What Are Unrealistic Expectations In Relationships

Working On the Marriage | | , Psychotherapist
Updated On: October 26, 2023
unrealistic expectations in relationships

How many of us have fortuitously bumped into just The One? You know — The One ‘made for us’? How often have you heard of macho men saving damsels in distress? And heard lovers singing on roads, in parks? Or had them running through crowded airports or train stations hoping to stop the love of their life from leaving forever? All of this is shown repeatedly in our movies and popular media, creating unrealistic expectations in relationships in real life. 

As a result, we often end up raising our own romantic expectations from our relationship. And when our romantic expectations are not met by our partners we feel dejected and disheartened. Our relationships suffer. It is fair to call these notions, unreasonable and unfair expectations. Some of them are counter productive, some unhealthy, some toxic and some downright silly.

Today we will try and learn what these unrealistic relationship expectations look like and how to deal with them when we find ourselves engaging in this unhealthy behavior.  

What are Unrealistic Expectations In Relationships

A team at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh conducted research into how rom-coms  create unrealistic expectations. Kimberly Johnson, part of this team, says, “Films do capture the excitement of new relationships, but they also wrongly suggest that trust and committed love exist from the moment people meet, whereas these are qualities that normally take years to develop.”

We are too easily influenced by other people’s stories. And we tend to gravitate toward what we are already influenced by, creating a confirmation spiral. Which is why when we look at other people’s stories, we look at what we need to see. Add the film world on top of that, and you see an imbalanced or a faux curated version instead of a real messy relationship. This adds stress by adding more expectations in a relationship.

Real life on the other hand is made of real people. And unique ones at that. You, your partner, I, the people quoted in this article, the maker of the film, the actors who play that part. We are all unique individuals, with our own quirks, strengths and weaknesses. We have our own emotional baggage and ways of dealing with that baggage. Which is why our ways of interacting with our significant others are also unique. And it is simply unfair for us to compare one person’s reaction to a situation with another person’s.

It is important to note though, that unrealistic expectations in relationships are not the same as the standards you expect from a relationship. Your wisdom will help you notice what’s a reasonable expectation and what are unrealistic expectations examples. So, for example, expecting your partner to always be truthful with you is a standard and not an unreasonable expectation. It is important to be mindful of your emotions and see how you are being influenced. Is this expectation driven from your gut or is it something you are trying to copy from someone else’s story?

Related Reading: 8 Expert Tips To Survive A Marriage Crisis

Unrealistic Expectations Examples In A Relationship

Unrealistic expectations examples in a relationship can be many. The expectations in a relationship list is too long to be contained in a single article. But we will broadly categorize them and list a few of them out for you.

1. Your partner should be the source of all your happiness

People tend to start depending on their partners to provide them with everything under the sun. This includes goals, motivation to succeed, entertainment and even happiness. When you start basing your happiness on anything outside of your own self, let alone your partner, it inevitably becomes difficult to be happy in this enmeshed relationship

Chitra Nair, consultant, says, “I got married to my boyfriend of 7 years and during our relationship we have been very clear right from the start about our expectations from each other. So even after marriage there have been no silly expectations. We had always decided that we would give space to each other, let each other grow professionally and personally.”

We recommend trying to build and nurture your own plans for the future. Think about the things that you as an individual like to do. What are the things you would like to contribute your life to? Do things that you like more often. Try to take the reins of your emotions in your own hands.  

Not having unrealistic expectations in relationships does not mean the giving up of hope. You have every right to have some hopes and expectations from your partner. All you need is a balance.

2. Your partner should spend all their time with you 

Rajsi Kaul Prajapati, who is a homemaker, says, “I have been brought up in a very broad minded family. My husband and I live in a joint family and hardly get time for each other. I always expect some more time alone with him whereas he likes to be with his family too. When he has some time we sit with the family, laugh over old memories, discuss serious matters. Then we go for a walk, just the two of us.”

