Expectations in a relationship are often demonized as the root cause of discontentment, differences, and alienation. They are also an inevitable part and parcel of being attached to another person. Whether you’re getting into a new relationship or working to make an existing one healthier, expectations will always be at play. It’s hard to have no expectations in a relationship.
Contrary to popular belief, they’re not necessarily a bad thing. Provided you know how to differentiate between realistic and unrealistic expectations, communicate them clearly, and don’t set them in stone. In fact, the right approach to expectation setting can help weed out so many common issues that couples squabble over and which may even turn into a chronic source of conflict. Now that we have established that having expectations from a partner is natural and inevitable, it’s also important to reiterate that you must also make a conscious effort to keep these realistic and achievable.
This brings up a slew of questions: How do you healthily set relationship expectations? What are normal expectations in a relationship? How do you determine what a relationship partner should expect from the other? Where do you draw the line between idealistic and reasonable expectations in a relationship? These can be extremely confusing dilemmas to resolve. Fret not, for we have the answers for you. We will tell you how to communicate expectations in a relationship, in consultation with psychotherapist Jui Pimple, a trained Rational Emotive Behavior Therapist and A Bach Remedy practitioner, who specializes in online counseling.
How Do You Set Relationship Expectations?
A lack of clarity about standards and expectations in relationships can be lethal. If you’ve found yourself wondering do expectations ruin relationships, know that it is not the act of expecting something from your partner that’s damaging. The inability to lay ground rules about healthy expectations is often the real culprit. The process of setting expectations in a relationship – old or new – must always begin with yourself.
Before you start laying the ground rules for your partner about what works and what doesn’t, you must be absolutely certain about these things. So, take the time to reflect. Understand what it is that you seek in a relationship, without making it person-specific. For instance, focus on how important are trust and respect for you in a romantic partnership without thinking about these things in the context of your current (or potential) partner.
This is absolutely essential for setting new relationship expectations but can also work just as well if you and your partner have been together a long time, have not defined your expectations from one another and the weight of undefined – ergo, unmet – expectations has now become a source of hurt, disappointment and resentment in your relationship.
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There is no doubt having high expectations in a relationship can be detrimental in the long run. You will keep feeling disappointed and frustrated when your partner would not be able to live up to the expectations. This is why clarity on needs, wants and expectations in a relationship is crucial. It is also important to think about your life goals, values, and readiness to be emotionally invested in another person before talking about expectations in a relationship.
Approach the exercise by jotting down a “my expectations from my life partner” list, then go over it a few times to assess which of these are must-have for a wholesome relationship and which are negotiable. Allow your partner time to go through this process as well. Once you’re past this stage, work together toward setting expectations in a relationship. Having reasonable expectations in a relationship will prove sensible in the long run. In doing so, here are a few things to be mindful of:
1. Be subtle
You cannot just hand a list to your partner, saying “Here are my expectations from this relationship.” That’s just not how it works. Instead, emphasize things that are important to you, so that they begin to understand that this is what you expect from them. For instance, instead of saying, “We’re meeting my friends for dinner and I expect you to be on time”, try saying, “It’s important to me that we’re on time for this dinner with my friends”.
This will help you communicate expectations in a relationship in a manner that doesn’t turn into a constant sore point in your equation with your partner. Also, it will help ensure that your partner doesn’t see your attempt at setting expectations in a relationship as a “my way or the highway” declaration. Jui advises, “When setting expectations in a relationship, it’s important to remember that this is a two-way street. So, it’d be nice to first ask about your partner’s expectations from this relationship and you, and then gradually share yours.”
2. Be clear
Don’t confuse subtlety with dropping vague hints. Expecting that you and your partner would spend the weekend together and then saying things like “I wish you were here” may not work. Instead, tell them, “I’d very much like it if you could free up your weekends so we can have more time together.” Whether or not your partner is receptive to your needs depends greatly on how you communicate expectations in a relationship.
You need to set standards and expectations in a relationship and you need to be clear and vocal about what you want. Dropping hints, being vague does not help, be very clear. If you look at the examples of high expectations in a relationship that become a source of conflict – one partner constantly demanding time and attention, leaving the other feeling smothered – you’d notice that this happens due to a lack of communication. When backed with clear reasoning, setting expectations in a relationship becomes easier.
3. Do it together
Expectations are a two-way street, and it is important that both you and your partner feel heard and understood. Working to set expectations together is a great way to achieve that. Talk about what is acceptable and what is not, how much you’re both willing to compromise, where you see the relationship going and whatever else fits the context of your dynamics.
