Whether you are in a fresh relationship and trying to decide what to expect from it, or you are trying to make your marriage better, discussing expectations of each other is important in your relationship. Before you start discussing your expectations, you have to figure out what they are, and you need to be sure that they are reasonable. This can be difficult, as many people tend to stick to unrealistic expectations, which then causes problems in their relationship. Finally, if you are not expressing your expectations, they will remain unknown and will put a stop to your growth as a couple as they appear.
The suffocation model.
Researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Chicago developed the suffocation model of marriages in America, which describes how Americans look at their marriages as a tool for the fulfillment of their self-actualization and as a factor that affects their self-esteem. Marriage requires psychological resources and time for both partners to communicate with each other. Unfortunately, most couples do not invest the necessary resources to enjoy the rewards that marriage offers. This results in mediocre levels of personal well-being, which in turn leads to lower marital quality and a decline in the relationship.
One characteristic of the suffocation model is that partners struggle with an imbalance between what they are expecting from their marriage and what they are investing in it. This model also allows individuals to recognize how they see their current relationship, or discover what may have occurred in a past relationship.
Expectations and issues.
It is more than okay to expect things in your relationship. You cannot have a relationship without a few expectations. If nothing else, you at least expect that you and your partner will define the relationship (e.g. casual dating, exclusive, engaged, married). Furthermore, it is completely reasonable to expect that your relationship will face challenges along the way, but these will help you and your partner grow both individually and as a couple. Some of the challenges that you may encounter along the way include differing political views or parenting styles. Other challenges can have a severe impact on both of you (e.g., the loss of a child). Expectations are like challenges and nothing will stop your relationship faster than unrealistic expectations. Realistic expectations are important because they guide us, but when we allow them to get out of control, they become unrealistic, which will harm our relationships by alienating our partners and by creating a toxic relationship. If you want to build a strong, healthy, and happy relationship, you need to learn how to manage expectations and set realistic boundaries.
Factors that shape expectations.
Early experiences, especially childhood experiences, are important, as they shape the expectations we set for our partners or friends. For example, if we were raised in a home where one parent was expected to bear all the emotional labor, you might come to understand your own expectations of your future partner.
A fear of lonelinessmight be affecting you or your partner. Many of us have agreed to be with someone just because it was better than being alone. Sometimes, these expectations take the shape of a checklist. By ticking all the boxes, we think we are guaranteed to be happy. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. If we are not happy with ourselves, then we will not be happy with someone else. If we want to find love in a relationship, we must first learn to love ourselves.
Now, let’s have a look at some common unrealistic and realistic expectations.
“True love doesn’t take work.”
When people fall in love, they often find themselves falling into the expectation of “if we love each other, we don’t need to work.” This expectation is wrong, and it can lead both partners to take the relationship for granted. Relationships, whether dating or marriage, require effort and work to stay strong, healthy, and happy.
We’ve all thought at least once in our life that true love is unconditional. While this is romantic to believe, just because you love someone does not mean you should accept every bad behavior or decision they make. True love should be about respecting each other’s boundaries and accepting that both partners need to work to become the best for each other.
“Frequent sex is a sign of healthy relationships.”
While frequent sex can be beneficial, the expectation that daily sex is a must can destroy a relationship. Intimacy is a slow process that happens in certain situations. If you are not respecting each other and your boundaries and are insisting that sex happens no matter what, then you are slowly killing your relationship. You don’t have to have lots of sex because movies tell you so. Both of you should take your time and be comfortable in your own way and pace.
“They know me by now.”
Another unrealistic expectation that can create toxicity within a relationship is that your partner knows how you are feeling or what they need to do to make you feel better. This is a self-centered thought, and an unrealistic one. Of course, if we need a certain response from our partner, we should let them know, but don’t expect them to magically know how you feel or what you’re thinking.
All people should expect respect. You and your partner may not be perfect, but when you both expect respect from each other, you ensure that you are working for the best of your relationship. Respect leads to communication and honesty, which in turn lead to positive emotions.
Everyone should expect that their partners will spend time with them. If you are holding back and not setting aside some time for each other, you aren’t making your relationship a priority. If you feel like this, it’s a good idea to talk to your partner about what you both consider to be a reasonable amount of time to spend with each other and make a plan.
Manage your expectations and ensure a healthy relationship.
People who want to change their relationships and improve, both as individuals and as partners, need to be realistic about the things they ask of their partner. Stop looking at what society dictates. Stop looking for the negatives and concentrate on the positives instead. The more honest you are within your relationship, the easier it becomes to synchronize your needs with your partner’s needs and build a relationship where both of you are happy. Overcome false thoughts and unrealistic expectations with a few easy tips:
Learn what’s realistic and what is unrealistic.
The first step in overcoming negativity is to spend time understanding what’s realistic and what’s not. There are many unrealistic expectations that may seem logical to us, but these only undermine our happiness and encourage resentment and negativity. If you want to know what kind of expectations are realistic, you have to be honest with yourself and your partner. Take the time and try to see things from another perspective. Question the things you want from your partner, and question why you want them. If they are related to self-esteem and self-achievement, then they are most likely unrealistic.
Make an effort to value the positive things your partner brings into your life. Whenever you are confronted with something that frustrates you, look for something that you are grateful for. In this way, you will see your relationship in a different light.
Comparing your partner with others is toxic. With all the competition in society these days, we tend to let society influence our way of thinking. We tend to compare our loved ones with other people who may be more successful or richer. Stop comparing your relationship and remove these expectations from your partner. Embrace your relationship as it is and commit to creating new memories together with your partner. Keep in mind that in your relationship, you can both grow together.
Discuss it with your partner.
Take time and discuss expectations with your partner. Sit in a place where you both feel safe and start opening up about what you need and what you expect from your relationship. Give each other space and really listen to each other. Be honest, as that will make it easier to break down the barriers that unrealistic expectations and thoughts create.
Even during a divorce, partners will find themselves having expectations about custody, child support, and so on. As an individual, you cannot satisfy every single expectation, and others will not meet your own expectations, either. This is the reality you need to come to terms with. Our expectations can be important because they guide us towards the relationship that we need, but when we fail to be realistic, we put ourselves at risk for disappointment and heartache. If you truly want to build a relationship that will last, you have to recognize these expectations and then work to manage them effectively. If you work with your partner as a team, you have nothing to be afraid of. Having a strong, healthy, and happy relationship just takes a little effort. If you’re still having difficulty managing your expectations, you may consider visiting a professional, like a relationship coach, who can help you overcome these obstacles.
Finkel, E. J., Hui, C. M., Carswell, K. L., & Larson, G. M. (2014). The suffocation of marriage: Climbing Mount Maslow without enough oxygen. Psychological Inquiry, 25(1), 1-41. https://doi.org/10.1080/1047840x.2014.863723