“Expectation is the root of all heartache” – William Shakespeare
We are not sure if the wizened old bard actually said these words (though the internet attributes it to him!) but you can’t deny the truism in it. Expectations in relationships can be quite the spoilsports.
Yes, we know what you are thinking – these things are easier said than done. How can you not expect anything while dating the love of your life? How can you live without expectations? What is wrong with expecting your partner to do certain things for you? You are right, we hear you! Who said it was ever easy?
But while it would be foolhardy to imagine we can all be saints and nuns who do everything without hoping to get anything in return, what you can do is learn the fine art of managing your expectations. Once you have those wayward, undisciplined emotions under control, you can ensure that if (god forbid) your beau hurts you, it well… hurts less! Also, you can perhaps bounce back stronger than before.
Why Do We Expect In Relationships?
Having expectations in relationships is natural. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You need not be ashamed or defensive about them either. We have all been brought up on certain values and observations. As we grow up, these become an integral part of our persona. A lot of it also comes from conditioning.
Like it or not, but we have greater expectations from life partner than we do from, say a neighbor or sibling or even a boss. This is arguably because we have been fed romantic notions of love, marriage, and ‘happily ever after’, which is not exactly what life is about. Does that mean it is futile to have expectations in relationships?
Most certainly not! In fact, research says that having positive expectations in relationships can lead to better interpersonal functioning. According to a study carried out at the University of Maryland, the motivations and evaluations of a relationship were positive among couples with high expectations, with them showing more forgiveness and less contempt towards each other.
The theory relates to the standards and expectations in relationships.
When you expect loyalty, honesty, intimacy, trust etc. It means you are setting high standards and you will actively seek it. You are far likely to achieve these qualities than by lowering your standards and expectations in relationships. On the other hand, if for some reason, you do not get what you expect, disappointment is natural.
But then, this sets the stage for you to demand or make the situation work for you by having a conversation with your spouse or taking steps to get your goals. In a nutshell, you can manage your expectations in relationships only once you are aware of whether they are being met or not. Either way, it is better to HAVE expectations and act on them than to NOT have them and lead a dull life.
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How To Manage Your Expectations In A Relationship?
It is healthy to have realistic and natural expectations. But you really can’t expect others to change for you or for them to behave the way you want them to. Emotional distress arises when your expectations are repeatedly unmet, for our brains are wired in a way to assign additional meaning to all that’s happening around us.
You mix your past experiences with the person, add more elements to an already fragile situation and it ends up adding to your disappointment. For example, if you expect that your partner should always attend events and parties with you and they fail to do so, you may feel let down. When this happens constantly, you may tag their other weaknesses to this tendency, amplifying their negative traits. It all results in a relationship disaster.
To avoid unmet expectations from becoming a root cause of an unhappy relationship, here’s how you can manage them the right way:
1. Know what bad expectations are
To avoid pain, it’s first important to know what unhealthy relationship expectations are. Knowingly or unknowingly, when setting expectations in a relationship, sometimes we place the bar too high, which then weighs heavily on our minds even before we properly begin dating.
If you want your man to be hotter than Zac Efron, very rich, and spend every waking moment with you, sorry, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. You are focusing on precise credentials on a checklist than overall values. Expect your partner to be well-groomed, supportive, and kind instead of pinpointing their exact height or bank balance.
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2. Know what you want in life
Rule number 1 of a successful love life: You can’t have it all at all times. In other words, have realistic expectations in relationships. That means knowing what you want from a serious relationship. Don’t be afraid to spell out your expectations from your life partner or current romantic partner.
And if you are confused, try and list what you definitely don’t want. Generally, when you meet and date a lot of people, you will know for yourself what your heart truly desires from a serious relationship. This can be an impetus to help you work toward your goals and can make sure you won’t end up marrying the wrong person who fails to meet any of your expectations.
3. Accept disappointment on certain occasions
You need to remember that at times reasonable expectations may not be met either. It’s life and these things happen. Your boyfriend or girlfriend may forget an important occasion, they might say something rude during a fight, their reactions might come as a shocker in certain situations.
Ask yourself to what extent are you willing to forgive trespasses.
If you have too rigid expectations, you will find it tougher to forgive even the smaller mistakes of your partner. On the contrary, if you have a balance between your expectations and their fulfillment, you will be able to manage your emotions better.
4. Expectations vs need and want
Kim Eng, motivational speaker and author Ekhart Tolle’s partner, has an interesting theory about partner expectations.