This will prevent you from unloading unrealistic expectations on your partner. For instance, one of the examples of high expectations in a relationship could be that you expect your partner to cook every day after work, and just lay that demand on them without any discussion. Naturally, it can make your partner feel like they’re being taken advantage of. But if you divide that work, maybe you do the chopping and he cooks because you feel you are a lousy cook, then you are working things out together.
4. Don’t sweat at the small stuff
How to communicate expectations in a relationship? When setting expectations in a relationship, you must know how to separate the wheat from the chaff. Otherwise, you will find yourself caught in a string of unmet expectations, making your relationship an unhappy place. So, think long and hard about what’s non-negotiable for you and what’s not when drawing out a list of expectations in a relationship.
For instance, infidelity being unacceptable is reasonable because it can have real consequences on your future together. However, expecting them to show up at your workplace every Friday evening with flowers in hand is a rather inconsequential expectation that you can let go of. Maybe that’s not their style of expressing love and they make up for it in myriad other ways.
Leena, a postgraduate student, says, “Ever since I moved to a new city for my master’s degree, my boyfriend and I are trying our best to make this long-distance relationship work. However, my boyfriend has unrealistic expectations like asking me to stay in on Friday nights and weekends, and spend all my free time with him over video calls. Honestly, it’s beginning to suffocate me a little.” She plans to talk to her partner about it when they meet next, and begin the process of redefining expectations in the relationship.
5. Keep an open mind
“When discussing standards and expectations in relationships, it is crucial to keep an open mind. You and your partner are two different people with distinct personalities, it is normal to have different expectations,” says Jui. Mismatched expectations in a relationship can be a recipe for disaster, so it’s vital to be willing to reach a common ground whenever you feel that your and your partner’s views on a matter are diametrically opposite.
For instance, guys’ expectations in a relationship can be very different from girls’, and this can lead to clashes and arguments. One way to avoid this is to accept that it is only natural that your ideas will not converge at all times. You may even have opposing views on some matters and that’s all right. Keep an open mind and listen to understand their perspective and not to counter it. Then, work together to find a middle ground that’s acceptable to you both.
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12 Realistic Expectations In Relationships
Now that you understand how to set and communicate expectations in a relationship, we come to the next crucial aspect of expectation setting – keeping it realistic. So, what are normal expectations in a relationship? How do you assess whether what you’re expecting from a significant other falls in the realm of realistic expectations? One simple way to avoid unrealistically high expectations from a relationship is to pause and think, “What do I bring to the table?”
While having no expectations in a relationship is unrealistic, setting the bar too high can be unsustainable. Guess you need to balance it all out. “You may have accepted your partner with an open mind as it will lead to a healthy relationship, but it is okay to say no if something is not doable for you. It’s better than giving false hopes by saying, “Yes, I will try” when you are sure that you won’t be able to,” recommends Jui.
Do expectations ruin relationships? If this question has been weighing on your mind, you may have borne the brunt of unmet expectations and the toll they can take on a relationship. Except, expecting your partner to adhere to certain standards or play by some rules doesn’t have to be catastrophic.
The only prerequisite for that to happen is keeping your expectations realistic. For instance, wanting your partner to look like George Clooney, earn a 6-figure salary, have a six-pack bod and a razor-sharp wit is an unrealistic expectation. But wanting to be treated with kindness and respect is totally reasonable. You get the drift. To make things clearer, here is a rundown on 12 realistic expectations in relationships that you must work to cultivate:
1. Being showered with affection
You are in a romantic relationship and it is beyond realistic to expect a display of affection from your partner. It is important to know that your SO likes and appreciates the person you are, and expresses it in ways that you can comprehend clearly. This is one of the most basic expectations from a partner, and anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to emotionally manipulate you into settling for the half-hearted effort they may be putting into the relationship.
In other words, an understanding and acceptance of each other’s love languages is among the realistic expectations in a relationship. Hugs, kisses, holding hands and cuddling are all expected displays of affection in a relationship. However, determining how your partner expresses their affection toward you borders on unrealistic expectations.
What to expect: They would be loving, caring and affectionate.
What not to expect: They would indulge in PDA, would say “I love you frequently” or would tell you what you mean to them a thousand times. Some people are not that expressive but they do care in their own way.
2. Honesty is among realistic expectations in a relationship
Honesty is a non-negotiable expectation to have in a relationship. No matter what the circumstances, you must expect complete and absolute honesty from your partner and offer it to them in return too. You cannot build a strong, healthy relationship without it. Where there are deceit, lies and skeletons in the closet, the relationship is reduced to a complex web of lies that crumbles sooner or later. So when setting expectations in a relationship, talk about what honesty means to each of you and honor it.
