Expectations. Is it healthy to have expectations in a relationship? Or do they set us up for disappointment and strife? Many think expectations are acceptable—even agreed upon when we commit and say "I do."
However, it's been my experience that it is far better to assume nothing and presume innocence when our expectations get trampled by unexpected changes. No matter how much you plan, reality will nearly always be different.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Are Expectations Good for a Relationship?
Let's first clarify the terminology. The dictionary says that expectation is the act of looking forward to or anticipating; the degree of probability that something will occur. Naturally, we anticipate what's coming in life.
However, change is also inevitable. The change can be as simple as your partner's "expected" arrival time home after work. There may be a high probability that your partner gets 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.
For instance, I texted my husband on Friday that I was leaving the office to come home. Right after I texted, I received an important phone call from a client that delayed my departure. Oh... and then, I also decided to swing into Albertsons to pick up a few grocery items since I was driving right by.
At any given moment, things can dramatically change. Change is the only constant. So, how can couples successfully navigate relationship ups and downs while holding tight to the values of love, respect, and kindness?
Tips for Healthy Expectations in a Relationship
First off, expectations are different from plans.
We can make plans, but they need to have some breathing room and flexibility built into them.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it's to loosen our grip on expectations. When we go shopping now, we no longer anticipate getting what we want because store items are often out of stock. For example, I've purchased three different brands of foaming hand soap from Target due to empty shelves of my favorite. Inventory has been an enormous challenge for grocery stores, big-box retailers, and construction suppliers alike.
Your partner may be out of stock in patience or so exhausted that their shelves are also bare. We can't expect what they do not have to give.
Secondly, change is inevitable; disappointment is avoidable.
How we respond to our partner's behavior or experiences is up to us!
Reality might bite, but most of the pain and angst comes from reality contrasting a picture-perfect ideal we've built up in our minds. Although my preference for Method foaming hand soap was interrupted; I actually liked two of the new brands I bought far better.
Learn to adjust. Build resiliency into your daily fitness plan! Cut your partner some slack and understand that many circumstances can interrupt their best intentions and efforts.
|Related reading: "Keys to Healthy Love and a Happy Relationship."
Yet, it's a bit of a conundrum because it's also true that we need to have certain expectations (or I prefer the word standards) in a relationship. Every relationship should have mutual respect. Respect is the hinge of every healthy relationship.
Don't let the perfect be the enemy of good.
As an admitted perfectionist of longstanding who lives with a wonderful man who is a bit messy, I've had to continually remind myself that good is good enough.
I love order, and organizing is a favorite pastime. For travel, I have a ready-to-go, fully-stocked toiletry bag along with my favorite snacks in my suitcase at all times. My pantry has labeled Tupperware containers, and I have a ledger of what I borrow and lend and a log of what greetings cards I send to who. At the office, I can find any file in under 6 seconds. I track expenses down to the penny and make the IRS seem nonchalant. (Imagine living with me!)
The real reason I am so meticulous—besides genuinely enjoying checklists and label-makers—is because the more streamlined the extraneous things are, the easier it is to adapt to the unexpected. And a proficient system leaves more time for enjoying the people I love!
However, early in my marriage, my high "expectations" were obstacles to a happy marriage. Perfectionism in a relationship just doesn't work—and I learned the hard way not to sweat the small stuff.
Picture this: My husband had spent an hour cleaning up after dinner, washing dishes, and scrubbing the entire kitchen, including the floors. Mrs. Perfectionist (me!) asked him why he never emptied the food scraps in the sink drain.
My husband retorted, "I cleaned the entire kitchen and that's what you have to say?!"
He had a great point. Where was my gratitude? Flushed down the garbage disposal and pulverized by the expectations of perfectionism!
John Gottman, Ph.D., echoes my experience in "The Truth About Expectations in Relationships" when he states, "I encourage couples to strive for the 'good enough' relationship.... In a good enough relationship, people have high expectations for how they’re treated. They expect to be treated with kindness, love, affection, and respect. They do not tolerate emotional or physical abuse. They expect their partner to be loyal. This does not mean they expect their relationship to be free of conflict."
Go BIG on the important stuff and "good enough" on the small stuff. Convert expectations (a clean drain) to appreciation (gratitude for a clean kitchen). Transform conflict to understanding by seeking to understand rather than assume anything.
You can't control circumstances, but you can shift your attitude and be alert to new opportunities.
If we're not stuck by insisting on getting what we think we want, it opens up the space for creating something even better. A woman I mentored years ago had a very elaborate idea of her ideal relationship. However, she forgot to match her ideal with her partner's—and theirs looked entirely different. Until she shared her dream and they were on the same page, every day was a disappointment for her. Communication bridges the gap between reality and expectations.
When two people are in a relationship together, it's no longer just about one person's desires and dreams. The ME needs to unfold into a WE. This loving acceptance doesn't mean compromising or giving up what we want; we simply get creative at finding win-win solutions. We strive to cultivate experiences and outcomes that fulfill us both.
Learn to manage your relationship expectations and look for opportunities to love your partner while also meeting your needs in the relationship. Despite the frustration of unexpected changes, differing personalities, and contrasting preferences, a romantic relationship is made to be loved and lived! Embracing our human imperfections lets us flow between acceptance and expectations while we still envision the best.
|Related reading: "3 Mindful Ways to Communicate Better in a Relationship."
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