My Spouse Doesn’t Meet My Needs


What if I marry someone, then I meet somebody prettier or funnier? What if they don’t fulfill me? I’m afraid I’ll become unsatisfied or discontented.

My husband doesn’t meet my needs. You see, I need romance and affection, and my husband just isn’t very affectionate. I need someone who can give me this.

What?s wrong with these statements? What’s wrong is that each of these individuals has expectations that their marriage partner or future marriage partner should always and continually fulfill them.

Tim Keller, in his book The Meaning of Marriage (which I highly recommend) says,

Both men and women today see marriage not as a way of creating character and community but as a way to reach personal life goals. They are all looking for a marriage partner who will fulfill their emotional, sexual, and spiritual desires. And that creates an extreme idealism that in turn leads to deep pessimism that you will ever find the right person to marry. This is the reason so many put off marriage and look right past great prospective spouses that simply are not good enough.

Let me repeat one phrase: They are all looking for a marriage partner who will fulfill their emotional, sexual, and spiritual desires.

When we have an expectation that a husband or wife fulfill us, we set ourselves up for disappointment, because no human being can satisfy another human being. To hope that another human can meet our needs is asking too much of anyone. For only Jesus can meet our needs. Only Jesus can satisfy us. Only Jesus can fulfill all our desires.

Expectations are killers.

If you come into a marriage with expectations of the other person, and then they don’t meet those expectations, you will be frustrated and unhappy. Expectations are dangerous and will always disappoint. Unless you have expectations like these – I expect:

  • That my spouse will fail in many ways.
  • That my spouse will not fulfill my desires.
  • That my spouse will not always try to please me.
  • That my spouse may not always understand me.
  • That my spouse may not always appreciate me.
  • That my spouse may not love me in the way I would want.

If your spouse happens to actually appreciate, love or serve you, then praise God! It will be unexpected. The problem comes when we have expectations and then they aren’t met. Here are a few expectations you can cultivate though – of yourself:

  • That I should serve my spouse and lay down my life for her/him.
  • That I should seek to please my spouse.
  • That I should try to listen to and understand my spouse.
  • That I should seek to lay down my life for my spouse.
  • That I should seek to fulfill his/her desires as best I can.
  • That I should seek to love my spouse.

Here’s my suggestion: Don?t look at where your spouse needs to change. Look to where you need to change. Don’t have expectations of your spouse. If you have expectations, place them on yourself.

If anyone has the right to have expectations of us it is Jesus. Ask him what he would like you to do to please your spouse. Ask him to help you and make you the biggest most cheerful servant in the house and not to worry about if anyone is serving you or not.


  • Elaine says:

    Oh, expectations are so sneaky! Just when you think, "I don't have expectations, much less UNREALISTIC expectations,"….there they are! Always lying in wait for you…yes, I've tripped over that trap more times than I can count.

    Thanks for the encouragement, Mark!

  • Jaimie says:

    This is excellent!! I'm always reminding myself that if I don't expect perfection from myself, I cannot expect perfection from my husband. We're both sinful human beings–but what matters is that we're also both FORGIVEN, LOVED and SAVED children of God! Jesus died for my husband AND for me–and if God loves him that much, then I can, too. :) Thanks for this!

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    Yes, Elaine, our expectations are always so REALISTIC….good comments! Thanks.

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    That's so well put Jamie – keeping the gospel in view is so important and keeps everything else in perspective. Thanks!

  • KCB says:

    My fiance are currently debating where we will live when we have job opportunities in different cities. IE, one person is going to be moving without a job, no matter what.

    It has felt like a giant tug of war. And although I'm not opposed to moving where he has a job, I am scared to move without a job. Truthfully, I should lower my expectations of him and be able to lay down my desires for him, even if I don't feel appreicated for doing so, even if he wasn't as willing to do it for me.

    Good lesson. TRUTH. and yet so hard to follow. I needed to hear it today though.