What to expect: You would know about their past relationships, would know who their friends are and how close each is, their relationship with their parents or past history of abuse. They would keep you posted about their day-to-day life.
What not to expect: They would tell you all the intricate details about their relationship with their ex, the discussion they have with the guy gang or the girl gang or access to their SM or email passwords.
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3. Mutual trust
Where there is honesty, trust naturally follows. As far as standards and expectations in relationships go, trust is a must-have. Whether it’s guys’ expectations in a relationship or girls’, trust would invariably feature on the list if you’re in a committed relationship. Without trust, you cannot envisage a sustainable relationship with a romantic partner.
You have to be able to trust your partner completely, and their role in making you feel safe, secure and valued goes a long way in meeting that expectation. On the flip side, expecting a partner to trust you is also natural and reasonable. While you have to do your part to come across as trustworthy, your partner must also shed suspicion, insecurity and jealousy to cultivate mutual trust.
What to expect: You would work on building mutual trust in a relationship. You wouldn’t be unnecessarily insecure or suspicious.
What not to expect: You go on a work tour with a colleague of the opposite sex and tell your partner you stayed in the same room. They would be okay with it because they trust you. This is among the examples of high expectations in a relationship you need to shelve to be able to truly foster trust.
4. Compassion toward each other
When setting new relationship expectations or redefining expectations in an ongoing relationship, compassion can get easily overlooked. However, it is one of the most crucial needs in any intimate connection and must feature on every list of expectations in a relationship. When one person is hurting or going through a bad phase, the other assumes the role of their panacea.
That’s what compassion in relationships is all about. You have every right to expect your partner to be that safe place you can turn to when in need of comfort. This needs to be established clearly when you communicate expectations in a relationship. It is all right if they cannot completely understand or relate to what you’re feeling or going through. The fact that it bothers them and they make an attempt to make you feel better is what counts.
What to expect: They would cheer you up when you are down, make you a cup of hot coffee if you had a bad day.
What not to expect: Here again, expecting a partner to read your mind about a difficult situation and come to your rescue or feel exactly what you’re feeling is unrealistic and unjust.
5. Being treated with respect
What are normal expectations in a relationship? If we had to give a one-word answer to this question, it would undoubtedly be respect. So, if you ever find yourself doing a relationship expectations vs reality check, make sure respect always falls in the category of rightful expectations. A relationship where you’re treated like a doormat or feel invisible, dwarfed and humiliated is simply not worth your time and energy.
Respect for each other is the hallmark of a healthy relationship. It translates into the ability to value the other person’s perspective, even when you don’t agree with it. When there is mutual respect, partners find a way to handle even the most complex differences and arguments empathetically, without making each other feel small. Always remember respect is a two-way street.
What to expect: They would respect your feelings and decisions and involve you in theirs.
What not to expect: You throw tantrums and get into unnecessary arguments and they would accept it and deal with it because they respect you.
6. Being prioritized
As a romantic partner, it is acceptable to expect your partner to place you above all else in their life. While realistic, this expectation is also conditional. There may be instances where work pressure or social obligations take up so much time and energy that it takes the focus off one’s relationship and partner.
Don’t let such aberrations contribute to your list of unmet expectations. Temporary distractions do not mean your importance in their life is diminishing. What’s important is that you and your partner find a way to circle back to each other. When one partner consistently fails to prioritize the other, it can quickly reduce their dynamic to a mismatched expectations relationship. That can be the beginning of a downhill journey.
What to expect: That they would want to spend time with you, communicate with you and make plans with you are reasonable expectations in a relationship.
What not to expect: They would not have a life beyond you is unfair and unreasonable.
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7. Being considerate
This may make you want to take another look at your “my expectations from my life partner” list because being considerate is hardly one of the obvious choices when thinking of relationship expectations. While underrated, this quality can improve the nature of your relationship remarkably. Here’s why: A relationship is where one partner gives the other all that they want, even to the detriment of their well-being, is not healthy. In fact, that is the very definition of a dysfunctional relationship.
You and your partner will disagree and have your differences. When that happens, you must expect to be considerate of how a certain action may impact the other person. Factoring in the other person’s point of view and expected reaction to your actions and decisions is what a relationship partner should expect from the other.
What to expect: They would try to understand your viewpoint and have reasonable conversations.
What not to expect: They would show their consideration when you are grossly wrong or being unnecessarily adamant.
