younger, as most moms/parents do. By putting your marriage first, you will have a stronger foundation and a great marriage model for your kids to mimic one day. I follow Rachel Hollis and I love her motto about marriage. They don’t want a “great” marriage, they want an “exceptional marriage”. Its with this focus that everyone reaps the rewards. Now, for the topic we sometimes shy away from….sex! Keep the communication open in this area too, it’s important for an intimate and fulfilling life. Cheers and Happy Anniversary!!!!

Eleanor Mullen says · 07.22.19

This is great advice and will stand you in good stead particularly when the kids get older. The demands on us as parents are so much greater when they’re older (even though you think it will be easier) Our kids always take presidence no matter their age and of course it’s important to make time for each other.

Sara G says · 07.22.19

I love this and love that you make each other and your marriage such a strong priority. My husband and I are also celebrating 10 years this summer but life with kids (3 boys) has kind of rocked the boat a little, this was a great reminder to cherish our time together and communicate and respect our mutual and individual needs. Thanks for sharing!

anna says · 07.23.19

I love the lipstick you were wearing on a recent post on your instagram. It is the one with Emily sleeping on you. The name of the color is not directly linked. Can you tell me what the name of it is? It looks great on you. Thanks!

Stephanie says · 08.05.19

Thank you for this post. As new parents, and me currently staying home, this is exactly what we need to work on. Frequently expectations are not met because they are not communicated and that leads to disappointment and frustration.

Katie says · 08.06.19

I totally agree with you on communication being so important, I got married last July and ever since we even started dating we have tried to be very clear about what we want and not make the other person guess. It makes the relationship go so much smoother when you just talk things out and be honest!

Karen says · 10.05.23

I wish we had established that routine. We apparently did nothing right except have 2 children who are grown, self supporting adults now with good careers. Kudos to you and Justin!!

tiffany says · 10.06.23

As someone who has been married for 9 years to someone who doesn’t speak to me, this gives me something to daydream about. 🙂

Liz says · 12.13.23

Without getting too personal, could you expand upon your annual meeting “agenda”? I’m looking to do the same and trying to provide some structure to the conversation.

In my head I’ve got the following topics: …Start/stop/continue feedback for both spouses (celebrate success from the last year), personal goals and dreams, career growth plans, upcoming milestones for each kid, budget considerations – housing projects and vacation travel, medical needs…. Gonna keep doing some research but figured I’d ask what’s worked well for you. Struggling to balance the aspirational goal-setting discussion with the practical working relationship aspect and also the financial budget conversation.