How To Prevent Expectations From Wrecking Havoc In Your Relationship

Love, Self

What are expectations and how do they impact our relationships?

Expectations are the beliefs we have about the way things will or should be. Our expectations develop from a combination of all our life experiences, but the biggest influences in the area of love, are our family of origin, previous relationships we may have had, our cultural backgrounds and the media. Just think for a moment about what you learned about relationships through watching your parent's marriage, or what tidbits you picked up about love through movies, TV and social media.

Some of our expectations are about small things, like what your partner will order at the restaurant or how your daughter will do on her math test, and some are about bigger things, like how we approach finances, careers and sex. The challenge is that we bring all of them to our romantic relationships and most of them are unconscious. We often don’t know what our expectations are until our partners fail to meet them. And here's the rub:

When we expect something to happen and it doesn't, or when we have expectations that are left unmet, it can lead to feelings of sadness, disappointment, and anger.

This explains how we can be married to perfectly wonderful people and still experience disappointment. Without realizing it, we're expecting our partners to react the way we do, or behave in ways that make sense to us. When they don't, we get upset and blame them for not living up to the expectations we don't even know we have.

For example, our partner may give us a foot rub every night, but if they don’t handle the bills the way mom or dad did while we were growing up, we may be still upset with them, and not even know why.

I’ll share an incident that demonstrates how unconscious expectations played out in my marriage many years ago. My husband and I had planned a long -overdue date, taking a special ferry across the Hudson River to an open-air concert on the riverfront.

 I was expecting our date to be wonderfully romantic. So, I put on a pretty summer dress and some jewelry and came bouncing down the stairs, full of excitement for our special night out. When I got downstairs, I found my husband in the living room completely engrossed in playing video games with one of our sons. I said to my husband, “Hey honey, are you ready to go?” He didn’t look up but grunted and said, “In a few minutes.”

In retrospect, I see that was the first expectation that wasn’t met—he wasn’t as excited about this date as I was! And then he didn’t notice how I looked, and or take my hand while we were walking towards the ferry. The date went downhill from there.

By the time we got onto the ferry, I was angry and withdrawn. My husband was trying valiantly to get me out of my funk, but I would have none of it. I wallowed in my disappointment, on the ferry, under the stars, next to my lovely husband, and wasted a perfectly gorgeous evening being angry.

Neither of us really understood why I was upset, so we couldn’t repair it, and we certainly didn't realize that my unconscious, unmet expectations were responsible.

So, what can we do to prevent our expectations from creating havoc in our relationships? Here is a simple, six-step strategy that I often recommend to my clients:

1.  Notice when you feel disappointed or frustrated. These emotions are often clues that you had an expectation that didn’t get met.

2.  Ask yourself what you were expecting that didn’t happen.

3.  Next, ask yourself if it was a reasonable expectation. For instance, if we always expect our partner to make dinner even though they get home from work at the same time as we do - that may not be reasonable, or make sense.

4. If it is reasonable, ask yourself if you have communicated it to your partner. Many of us have a hard time expressing our expectations to our partners. One reason is that we secretly hope they will figure it for themselves or read our minds. The other reason is that we're afraid of what their response might be. Telling them an expectation we have requires us to be vulnerable and honest, and that can be downright scary.

5. If you haven’t communicated, do it. Recognizing that emotional risks are necessary to the continuing development of intimacy, we need to tell our partners what we need and want.

6. Meet your partner’s expectations when you can. When our partners share their expectations with us, we want to meet their emotional needs whenever we can.

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Practicing these six simple steps can help you and your partner to uncover your unconscious expectations. Once you've done that, you can learn how to manage them instead of allowing them to manage you. Learning to manage expectations well is essential for any couple's happiness and success, so start right away!