8. Spending time together
Togetherness is the bedrock of needs, wants and expectations in a relationship. You cannot grow together as a couple without sharing some quality time together. So, this is undoubtedly one of the realistic expectations in a relationship. Of course, this does not mean spending every waking moment together or doing everything together.
But if the other person just doesn’t have the time or headspace for you and they make you feel like you must have no expectations in a relationship, you have to think about whether you fit into their life at all. That’s why it’s important to be aware of the realistic expectations in a relationship, so that no one can exploit you emotionally in the name of love and then invalidate your genuine concerns by labeling you “too demanding”.
What to expect: They would make plans with you to hang out together at home or outside or plans about holidays.
What not to expect: They would never make plans without you.
9. A partnership of equals
What a relationship partner should expect from the other? Well, equality is a very basic expectation that ought to be catered to by default. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. Irrespective of who earns more, who enjoys a more powerful position in society, whose job is more important, a romantic relationship must always be a partnership of equals.
It is unacceptable for a partner to use their power, position or money as a factor to dominate or skew the power dynamics in the relationship in their favor and expect the other to pick up the slack. Your boyfriend has unrealistic expectations if he expects you to pick up after him because he is invariably too tired to do the basic chores himself.
Your girlfriend has unhealthy expectations if she thinks it is okay for her to throw a tantrum in a public place and wants you to mollycoddle her. In such cases, you must learn to put your foot down and demand equality – not just expect it.
What to expect: You would be equals when sharing expenses, household chores and child duties.
What not to expect: Your partner would forego a promotion because that makes you above them career-wise.
10. Giving your 100%
What are normal expectations in a relationship? Another simple answer to this seemingly difficult question is your partner being as invested in the relationship as you are. A relationship needs love, nurturing and effort from both partners. There is no other way it can survive in the long term. A person who displays a fear of commitment or develops cold feet when it comes to taking the next steps in the relationship cannot make a reliable partner.
So, expecting your partner to give their 100% – in terms of commitment, love and the resolve to stay together – is justified. Irrespective of what pop culture or that guy on the dating app may be telling you, asking “where is this going?” or “what are we?” are not examples of high expectations in a relationship.
What to expect: Your partner would put in the effort to keep the relationship healthy.
What not to expect: Your idea of effort will be 100% the same as theirs.
Related Reading: 13 Signs You Are The Selfish One In Your Relationship
11. Space is a healthy expectation too
It is a given that two people in a relationship enjoy being with each other. However, this togetherness must not come at the cost of the independence and individuality of either one or both partners. When that happens, you risk venturing into the grey area of codependent relationships. So, don’t hesitate to voice your expectations about personal space in a relationship.
It is exactly what you need to grow and thrive as individuals and as a couple. Wanting to take some time off to blow off steam with your friends or taking some alone time to rejuvenate yourself at the end of a long and draining day are among the natural expectations in a relationship. For a healthy, sustainable relationship, both partners must be willing to accord one another this personal space.
What to expect: They would encourage you to go out with your friends and you would help them build their library.
What not to expect: You would sulk for a week after a fight and they would stay away to give you your space.
12. Intimacy counts among expectations in a relationship
Intimacy doesn’t only mean hot and sizzling action between the sheets. To cultivate a deep, meaningful relationship with another person, you need to know them like the back of your hand. There are different types of intimacy to aspire to – emotional, intellectual, spiritual, physical, to name a few.
It is healthy to expect and work toward developing a level of intimacy where you and your partner are comfortable being vulnerable with each other. Hoping that a significant other would gradually open up to you and let you into their heart and life completely is among the natural expectations from a partner. So don’t let anyone guilt you into letting go of this natural desire for increasing intimacy in a relationship by using labels like clingy or needy.
What to expect: Both partners initiate and enjoy sex.
What not to expect: Intimacy would be as sizzling as it was in your initial days together.
Related Reading: Expert Lists 10 Signs Of Intimacy In A Relationship
How To Ensure Your Relationship Expectations Are Met
When you analyze relationship expectations vs reality, you may realize that not everything you expect from a partner or relationship comes to pass. However, that does not mean you’re in a mismatched expectations relationship. Consistently working toward achieving the gold standard of realistic expectations in a relationship helps nurture a stronger bond. And just how do you do that?
How do you ensure that your relationship expectations are met more often than not? Here are a few steps you can take to ensure that you not only communicate expectations in a relationship clearly but are also able to meet each other’s expectations as much as possible:
1. Identify your own
As with anything in life, the process of effecting change begins with yourself. Setting expectations in a relationship and ensuring that they’re met is no different. Whether you’re embarking on the journey of defining new relationship expectations or are simply exhausted from being disappointed by your partner’s inability to cater to your needs, take stock of what you want and expect from your relationship.