  • KCB says:

    also, I think its good to remind ourselves daily that we are sinners just like our spouse. By sacraficing my desires, I am not the hero while he is evil. or vice versa in instances where he puts me first. We both fail to love eachother well at times, but luckily we are both loved well by our Savior.

  • Lori says:

    "Here’s my suggestion: Don’t look at where your spouse needs to change. Look to where you need to change. Don’t have expectations of your spouse. If you have expectations, place them on yourself."

    So true! A wise woman once told me in the early years of my marriage (now going on 27 years!) that when I was annoyed with my husband about something that I shouldn't pray that God would change him, but that I would pray that God change me. It was great advice.

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    That is great advice, Lori! Thanks for adding it.

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    Wow KCB, You are really having to walk this through in a situation that is very challenging. It sounds like Jesus is really helping you to have a godly attitude. Yes, you are both loved well by your Savior!

  • I've heard a lot of great things about that Keller book. I should get it. My favorite marriage book is "What Did You Expect??" by Tripp. I remember one morning at a coffee shop, I read a chapter about how we pursued marriage with our spouses for bad reasons — basically, because it makes US feel good.

    I had to call my wife on the way to the office, and apologize for tricking / using her. But I also told her, "Too late! You're stuck with me." :)

  • David says:

    I would say that false expectations are simply a more subtle form of covetousness. If we know our enemy, we have a better chance of not being ambushed by them, so we should call it what it is … it's not discontent or bitterness or entitled and unrealized expectations, it's covetousness.

  • Ben says:

    I want to disagree with you a little, it is only a matter of degrees, but I think it is important. I do want to say before that though that this is an excellent and encouraging post, and a post that I will take to heart personally. That being said, there are some expectations that are healthy. It is fair and healthy that my wife expects me to be faithful to her (physically, emotionally, mentally). It is fair and healthy for my wife to expect that I will not intentionally harm her (spiritually, physically, mentally, or emotionally)-otherwise known as abuse. It is fair and healthy that my wife expect me to be the spiritual head of the household, not that I do that perfectly all of the time. I expect some of the same things from her. We need to have biblical expectations of our spouses, but we need to hold those expectations with love, grace, forgiveness, and (most importantly in my opinion) humility, because we will fail to meet our spouses biblically justified expectations of us. If my wife expects nothing of me, she will get nothing of me.

    Longing (even healthy longing) requires an object, in this case a spouse. We need to understand that God is creating our spouse after His image and not the image we may have crafted of our spouse, but ultimately that is another expectation that we can have of our spouses, that they be seeking and following after Christ.

    Certainly unfair expectations need to be cast aside for what they are, a distortion of reality. But if my wife expected nothing of me, then when she gets nothing (or worse) than there is very little that she could complain about if I am not what God was shaping me to be.

  • @aodtohan says:

    This was so helpful. I want to use this article the next time my wife and I have DATE Time.

  • Susan says:

    I had the exact same situation. My husband's ability to telework was revoked 1.5 months before the wedding, so we were left scrambling- lots of money already in the wedding. We made a hard decision to live apart temporarily because I wouldn't have any real job prospects in his area and we realized if anything were to happen to his company we'd be stuck with a house and no other work options. So, we have commuted, and in the meantime, he got himself a new certification to make himself marketable in the region where I have a great job- and he has much greater career growth opportunity (including a free grad school opportunity). Once his certification came through, he quickly found a job in my area, and we are looking forward to being together in the same city all the time after 10 months of a great marriage. God sustained us, and we have great unity in knowing we made the right decision- we have a very comfortable income and we both have fulfilling jobs. My dad's advice to us last year was sooo true- whatever you decide, make sure you are both unified. Don't make a decision that will make the other bitter for years to come!

  • Donna says:

    "Don’t look at where your spouse needs to change. Look to where you need to change. Don’t have expectations of your spouse. If you have expectations, place them on yourself."