There are many fears a woman has before moving to a joint family, but Rajsi and her husband thankfully understood each other’s expectations and came to a common ground. They allowed each other to be while also accommodating each other’s needs. But many of us build this expectation from our partner’s about spending all our time with them. We are all humans and individuals before being our partner’s other halves. It is important to understand that it is only healthy for us to want to spend some time by ourselves, with our own passions, or other friends.  It doesn’t weaken the bond between you and your partner.

unfair expectations
Expecting that you and your partner share all your time on common responsibilities may be impractical

3. Your partner and you should share all your time on common responsibilities

Sonia Talreja a fashion designer, says, “I am single. But I know the difference between reality and dreams. Of course, I have certain expectations from my partner but I do not want him to fulfill it at the cost of individual responsibilities. The more grounded we are – the better life is for us.”

Whether yours is a love marriage or arranged, you cannot deny responsibilities. They are key to your relationship. It is also possible that you will have some individual responsibilities that your partner can only support you with, but not actually actively contribute to. For example, responsibilities at work, or responsibility towards your best friend or a family member on your side. 

It is extremely common to have your own individual set of responsibilities. As will your partner. It is all right to give them space and seek your own space too, to be able to fulfill them. It is one of the types of boundaries that should be established in a relationship. Needless to say, one is right in expecting understanding, support and even help, from their partner for individual responsibilities, but it is impractical to expect that all your time should be spent on common responsibilities.

4. Your partner is your savior  

Darshana Sharma, a teacher, says, “Some people always want someone who can save and protect them in extreme situations. Just as it happens in films. They are so engrossed in that thought that they ignore other cares and concerns. My husband and I are very practical. I knew him before marriage, which helped me a lot in understanding his family and situations, and thus to set my expectations accordingly.”

Marriages shouldn’t turn into Cinderella stories. Don’t expect your prince charming to be at your command. Similarly, expecting a fairy godmother in your life, to fix all your issues with a swish of a wand is an unreasonable expectation. Every person has their own values and responsibilities, their own personality, and even strengths and weaknesses . They have their own set of inhibitions too and can not possibly “save” you whenever you need them to. 

Be your own savior. You are in a marriage of equals and are more than capable of it. This doesn’t mean dealing with everything on your own. It means taking responsibility for the issues at hand and finding their solution. It could mean asking for help from a support system and from whoever is best capable of helping you in that department. This includes asking for help from your partner too, and not just expecting it.

Related Reading: 10 Indisputable Signs Of A Codependent Relationship

5. Your partner will understand what you want without you saying so

Jump into an expectations in a relationship list and this one is probably the saddest. We see it so often in the depiction of romance in our popular media. We see a character feeling a plethora of emotions in a scene. In the next scene, their better half, already having understood what they needed through some supernatural intervention, rushes to their rescue. What the audience gathers from such a scene is that if there is true love, unsaid emotions will be understood and uncommunicated needs will be met. 

This builds an impossible and unfair expectations list. Dr. Puneet Aggarwal, lecturer in Physiology and relationship writer, says, “The issue of unrealistic expectations in relationships arises because people fail to communicate well with their partners. They just expect that they should be read and understood, which should not be so. I won’t say people have unrealistic expectations. It’s every person’s right to live in a fairy tale. But that phase normally lasts less than what we see in movies, or read in novels. ”

Expressions are not just emotional or physical. There are many ways through which you can communicate better with your partner. One of them is the most simple and straightforward, talking. Just talk with your partner and you will be surprised how easy it is to have them understand your emotions better and give you what you need from them.

How To Avoid Having Unrealistic Expectations In Relationships

Rashida Poonawala, a life coach, says, “The answer is simple, see the magic and romance in the reality. Do not expect him to be anything other than what he is. Accept him and love him! The key is to open up the channels of communication that the façade of romance closes. Anything unrealistic can spoil reality. So just be real.” 