Jui says, “Shared core values in a relationship is important for its success. Only when you and your partner have a shared vision of what’s important for your relationship can you be sure that you will not let each other down at every step of the way.” You can assess where you stand on the matter of shared values only when you know what you want from your relationship and your partner.
Related Reading: How Do You Set Emotional Boundaries In Relationships?
2. Set boundaries
The importance of setting healthy boundaries in a relationship as early on as possible cannot be overstated. Boundary setting plays a crucial role in ensuring that both partners’ needs and expectations are honored and met. If you want to avoid the mismatched expectations relationship, make sure you define your boundaries along with your expectations from one another.
In fact, if you look closely, boundary and expectation settings are closely interwoven, and one cannot exist without the other. For example, if you say, “I will not tolerate disrespect in a relationship”, you’re also saying, “I expect my partner to respect me”. Likewise, if you say, “One of my expectations from my life partner is honesty”, you’re also saying that you draw a line at putting up with a dishonest partner.
So, make a conscious effort to define relationship boundaries and uphold them irrespective of the circumstances, if you want your expectations in a relationship to be respected and upheld. The minute you allow a partner to disrespect your boundaries, you’re giving them a license to walk all over you. They’re sure not going to care a whole lot about your expectations from a partner once that line has been breached.
3. Be truthful and forthright
Learning to communicate expectations in a relationship the right way is not only pivotal for setting and managing expectations but also for ensuring that they are upheld and met consistently. If you find yourself wondering, “My expectations from my life partner are never met, what can I do to get them to take my needs seriously”, perhaps the answer lies in improving communication in your relationship.
For instance, if your partner has disappointed you in some way, you must convey to them how their actions have made you feel in a clear, concise, and healthy manner. Instead of relying on passive-aggressive techniques like giving them the silent treatment, try a more forthright approach like telling them, “I expected you to do XYZ for me and when you didn’t, I felt let down.”
Speaking of the importance of communication in ensuring expectations in a relationship are consistently met, Jui says, “When your partner doesn’t live up to your expectations, it is bound to leave you feeling hurt and disappointed. So, first and foremost, take the time to process your emotions. When you are ready to communicate, do so firmly and politely. They should understand what you’re going through and see that they need to change certain behavior patterns in order to sustain this relationship.”
4. Don’t let others influence you
Often a mismatched expectations relationship is a result of both partners viewing their expectations from one another from the lens of how a third party thinks it ought to be. Let’s say your partner has declined to go to a concert with you because they don’t enjoy that kind of music and you’re okay with it. But when you show up at the concert by yourself, your friend says, “If they loved you, they would have made the effort to go with you.”
Suddenly, you feel a sting and are left thinking that your expectations from a partner are not being met. But was this really your expectation or has someone outside the relationship told you that this is what your expectation ought to be? When you let external factors govern how you conduct your relationship, chaos ensues. So, make sure that setting and managing expectations in the relationship is a process that involves you and your SO, no one else.
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5. Accept that it won’t be perfect
How wonderful it’d be if your expectations in a relationship were met every single time! It’d also be wonderful if someone gave you a billion dollars and a private island so you never had to work another day in your life. Just as you know that the latter is not realistically possible, accept that neither is expecting that your partner will deliver on your expectations without fail.
Human relationships are complex and messy, just like the people that make them up, so it’s absolutely vital to keep your expectations vis-à-vis expectations in a relationship realistic. Embrace the reality that there will be instances when your partner will let you down, and you them. In such situations, focus on skillful conflict resolution and resolve to do better the next time. Don’t make the fulfillment of your expectations from a partner a prerequisite to a successful relationship, at least not all the time.
The right expectation setting and management can be the key to a wholesome, fulfilling relationship where both partners thrive. So, prioritize it in your connection right from the get-go. Don’t wait for your relationship to falter under the weight of unmet or mismatched expectations to correct the course. Have a real conversation with your partner about it in the early stages of the relationship to make it a smoother ride.
No, as long as you keep your expectations realistic and don’t set the bar unreasonably high.
Honesty, trust, respect, affection, loyalty, intimacy and personal space are some healthy expectations to inculcate in your relationship.
First, both partners must understand what you want from your relationship and then work together to decide what’s reasonable and what’s not.
In that case, the best course of action is to try to find a middle ground where you hold your ground on matters that are important to you and compromising on others.
Expecting your partner to be flawless, setting the bar of standards too high, wanting to do everything together, and the desire that your partner will fulfill all your needs and demands at the detriment of their well-being are some examples of unrealistic expectations.