How Do I Let Go of My Fantasy Husband Without Lowering My Standards?

Morning friend,

I hope by now you are signed up for our webinar next week, “How Long Should You Keep Trying: And How Will You Know Changes Are Real?”

An interesting question popped into my mailbox this week. It doesn’t have to do with a destructive marriage but is an important question, nonetheless. 

Question: How do you help women eliminate the idea of having a fantasy husband? Where do you draw the line between high standards and unreasonable expectations?

Answer: First, I’m happy to see that you’re becoming aware of the need to give up the idea of finding Prince Charming and living happily ever after. It’s a fairy tale, not reality. Sadly, some women (and men) never mature out of that childhood fantasy. Seeking a partner, they experience failed relationship after failed relationship. Instead of learning to grow and mature through the failure, they tell themselves that they just haven’t met “the right one yet” and keep looking for someone who does not exist in real life. Someone who will fill up all their empty places, fix all their wounds, make their life wonderful, and never disappoint. There is no such person. 

To be successful, a long-term marriage takes a good dose of self-awareness, self-reflection and correction, self-sacrifice, and a commitment to growth and maturity from both partners. Requiring or expecting another fallible, limited human being to be your “everything” is unhealthy for you and for him.  

Oswald Chambers warned: “If we love a human being and do not love God, we demand of him every perfection and every rectitude, and when we do not get it, we become cruel and vindictive; we are demanding of a human being that which he or she cannot give. There is only one Being Who can satisfy the last aching abyss of the human heart, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. Why Our Lord is apparently so severe regarding every human relationship is because He knows that every relationship not based on loyalty to Himself will end in disaster.”

You asked where to draw the line between high standards and unrealistic expectations. First, are the high standards for yourself or for the other person? In any relationship, it’s helpful to pay attention to what the other person’s standards are for themselves because they may be very different than what you need or want. 

For example, perhaps you have a set a standard that whoever you marry be highly spiritual, involved in church, and willing to take a leadership role in the family. And the man you’re dating shows no interest or inclination towards those attributes. Or you’ve set a standard that someone you marry will be financially responsible, pay their bills on time, not be in debt, and manages their money well. And if you were to see his credit report or credit card debt, you would find that money management is not one of his highest values or priorities. 

Would it be unreasonable and unrealistic for you to demand that someone live up to your high standards? Yes. You are not in his life to tell him who he should be, nor is he in your life to dictate who you should be. Those are important decisions, but they are made by you and hopefully with God’s guidance. 

Therefore, it’s important that you know what’s most important to you and what high standards you have for yourself as you date someone. For example, if you desire to be honest and you’d like to marry someone who also holds that standard and values honesty, then test that out in the dating relationship. Is he honest? Do you see places where he fudges the truth? Withholds information? Doesn’t tell someone else the truth? Does he appreciate your honesty even when it’s hard or he doesn’t like it? When you say no, or don’t agree with him does he appreciate your honesty? If he doesn’t value honesty in himself or in the relationship, then it would be unrealistic and unreasonable for you to expect him to hold those values, even while you do. 

It’s also important that you understand and accept that you will not always meet your own high standards because you are a limited, sinful human being. There will be times that you disappoint your own self, or your spouse will disappoint you because he won’t meet his or your standards. How do you handle those moments? Ideally, you self-reflect. You examine where you failed, understand what happened, repent, and hopefully take the steps to self-correct without too much condemnation. 

However, if you try to hold him to a high standard that you want but he did not agree to, that only results in conflicts, disappointments, and hurts. That’s why it’s important to know what’s most important to you and see if the two of you are on the same page with mutual values before joining together in marriage. 

When we make our marriage vows, we assume that when someone promises to love, honor, and cherish us, they mean it. When they promise to be faithful, forsaking all others we assume that’s what they value. Later, if you discover they’re watching porn, having an affair, or treating you in ways that are devaluing, that betrayal of trust shakes you to your core. 

It’s true, none of us are perfect and James 3:2 says we all stumble in many ways. But pay attention to how someone handles their failures. Are they disappointed in their own selves? Are they sad that they have harmed you and broken trust in the relationship? Are they eager to make amends and rebuild broken trust? Or, do they make excuses, blame-shift, rationalize, deny, and expect consequences to be canceled because of grace and forgiveness? 

