In relationships, expectations can be a good thing. Expectations set the standard for how you want to be treated. They communicate what behaviors are acceptable. As important as it is to have expectations, it is equally important to note how expectations, if not appropriately set, can have an adverse impact on relationships.
When it comes to relationships, we usually set expectations based on what we have experienced in our childhood. For example, if your parents fought all the time you may set an expectation not to argue in your relationship. If you grew up with a mother who did everything you may have that same expectation of your partner. Or, if you grew up with an unaffectionate father you may set an expectation of affection from your partner. With these conditions in mind, what happens when you do argue? What happens when she does not cook (or cook well) and he is not very affectionate towards you? Do you get angry? Disappointed? Do you try to make them feel guilty for failing to meet your expectations?
Typically, we focus more on our partners when they fail to meet our expectations instead of how we contributed to the problem. We do not look at how our expectations may be biased, limited or otherwise counterproductive. Listed below are three ways in which our expectations are usually flawed.
Flaw 1: Our expectations are too biased to be realistic. Yeah, I get it, your mother cooked a home cooked meal everyday, washed and ironed all the clothes, worked and make sure all the kids had a packed lunch everyday. She was the best! And you expect the same from your partner . . . in addition to weekly sex. You don’t understand why she is tired and why she is “complaining” about needing you to help out more around the house. Well, your mother was not perfect. She was human. Believe it or not, she got tired, overwhelmed and probably experienced a host of other emotions that you were unaware of. Our childhood experiences are biased by our perceptions as a child. As an adult, you might find that your partner and mother have a lot more in common than you think.
Flaw 2: We don’t communicate our expectations. You knew when you were dating him that he didn’t cook, wash dishes or pick up after himself. As a matter of fact, you used to enjoy doing those things for him when you met because it made you feel needed. And yet, you have managed to set an expectation that he will cook, wash dishes, and hang up his clothes years later. Did you ever communicate these expectations to him? Did you check in to see if these were reasonable? Or, do you just get angry when it does not happen and thereby laying the foundation for hostility in your relationship– not to mention preventable disappointment. Do you recognize how the very behavior you are annoyed by is the same behavior you nonverbally communicated was acceptable earlier in the relationship?
Flaw 3: Our expectations are too broad to be satisfied. One of the fundamentals of setting goals is to make them as specific as possible. Vague goals can’t be achieved. The same is true for expectations. We often make them too broad to be meaningful. We expect our partners to be romantic, but fail to specify what this means. Do you want them to be romantic on a daily, weekly, or yearly basis? And then, what does this romantic behavior need to look like? We want our partners to be supportive but fail to specify what support needs to look like for you. When communicating your expectations to your partner, specificity is key. Being specific and clear will help your partner know what is expected of them and provide you with more opportunities to see how your expectations are being met (if not exceeded).
In summary, realize that to expect your partner to be just like you is not a fair or reasonable expectation. It is one that will produce more problems than solutions. You owe it to your partner and yourself to make sure your expectations are realistic, effectively communicated and specific. It is great to have expectations of your partner. It is more important to implement (and not impose) those expectations in a manner that facilitates intimacy and relational growth.