Expectations. Are expectations healthy in a relationship? Are they setting us up for disappointment or strife? Many people believe expectations are acceptable, even agreed upon when we say “I do.”
It’s my experience that assumes nothing is better than presuming innocence if unanticipated changes trample our expectations. Reality will almost always surprise you, no matter how well-planned.
Are Expectations good for a relationship?
Let’s start by clarifying the terminology. According to the dictionary, expectation can be defined as the act of anticipating or looking ahead, the likelihood that something will happen. We naturally expect what’s to come in our lives.
Change is inevitable, however. Change can be as easy as your partner’s expected arrival time at home after work. Your partner may be home by 6 p.m. Still, many things can prevent that outcome, such as road construction, heavy traffic, or a longer-than-anticipated conversation with a co-worker.
On Friday, I texted my husband to let him know that I was leaving work and wanted to go home. After I sent the text, I got a call from a client confirming my plans to delay my departure. And then, I decided to stop by Albertsons to get a few groceries since I was driving close to them.
Things can change dramatically at any moment. The only constant changes. How can couples navigate the ups and downs of a relationship while still holding on to their values of kindness, love, respect, and love?
Tips for Healthy Expectations in a Relationship
First, expectations can be different from plans.
While we can plan, they must have flexibility and room for error.
The pandemic taught us one thing: let go of our expectations. We can’t expect to get what we want when we shop now because many store items are out of stock. Due to the empty shelves at Target, I have purchased three brands of foaming soap. Big-box retailers and construction suppliers need help with a vast inventory problem.
Your partner might need more patience or exhaustion because their shelves are empty. We cannot expect them to give what they don’t have.
Second, it is impossible to avoid disappointment; change is inevitable.
It is up to us to decide how we react to our partner’s actions or experiences.
Reality can bite, but most pain and anger come from facts not matching our idealized image. I found two new brands that I liked far more than Method foaming soap, despite my loss of preference.
Learn to adapt. Incorporate resilience into your daily exercise routine! Let your partner know that many things can interfere with their best intentions and efforts.
Do not let perfection be an enemy of the good.
I have been a long-standing perfectionist who has lived with a man who isn’t perfect but is still a great guy. It’s something that I’ve had difficulty reminding myself of: Good is enough.
The organization is my favorite pastime. I love order. To travel, I always have my toiletries bag and favorite snacks in my luggage, ready to go. My pantry is labeled with Tupperware containers. I keep a record of all my borrowing and lending and a log of who I have sent greeting cards. I can locate any file in the office in less than 6 seconds. I keep track of expenses to the penny, making it seem effortless for the IRS. Imagine living with me!
Besides enjoying label-makers and checklists, my real reason for being so meticulous is because it’s easier to adapt to the unexpected when extraneous items are streamlined. A well-designed system allows me to spend more time with the people I love.
My high expectations hindered a happy marriage early on in my marriage. It doesn’t work to be perfect in a relationship. I learned the hard lesson, not sweating the small things.
After dinner, my husband spent an hour cleaning up, washing dishes, and scrubbing the whole kitchen, including the floors. Mrs. Perfectionist (me!) He was asked why he never put food scraps in the sink.
My husband replied, “I cleaned all the kitchen and that’s what I have to say?”
He made a great point. My gratitude was not expressed. Flushed the trash disposal and pulverized with the expectations of perfectionionism!
John Gottman, Ph.D. echoes my experiences in ” The Truth About Expectations In Relationships”. He states that he encourages couples to seek a ‘good enough relationship ….. People have high expectations of how they are treated in a good relationship. They expect kindness, love and affection. They are not open to emotional or physical abuse. They expect loyalty from their partner. They do not expect their relationship to be conflict-free.
Focus on the essentials and be bold about the little things. Expectations (a clean drain), become appreciation (gratitude to clean kitchen). Convert conflict into understanding by trying to understand instead of assuming anything.
Although you cannot control the circumstances, you can change your attitude and be more open to new opportunities.
It’s possible to create something better if we don’t insist on what we want. An old mentor had an elaborate vision of her ideal partner. She forgot to match her ideal with her partner’s, and theirs was completely different. Every day was disappointing until she could share her dreams and they could agree on everything. Communication bridges the gap between expectations and reality.
It’s not about the desires and hopes of one person when two people are together in a relationship. The ME must become a WE. This loving acceptance does not mean giving up what we want, but we get creative in finding win-win solutions. We want to create experiences and outcomes that are both fulfilling.
Learn to manage your expectations in a relationship and find ways to love your partner while still meeting your needs. A romantic relationship can be enjoyed and loved, even if some unexpected changes and personalities differ from yours. Accepting our imperfections allows us to move between acceptance and expectation while still envisioning the best.