Let’s talk about relationship expectations. The expectations you have of your partner may lead to disappointment and brokenness when it comes to your romantic relationships. But don’t worry, I am not just going to sit here and tell you that your expectations are bullshit and that you are ridiculous for wanting your partner to call, to help with the dishes, or to split the bill. I am going to assist you in understanding how to alleviate the communication barriers of expectations. How are we ever going to find a resolution if we can not communicate effectively about the problem?
Couples should discuss the expectation that they have. They need to be able to communicate this early on in the relationship. Some expectations are derived from each individual. They may have come from pressures our parents put on us or from past dating experiences. However, some expectations are created within the relationship. When a couple first gets together they are excited to be sharing in one another. They might talk on the phone every day and this expectation is one that is created by the couple in the process of engaging in the relationship. If this stops suddenly, there may be some discrepancies in how both parties feel about it. It is important to know and understand which expectations were mutually created and which are individually brought into the relationship. This way you can get a better idea of how to properly handle each expectation.
I will utilize an example so we can process the helpful responses we will discuss later. Sally wants Harry to text her on Tuesday because he is out of town for work. Harry called her when he arrived to his hotel on Monday night; they chatted, said goodnight, and went to bed. On Tuesday, Harry got busy with work and had dinner with colleagues, so he called Sally late in the evening around ten p.m. Harry did not text or call during the day. Now they are on the phone and at this point Sally is already irritated because she was hoping to hear from him during the day since he is away on a business trip. Harry is unable to understand why if he spoke with Sally on Monday night and again tonight why it is such a big deal? So Sally goes on about how Harry doesn’t care and Harry tries to explain that he does. He gets defensive and she came into the conversation angry. Inside he feels like he failed and inside she feels like she isn’t cared about.
It becomes a dance that we see all too often; and honestly, it is normal in the context of a relationship. Especially in the beginning when we are learning about one another’s needs. If this type of behavior continues as the length of the relationship progresses and the parties are unable to communicate about it, we have to ask ourselves, why? We have to consciously make the decision to do something about it and not just blow off the other person.
Not to make it a battle of the sexes, but woman often verbalize and hold onto their expectations more. Men are like, Meh. They can passively get through the small expectations. The woman handles it with anger or sadness which makes the man feel like he let her down. There is nothing worse for a man than the feeling of failure or disappointment. It is ingrained in the man to be able to care for the needs of others in specific ways. If he feels like he failed, withdrawing is often the easiest response to an angry woman. The easiest response for the woman is anger when hurt is what she really feels.
In the story of Sally and Harry here are some helpful examples of alternative responses:
1. Sally could have sent a text to Harry and said “Hey sweetie, How is your day going?” If we have an expectation for someone else to do something, the easiest solution is to do it ourselves. (Starting with a pet name always creates positive energy.)
2. Sally could call and leave a message or verbalize to Harry that it was her fault that she is upset since she had the expectation for him to call. But maybe in the future he can make sure to have some form of contact during the day when away? (This is formed as a question because it is important that our partner have a say in the resolution and that we are not just demanding something.) Sally is openly communicating a need and placing the burden on herself rather than her partner. This can help the partner to feel empathetic rather than defensive.
3. Sally can self-reflect. Understanding why we need a certain behavior out of our partner is important. Sally may have had a negative past dating experience with a previous partner while away on a trip. It is important to discuss this with our partner, but also to take additional time to ourselves to reflect on how we might be able to change this expectation since it was not created in the current relationship.
If these don’t work because there is still defensiveness and anger even when just trying to communicate a problem, it might be time to look into couple’s therapy and have a third-party reflect with you on some good solutions and tools. We get our cars serviced. Relationships are no different. If you want it to “run well” you have to take care of it.
When is an expectation reasonable or unreasonable? How is this even decided? This type of reflection and answer is a process. I believe that I personally didn’t understand the expectations that I had for partners until I had personal therapy combined with experiences in dating. There has to be some self-reflection and self-awareness that takes place if we are going to change patterns that sabotage our relationships. Expectations can disrupt a relationship if not handled correctly.
If you are the type of person that doesn’t take constructive criticism well, you might find it difficult to self-reflect. You will be more defensive at the thought of changing something about yourself instead of being humbled by the opportunity. I urge you to do the same type of reflection and allow yourself to let that self-critic go. It is beneficial to be able to change difficult or unwelcoming patterns so you can have successful romantic relationships. Ultimately in successful relationships, partners need to be able to meet one another’s needs or expectations to a reasonable level. The environment of the relationship should feel like teamwork. When it doesn’t feel like teamwork bitterness and frustration come in. It is only fair that we partner for the long-haul with someone who is similar in nature. Specifically when this nature has to do with work-ethic which directly correlates with some expectations. I have yet to see anyone do a relationship perfectly, so we are all in this together. Relationships are hard work, but they yield the most rewarding happiness.
The Cynical Therapist came to be when two therapists became friends. SoulMates or Kindered Spirit Animals… Call us what you will…. We are two bad*** chics Licensed to teach you how to grow into your full potential and add some humor along the way.
Laurie Wilson and Elle Anzalone are both Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist practicing in Huntington Beach, CA.