If you are already set into the unhealthy pattern of having unrealistic expectations in relationships it might be difficult for you to see otherwise. But it is not impossible if you try to shift your focus to the strengths of your relationship. It is also not impossible to do so if you approach your partner and your relationship with empathy and compassion. 

Here are a few things you can do:

1. Focus on communication

Communication is the cornerstone quality and habit of a healthy relationship. In fact, it is an indispensable anchor for the mental health of every individual. It is the solution to most of our emotional as well as relationship problems. Understand and value it’s importance. Just communicate to your partner what you need. 

Rashida says, “If you like something, tell him. He is not going to know unless you tell him. Likewise, if something is bothering you, voice it out. Love is not all-knowing, all-seeing. It is an emotion. Let us not make it into something it is not.” Learn of the many ways to improve communication in your relationship with your partner.

relationship advice

2. Understand gender tropes and expectations

A lot of what is reflected in our films is a reflection of our society. We are conditioned to fall in the appropriate box of gender roles. Which is why we build gender based expectations from our partners. Let us take a simple example. Your partner might be physically stronger or weaker than you irrespective of their designated sex. Or emotionally stronger or weaker. Still we expect jobs like changing the tire, or consoling the child, or mowing the lawn as gender based responsibilities.  

Rashminder Kaur, Reiki teacher & counselor, says, “Due to the conditioned patterns in our society, which are based on gender biased roles, people do not get to explore their inner male or female. Men are not allowed to process their emotions and women are not allowed to experience their power and strength. This leads to very polarized roles in marriages and this causes severe dependency issues and this is what kills the romance.”

Savior prince charming versus gentle wifey material, these dichotomies limit us. They unnecessarily make us waste our time and effort doing things we don’t like doing just because we are expected to do them. Similarly, we don’t get to take responsibility of things we might actually enjoy.

3. Be compassionate and empathetic

Understanding your partner’s limitations as the unique individual they are will help you see your expectations in perspective. Be compassionate to all the things they have taken up in their lives. Look at the responsibilities they have to take care of daily. Notice their strengths. This will help you respect them. 

Prioritize your relationship over your expectations. Look at the bird in hand, which is what you have, the reality of your life. It’s only reasonable and mature to focus on what you have rather than the castles in the air you have envisioned. You are only wasting effort and emotions doing the unnecessary. 

Related Reading: 9 Signs Of Lack Of Empathy In Relationships And 6 Ways To Cope With it

4. Do not compare

This one is really very simple. Every time we create unreasonable expectations in our heads, what we are doing is getting influenced by an outside source. We are comparing someone else’s life story to ours and creating an expectation that is not suited to our own reality. It helps no one if you engage in comparison. An extremely futile exercise, the comparison trap only brings misery. Do not forget your story is as unique as you and your partner are. You should see it and appreciate it for what it is. 

Rashminder says, “Our desires are masked by the entertainment we take in. We need to understand that it does not help to get idealizing these stories…we can enjoy them, we can watch such movies and have fun, but to believe in the world that the story shows can mislead us. .”

Yes, we all love films. But it is always better to let the fantasy world end as the film ends. They can not be the guiding light for our lives. After all, even the film star’s real-world love lives are so different from what they portray in films.


1. What causes unrealistic expectations?

The ‘unfair expectations list’ is long. The reasons could be as many as there are expectations. But primarily, we either try to look for validation from others, find solutions to our own problems through others, or unfairly compare our own lives to others. All of these lead to unrealistic expectations in relationships.

2. What are false expectations?

False expectations is another name for unrealistic relationship expectations. It is an expectation that is doomed for failure, i.e. of not being met. With false expectations you have set yourself up for disappointment.

3. What are the 3 C’s in a healthy relationship?

Communication. Commitment. Compromise. Effective communication is imperative for any positive change in the relationship. Commitment is needed for a common goal and vision of the relationship. And compromise is essential because a relationship is made up of two unique people with inevitable differences.

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