[Katarina Stratford]: You don’t always have to be who they want you to be, you know?
[Bianca Stratford]: I happen to like being adored, thank you!
– 10 Things I hate about you (1999)
In every relationship, be it romantic, familial, or platonic, expectations play a vital role in shaping the dynamics and overall satisfaction. However, it is crucial to maintain a healthy balance when it comes to expectations. Unrealistic or uncommunicated expectations can lead to misunderstandings, resentment, and ultimately, the erosion of the relationship itself.
In this article, I will explore the significance of cultivating healthy expectations in relationships and offer practical tips for fostering stronger bonds.
The Difference Between Expectations And Standards
They are related concepts but have distinct differences:
Standards refer to the criteria or qualities that individuals hold for themselves and the relationship. They represent the values, behaviors, and qualities that a person considers important and desirable in themselves and their partner.
Standards are often seen as personal guidelines that shape one’s choices and actions. They reflect the individual’s boundaries, deal-breakers, and non-negotiables. Standards are typically self-imposed and guide a person’s decisions and behavior within the relationship. They are more focused on personal values and self-worth.
Expectations, on the other hand, are beliefs or assumptions about what one anticipates or hopes will happen in the relationship. They involve specific outcomes, actions, or behaviors that a person anticipates from their partner or the relationship itself.
Expectations can be influenced by societal norms, cultural values, and personal experiences. They can include things like emotional support, communication styles, frequency of contact, or shared activities. Expectations can be explicit or implicit, and they shape how individuals perceive their partner’s actions and judge the success or failure of the relationship.
Therefore, standards are more internally focused and represent the personal values and qualities that individuals hold for themselves and their partner. They are broader guidelines that inform one’s choices and boundaries. Expectations, on the other hand, are more externally focused and involve specific beliefs and assumptions about how the partner or the relationship should behave or function. They are more specific and action-oriented, defining what an individual hopes or anticipates from their partner or the relationship.
“It doesn’t matter how much you love someone, you are never going to be what that person wants you to be.”
– Don Miguel Ruiz, The Mastery of Love: A Practical Guide to the Art of Relationship
Why Expectations Can Cause Problems In Relationships (and Solutions)
Expectations in a relationship can potentially cause problems due to various reasons:
1. Unspoken or Uncommunicated Expectations
When expectations are not clearly expressed or communicated between partners, it can lead to misunderstandings and frustrations. Assumptions about what the other person should know or do can create tension and conflict. Lack of communication hinders the ability to align expectations and find common ground.
- Practice open and honest communication. Encourage regular conversations with your partner about your expectations, needs, and desires.
- Create a safe space where both partners feel comfortable expressing their expectations and actively listen to each other’s perspectives.
- Clarify any assumptions and ensure that expectations are clearly communicated to avoid misunderstandings.
2. Unrealistic or Idealized Expectations
Unrealistic expectations can place an undue burden on both partners. Believing that a relationship should be perfect or that your partner should fulfill all your needs and desires can set an unattainable standard. When reality falls short of these lofty expectations, disappointment and resentment may arise, negatively impacting the relationship.
- Foster realistic expectations by acknowledging that relationships are not perfect and that both partners have limitations.
- Focus on appreciating the strengths and positive qualities of your partner and the relationship. Discuss and align your expectations with what is reasonable and attainable, considering the unique dynamics of your relationship.
- Embrace acceptance and gratitude for the realities of your partnership.
3. Imbalance in Expectations
When one partner’s expectations significantly outweigh the other’s or when expectations are one-sided, it can lead to an imbalance of power and dissatisfaction. This can create a sense of unfairness and make one partner feel neglected or unappreciated. A healthy relationship requires both partners to have their expectations acknowledged and considered.
- Foster a sense of fairness and balance by acknowledging and valuing each other’s expectations.
- Engage in open dialogue to understand and consider each other’s needs and desires.
- Seek compromises that address both partners’ expectations and find common ground where both parties feel heard, respected, and satisfied.
4. Comparison with Others
Comparing one’s relationship to others can lead to discontentment and unrealistic expectations. Social media and external influences can paint an idealized picture of relationships, making individuals believe their own relationship is inadequate. This can put strain on the relationship and prevent the partners from appreciating and valuing their unique bond.
- Focus on your own relationship rather than comparing it to others.
- Recognize that every relationship is unique and has its own strengths and challenges.
- Limit exposure to unrealistic portrayals of relationships on social media and other external influences. Instead, cultivate appreciation for the qualities and experiences that make your relationship special and meaningful.
5. Rigidity and Inflexibility
Being rigid and inflexible with expectations can hinder growth and adaptation within the relationship. Relationships evolve over time, and both partners change and grow as individuals. If expectations remain fixed and unyielding, it becomes challenging to navigate these natural transitions, leading to feelings of stagnation or suffocation.