    I can agree that this can be true in a healthy relationship, but I was taught this over and over again when I was in a very emotionally abusive marriage. I was taught if only I changed, if only I endured things would get better, and God would get the glory. There is a time to demand change in a spouse when they are abusive and say "no more". You have no idea how damaging it is to be cheated on, lied to, and abused and to sit there and ask yourself "gee, I was a bit selfish today and maybe spoke harshly to my husband" when he's out adulterating, spending the grocery money on porno, and ranting at me. The sad part is when your abusive husband attends church with you, and hears the pastors saying this from the pulpit, and then they know they can get away with abuse even more because they throw this teaching right back in their wife's face when she dares to protest.

  • lisa says:

    Well put, Ben. I was trying to think of a way to say the exact same thing: it IS a good post in many ways, but I too think it goes a bit far, as there ARE certain right and proper expectations that Christians should have as they enter into marriage. You said it much better than I could have. Thanks. :-)
    Mark, thanks for posting. I agree with much of it; just would temper it a bit. :-)

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    Good one Joey!

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    Never thought of it that way, David. I always thought of covetousness as wanting what someone else had. I'll have to chew on that one…thanks for adding your thoughts!

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    Hey Ben, thanks for adding your excellent thoughts. I agree – there are certain healthy expectations – for example, that our spouse would be faithful to us and not abusive to us. It's a bit tricky at times, though – I know some wives who could be very exasperated because, although their husbands should be the spiritual head of the household, in some cases, the husbands fail in many ways and pretty regularly in this area. This doesn't mean there isn't a place for discussion and encouragement, and asking a husband to do some things, but if we are always "expecting" it, and we don't get it, we can wind up discontent and grumbling inwardly. Actually this topic could have many nuances. I like how you said we need to hold biblical expectations with love, grace, forgiveness and humility.

    I guess I was really trying to focus on the expectation that my spouse will meet my needs and satisfy me, and was not thinking of every kind of expectation, e.g. that my spouse will not beat me physically. That's one of the challenges of writing a blog post versus a book. However, I REALLY appreciate your comments – they are a great addition to the post.

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    Hi Donna, thank you for adding your comments. As I mentioned to Ben above, my main point was that we should be careful of having expectations that my spouse will satisfy my every need. I totally agree with you that we should address adultery, porn use and ranting. And I feel so sad that you had to endure this.

    I also agree that it is ok to look at where your spouse needs to change and to address it for the glory of God. I probably should have written a more nuanced post or mentioned some of the exceptions. So thank you again.

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    Hey Lisa, thank you! I totally agree there are certain right and proper expectations that we can have of our spouses. I was focusing on the expectation that my spouse will meet all my needs. Obviously, I should have included some of the things Ben and others mentioned. Thanks for your gracious input. I need it.

  • David says:

    Newton says unpacks this very well.

  • David says:

    Although it can't be proven exegetically, I think there is a good chance that covetousness was Paul's besetting sin (thorn in the flesh). He lists it specifically as a sin he became aware of in Romans 7, and he speaks of "learning to be content" in Philippians. The bottom line is that I think, as Newton says, this sin is more prevalent and invasive than we give it credit for; we're often confusing branches for the tree itself when it comes to this sin.

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    You have a wise dad…

  • lisa says:

    Good points, Mark. And if and when I do have those unrealistic and unbiblical expectations, I am surely headed for trouble. I like that you also mentioned the areas in which it's right and proper to have expectations (a husband leading spiritually is a great example) but that we sometimes "wind up discontent and grumbling inwardly" if we don't get our expectations met in the way or in the timing that we prefer. I have been guilty of this, and have been very convicted in a really helpful way by the way Gary and Betsy Ricucci put it in their book, Love That Lasts. They talk about how a desire, even a good one, can become a demand, and even, eventually, an idol. Ben's point about holding those expectations with love, grace, forgiveness, and humility is a great one, and I would add *patience* as well, as sanctification and growth in grace is a process, and sometimes a slow one at that.
    Thanks again for the post and for your gracious receiving of input, as usual. :-)

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    Yep – a good desire can become an idol….and yes "patience" – great additions.