It's not unreasonable for you to have high standards for yourself, and even communicate your desires, dreams, and expectations for your relationship, but depending on the other person’s maturity, self-awareness, and personal values, it may be unrealistic for you to expect them to honor your values or live up to them, especially when reality shows you different.

Friend, how have you dealt with unrealistic or unreasonable expectations when others have put them on you? And if you have standards for yourself, do you expect others to have the same standards?

8 Comments

  1. Caroline Abbott on April 5, 2023 at 9:46 am

    Hmm, this is an interesting discussion. For most of the people that I help, the problem isn’t that their standards are too high, but that they are willing to accept too little. They may wish for someone to be kind and have integrity, but when they see this person isn’t, they ignore the red flags. I read a book by Emily Avagliano called Dating After Trauma, which gave the best description I’ve ever read of how to find a person of integrity. Here is my summary of her points: https://carolineabbott.com/2015/05/make-a-potential-husband-run-the-gauntlet/

    • Missy on April 6, 2023 at 9:53 am

      This was my flaw, as well. I relate to ‘settling’ more than having too high standards.

    • Sherry on April 6, 2023 at 4:29 pm

      Great stuff. Thank you.

  2. Jessica on April 6, 2023 at 9:05 am

    What do you do if they pretended to have the same standards in finances and spiritual matters when you were dating and then after marriage you realize they were a chameleon and it was all a lie? Is it unrealistic to expect them to live up to who they portrayed themselves to be?

    • Leslie Vernick on April 6, 2023 at 6:13 pm

      Jessica, that’s why it’s so important that you observe their standards rather than tell them your standards because some people will pretend to hold to standards that you want just to get you hooked. And this point I think it might be a first step to have an honest conversation about the pretense.(if you can feel safe) …and see what he says about that. Some people want someone to like them or want them so badly they “try” to be what they think the other person wants, instead of being authentically who they are (or haven’t even done the work to know who they are). Or maybe we do “want” to be those things but our old habits die hard and we haven’t actually done the work to be that. Like – I want to get in shape but I can’t seem to find enough time to get to the gym regularly or eat healthy. So time to ask him who does he want to be and what is he willing to do to get there?

  3. Nana on April 6, 2023 at 9:38 am

    I love both Leslie’s AND Caroline’s answers. I think they complete each other’s answers. Thanx, ladies!

  4. Brittany Remle on April 10, 2023 at 10:45 pm

    I am in a marriage and I feel he isn’t living up to my “expectations” but they are in my eyes just things that one should be responsible for as a husband and father of three girls. He isn’t leading as the spiritual leader or contributing it many household responsibilities and it is taking everything I have to keep it together. I want to live the “right life” and lead our daughters and I don’t know sometimes how much more I can handle. I have been in counseling and I have surrendered my expectations and my husband and family to God and I have been focusing on my relationship with God. God is definitely showing up and working on my life and my girls, but there is still sadness that I can’t do this with my husband and my girls don’t always have a positive example in their dad. I do not want to resort to divorce and I have been praying for healing and restoration in our marriage and for my husband. I personally know that this is a common problem with marriages and I would love your input as well.

    • Leslie Vernick on April 12, 2023 at 1:16 am

      Brittany, yes it is sad that your husband has lower expectations for himself than you have for him. You see what he could be capable of as a husband and father but from what you wrote, it sounds as if he is not all that motivated to be that man. So where does that leave you? It’s easy to overfuction and keep it all together but that approach usually leads to resentment and exhaustion. Have you ever asked your husband what kind of dad he wants to be? Perhaps he’s not given it much thought but inviting him to think about it could possibly stir the pot in a positive (and also a negative) way. But God is a great respecter of our right to chose. He does not change someone who has no desire or interest in changing. If that’s the case, and your husband is happy with who he is and how he shows up as a dad and husband, what’s that mean for you? How might you continue your own growth as a person, a woman of God and a mom, without focusing as much on trying to create the marriage you dreamed of having?

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