- Embrace flexibility and adaptability within the relationship. Recognize that both partners will grow and change over time, and expectations may need adjustments accordingly.
- Allow space for personal growth and encourage open dialogue about evolving expectations.
- Be willing to compromise and find solutions that accommodate the changing needs and circumstances of both partners.
6. Failure to Meet Expectations
When expectations are not met, it can lead to disappointment, frustration, and a breakdown in trust. Continuous disappointment can erode the emotional connection and create a cycle of unmet expectations, leading to resentment and dissatisfaction within the relationship.
- Foster a culture of understanding and empathy when expectations are not met.
- Approach disappointments with open communication and empathy, seeking to understand the reasons behind the unmet expectations.
- Focus on problem-solving together and finding compromises that address the needs and concerns of both partners. Rebuilding trust and strengthening the emotional connection is crucial in overcoming the impact of unmet expectations.
Managing expectations in a relationship is crucial to mitigate these potential problems. Open and honest communication, realistic expectations, empathy, and a willingness to adapt and compromise are essential for fostering a healthy and fulfilling relationship.
How To Manage Expectations In Relationships: Practical Tips
Managing expectations in a relationship is crucial for maintaining a healthy and harmonious connection. Here are some practical tips to help you navigate this aspect effectively:
Start by reflecting on your own expectations and desires. Understand your needs, values, and boundaries. This self-awareness will help you communicate your expectations more clearly to your partner.
Engage in open and honest conversations with your partner about your expectations. Clearly express what you desire, and listen attentively to their expectations as well. Establishing effective communication channels helps prevent misunderstandings and promotes a deeper understanding of each other’s needs.
Be realistic about what you expect from your partner and the relationship. Understand that no one is perfect, and relationships require effort and compromise from both parties. Avoid setting unattainable standards or expecting your partner to fulfill all your emotional needs.
Flexibility and compromise
Relationships involve two individuals with different perspectives and needs. Embrace flexibility and be willing to compromise. Seek common ground and find solutions that honor both your needs and those of your partner. This approach fosters a sense of fairness and equality within the relationship.
Assumptions can lead to misunderstandings and frustration. Instead of assuming, ask for clarification. Communicate openly and directly, seeking to understand each other’s perspectives and intentions. This proactive approach can prevent unnecessary conflicts.
Cultivate empathy and try to understand your partner’s point of view. Empathy allows you to connect on a deeper level, fostering compassion and understanding. Put yourself in their shoes and consider their feelings and needs when managing expectations.
Focus on the present
Avoid dwelling on past disappointments or projecting future expectations onto the present moment. Embrace the here and now, appreciating the progress you have made as a couple. By focusing on the present, you can foster gratitude and contentment.
Remember that personal growth and fulfillment are individual responsibilities. Avoid relying solely on your partner to meet all your needs. Pursue your passions, engage in self-care practices, and nurture your own well-being. When you take care of yourself, you bring a healthier and more balanced version of yourself into the relationship.
Approach your partner with compassion and understanding. Acknowledge that they have their own struggles, insecurities, and challenges. Show empathy and offer support during difficult times. Compassion fosters a sense of emotional connection and helps you navigate expectations with kindness and patience.
It involves thoughtfulness and taking into account the feelings, needs, and perspectives of your partner. Consideration helps create a supportive and caring environment within the relationship
Regularly express appreciation and gratitude for your partner’s efforts, kindness, and qualities. Recognize their contributions to the relationship and make sure they feel valued. Appreciation cultivates a positive and nurturing environment, where both partners feel acknowledged and cherished.
Treat your partner with respect, kindness, and dignity. Respect their boundaries, opinions, and individuality. Engage in open and non-judgmental communication. Respecting each other’s autonomy and differences helps foster a healthy and balanced dynamic in the relationship.
Dedicate quality time to nurture the relationship. Prioritize spending meaningful moments together, engaging in activities that both partners enjoy. Create a space for open conversations, shared experiences, and mutual growth. Regularly investing time and effort in the relationship strengthens the bond and reinforces the connection.
Comparison can be detrimental to a relationship. Each relationship is unique, and comparing your partner or the dynamics of your relationship to others can breed dissatisfaction and resentment. Focus on your own journey as a couple, embracing the strengths and growth opportunities that are specific to your relationship.
Nurturing healthy expectations in relationships is an ongoing process that requires self-awareness, open communication, mutual respect, flexibility, and personal responsibility. By embracing these principles, you can build stronger bonds, deepen understanding, and create a fulfilling and harmonious relationship.
Healthy expectations are not about perfection, but about fostering growth, love, and support within the relationship.