Expectations in a relationship
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Along with the fancy weekly newsletter, I'm also going to give you access to 4 exercises that will help you stop obsessing over your ex as soon as you sign up.
Expectations are a double-edged sword; on the one hand, they are a necessary form of quality control in our relationships. On the other, they tend to produce unnecessary emotional struggle and conflict when held too high. But when are expectations held too high? Well, here are a few sure-fire signs.
Signs your expectations in a relationship are too high
- You're making unfavorable comparisons to an idealized relationship.
- You're limiting your partner's freedom (not letting them chat with other people, go out with friends, acting needy, etc.)
- You have a chain of ex-partners who you dumped because they could not meet your expectations.
- You're making your partner responsible for your feelings and well-being.
- Your self-worth/self-esteem and happiness depends on your partner.
How Unreasonable expectations form and work
Unreasonable expectations are dangerous because they tend to distort reality and suck you into a fairytale - a land where your partner meets all of the expectations. And when it turns out that reality is different from your fairytale, you begin to feel distressed.
Let's take an old client of mine — call him Matt — as an example.
Matt expected his girlfriend to always be in the mood for sex. And if she wasn't, he panicked, began to blame himself for it, and progressed into a devastating anxiety spiral.
Because, deep down, Matt believed that something must be fundamentally wrong with him and his relationship since his girlfriend wasn't always in the mood for sex — at least not as frequently as in their first year of the relationship.
In reality, nothing was wrong. Matt was with the same person for over five years. At that point, you can naturally expect not to have sex as frequently as in the Honeymoon period to which Matt was still comparing his sex life.
We also have to point out that this misconception wasn't all Matt's fault. He was raised in a family where his parents divorced early on and stayed single. Therefore, he had no role models to look up to when it comes to forming healthy relationships.
The only understandings of how relationships work that Matt got were solely based on popular movies and porn. And we all know how unrealistically sex is presented there. Also, this woman that Matt had sex issues with was his highschool sweetheart. Meaning he has no other relationship experience but this one.
So ultimately, the misconceptions Matt has around sex were to be expected. But Matt is only one example of a person with unrealistic expectations. There are many others who share the same challenges in many different life areas.
How to start managing Unreasonable expectations successfully
One way of handling unreasonable expectations in relationships is to:
- Consider that you may be wrong about them.
- Question your basic understanding of expectations in a relationship.
- After concluding that how you perceive relationships is (perhaps) flawed, fill in the blanks with more accurate information.
In practical terms, this whole process would translate to three simple steps. To start, ask yourself:
- Are my expectations based on reliable, substantial evidence, or do they stem only from only a few personal experiences?
- Are these expectations actually possible to be satisfied and met all the time? What's the source of my unreasonable expectations?
- Where did I pick them up? In what experiences/events/movies/lyrics?
- Is it unreasonable to expect XYZ from my partner under our/their current circumstances?
- Is it proper and ethical to expect my partner to behave like XYZ at this time/ all the time?
I wish that the answers to these questions would appear quickly, but they don't — it takes a lot of self-awareness to find the correct ones. The ones that actually help you in your love life, not hinder you.
After you've concluded on the state of your expectations, open up Google and begin researching subjects that go entirely against your initial understanding of relationships and the expectations you attach to this understanding.
In the end, all that's left is to make sense of all the data you gathered and thus make a conclusion: are my expectations unreasonable or not?
If you find out that they are not, keep having faith in them. But if you find out that your expectations are actually unreasonable, try to drop them, and replace them with ones that you deem reasonable. This should be easy to do if you went through the above process — becoming aware of your expectations means you already won half the battle, probably even more.
Here's an example of how I went through this process.
Years ago, I believed that conflict is a bad sign in relationships. Naturally, I never thought about challenging my reality and googling about how my understanding may be false. Luckily, some random day, I stumbled on John Gottman's work — where the premise is how conflict is normal in relationships. From there on out, my view on this topic changed drastically. I could see how I had skewed expectations around arguing in relationships.
Ultimately, for all of this to work, you have to be prepared, able, and willing to examine and consider reality as it is, not the way you want it to be or think it should be. Radical self-awareness is a must.