“There is nothing wrong in having expectations in relationships, but don’t attach too much meaning to them,” she says. What is needed instead is to look within and see if these are healthy or they arise from the unconscious part of the ‘pain-body’.
For example, let’s say you and your partner don’t see eye to eye on the time you spend together. First, objectively look at the number of hours you are with each other. Even during those hours, do you feel satisfied and fulfilled or is there a longing? If they stay away from you far more than they should and you still are clinging to them, then obviously, you fear being alone and the relationship is not on an even keel.
5. Have goals and a life of your own
Guess when expectations ruin relationships? It’s when you project a lot, if not all, of your desires and wants on to your partner. In the process, you unintentionally set the bar unrealistically high probably because you are seeking the fulfillment of your expectations from yourself through your partner.
Why do some traditional men seek wives who are perfect homemakers?
Probably because they suck at managing household work. Seek relationships to complement you and not complete you. If you have life goals, a successful career and you love yourself, you will seek a man or woman who enhances those qualities and not fulfill them.
6. Be honest and communicate better
Open, candid communication is the key to healthy relationships. It doesn’t require a genius to figure that out. But in the realm of setting expectations in relationships, the importance of an honest chat increases manifold. Please do not expect your partner to know what you want.
Whether you are dating or planning a marriage, it is better to spell out loud and clear what you expect. From simple things to doing the dishes and watching TV to life-altering decisions relating to children, finance and more, be clear about your viewpoint.
Clashes arise when you and your partner can’t reach a middle ground on issues you don’t agree on.
7. Learn to appreciate and not criticize
When you focus too much on your expectations, it often robs you of the happiness you can derive from the simple joys of life. So, it’s not that expectations ruin relationships. Setting them in stone does. If you truly love your partner, do not judge them based on whether they did things for you the way you wanted or not.
Instead, focus on the positives of your relationship. Let’s say your spouse spends too much time on his gaming console and less time with the kids. And that irks you. Rather than turning it into an issue, pay attention to how he is when does spend time with them.
Perhaps in the few hours he spends with them, he makes it worth every minute. Look for things to appreciate and not criticize. It doesn’t mean you overlook the fault lines. Just that you give equal weightage to the good and the bad.
Related Reading: Here’s How To Stop Constant Arguing In A Relationship
8. Do not compare your relationship with others
Comparisons go hand in hand with unrealistic relationship expectations. When you see the qualities or abilities you wished in your partner in someone else, it adds to the heartburn. This happens because you expect your partner to fill every void, every need, every want, and every vacuum.
Joined-at-the-hip couples look ideal in movies and books. In reality, even those who share the closest relationships have to make some compromises or the other. The way to get past this is to own and recognize your expectations. More importantly, note that they are not the rules that your partner should live by too. Also, ask yourself – are you living up to their expectations in relationships?
Truth be told, there is no right or wrong in expectations, so long as you are realistic about them and know how to manage them. But once again, the term ‘realistic’ is also subjective. What is realistic and reasonable to one, may not be so to another.
Ultimately, what works is your chemistry and bond. If the foundation of your relationship is strong, then the extent of your expectations doesn’t really make a difference.
On the contrary, expectations are positive and healthy in relationships because they give you a certain set of standards to live by. When you have expectations, you try and fulfill them, setting relationship goals in the process. Healthy, realistic expectations add value to relationships.
Expectations do not ruin relationships, your poor management of emotions and the aftermath of them not being fulfilled is what ruins it. Also, when expectations of both partners are completely divergent, arising from opposite perspectives on the same issues, it leads to clashes and conflicts. Also, repeated unfulfillment of expectations can lead to disappointments and when disappointments add up, it leads to relationships falling apart.
A no-expectation relationship should not exist. It means you either have no feelings toward your partner or that you are not aware of what you want from your life and your relationship. If you are aware of your wants, desires and goals, expectations will be woven in them.
Introspect about the source of your expectations. Are they healthy or do they arise from the unconscious part of the ‘pain-body’? Dealing with unmet expectations requires you to look within and see what parts of them were reasonable and what were not. How has it affected you or the way you see yourself?
You do not need to get rid of expectations in relationships. You only need to manage them well. And this means possessing the ability to look at what is reasonable and what is not, learning to appreciate your partner and strike a balance between the good and bad qualities, and knowing exactly what you want from a relationship.