  • wip25 says:

    In that case I should be greatly surprised in marriage. I expect that I will have no say in the things that go on in the home. I expect that I will be his slave and property. I expect that he will ignore me completely until he decides he wants to get laid. I expect that I will not ever in a million years matter. Because I am the inferior insignificant worthless woman who is only capable of cleaning his house.

  • wip25 says:

    Mainly, I expect that I will never get married in the first place.

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    Hey wip25, I know it could have sounded like that, and maybe I should have been more nuanced. You could read some of my responses to folks above. I was really targeting the expectation that another human being can fulfill all my needs. Also, I have learned that having "certain" expectations really sets me up for discontentment, and that when I focus more on trying to be a servant, things go much better with me. I would never say anyone is inferior, insignificant or worthless, or that a woman is a man's slave or property or that he should ignore his wife. But at times, when a woman doesn't get the attention she "expects," if she's not deriving her joy and contentment first and foremost from Jesus, it can set her up for frustration. Any way, thanks for responding. I need to hear challenging comments to sharpen the things I post.

  • wip25 says:

    I actually understood what you wrote in the article. I mainly focused on the list where all the expectations were in the negative ie. "That my spouse will fail in many ways." just pointing out one of your examples. You stated afterward that if those were your expectations and you got someone who was the opposite such as. "someone who doesn't ignore me or someone who treats me with respect" then I should be happily surprised because it would be a good thing if they didn't meet my negative expectations. Its really not to misunderstand your article its mainly my own feelings toward marriage and what it means to women in general.

  • sethgrotzke says:

    Thanks for this. Obviously you think Keller's "Meaning of Marriage" is a great resource, what other marriage books would you recommend?

  • Mark Altrogge says:

    When Sinners Say 'I Do" by Dave Harvey, What Did You Expect? by Paul Tripp. This Momentary Marriage by John Piper. Trusting God by Jerry Bridges (not specifically about marriage).

  • Karen says:

    I really need some advice here, over the last two years of my 10 year marriage I have become so unhappy because my husband is so into his career and I spend most of time child rearing and it’s so lonely, he travels a lot and misses church and the god fearing man I used to know seems worldy and insensitive these days…how much loneliness can one tolerate?

  • KCB says:

    thanks for the advice. I am fighting not being bitter. I think we will eventually get to the point where we want the other person's ineterests more than our own but right now, its hard to not want the job I want. Although it would break my heart if taking that job hurt him…so we are praying.

    I don't know if we can live apart (3.5 hours) Although I am still doubting, I did feel the Lord nudging me to let go and know he would take care of me (and my job) in a new city. So, I have to trust that giving it up to honor my fiance is in obediance to the Lord and He will honor that by guiding and providing for us as we move.

    Thanks for the advice y'all!

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  • Tamara says:

    What suggestions would you give to a single person in regards to being wise in choosing a potential future spouse while not having expectations?

  • Ariel says:

    Hmmm…. as a Christian woman who has been married to a Christian man for 16 years and had many marital struggles due to my husband's sin, I have to disagree with this. God's word is very clear on what is commanded of a husband and wife in marriage. If my husband is a professing Christian, I have every reason to expect him to desire to please God. He will fail, as will I. However, living in unrepentant sin for several years is NOT pleasing to God and not something I should happily support. So to say that I should have no expectation of Biblical behavior from a professing believer is…. well, not Biblical. Christian couples who truly desire to obey God WILL desire to please and fulfull thier spouses. It is not an unrealistic expectation to think your spouse will show you love, care and affection. "The greatest of these is love" and of course, God clearly defines what love looks like in great detail. Behaving in a selfishly is unloving. If I had no expectation of my Christian husband to behave in a Godly way, then it wouldn't matter who I married, even an unbeliever.

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