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How realistic are your relationship expectations?

By Sakuni Weerasinghe

The word “expectations”, when it applies to relationships, is often considered to be one thing – icky. The advice we’re often offered is contradictory, which can only make you feel like you’re doomed if you have expectations and you’re doomed if you don’t. The truth that all relationship experts find out (after quite a few arguments) is that expectations are part and parcel of a relationship – it’s a good thing!

Having expectations communicates to the other that you have standards and that you value yourself, and most importantly that you won’t put up with abuse, be it emotional or physical. Your expectations are what tells the partner how you want to be treated – with love, respect, kindness, loyalty, and occasionally with a homemade meal of rice, pol sambol, and dhal curry. But at times, our expectations may tilt towards the unreasonable side as we forget that our partner is a separate person with their own strengths, weaknesses, and capacity. This is when the expectations you set can contribute to conflict within relationships.

So, in matters of love, we have to think twice before acting on the notion that the heart wants what it wants. 

Before we dive into relationship expectations, let’s give ourselves grace for not always recognising when we’re being impractical or unreasonable. A relationship grows alongside the process of deepening the understanding between each other. Therefore, as we go through some of the unrealistic expectations we may have, let’s make a note of those that apply to us and remind ourselves that recognising them is a necessary first step towards growth. This will enable us to work through ways of setting more realistic expectations and communicating the same to our partners.

 

Unrealistic expectation: Your partner must spend all their free time with you

We select our partners based on how much we like to hang out with them and how we feel when we’re around them. Often enough, there’s conflict within relationships when the partner may decide to spend some of their time with their friends or on a hobby. It is only common to misperceive this as their dislike for wanting to be around you or make you feel rejected and consider their actions as not prioritising you. From this stems the arguments of “you always choose your friends over me” and/or “if you are going to spend time watching TV all day, I might as well not stay home”.

Before we act on this expectation, it is vital to consider that it is normal – and even healthy – for the two individuals in a relationship to maintain their own sense of independence (realistic expectation). You can ask yourself if there are any unmet needs of your own that are linked to this expectation. Are there any other ways to make yourself feel prioritised? Is there any other evidence to say that your partner is always choosing others over you? The answers to these will enable you to adjust your expectations.

 

Unrealistic expectation: You expect your partner to always know what you want

While our partners may know our histories, our likes and dislikes, and our aspirations well enough to reasonably gauge what we want, and anticipate what we need, we do need to consider that on occasion, they may not always be able to know our thoughts and actions without explanations. This expectation can result in blaming our partners for not understanding us. Unfortunately, the truth remains that they too are human and therefore are unable to read minds. Here’s how to navigate this expectation, though: Communicate.

A realistic expectation, thus, is for them to reasonably understand what we communicate to them. This includes how we feel or what we think about certain situations. Remind yourself that open communication is what paves the path for understanding.

 

Unrealistic expectation: You expect your partner to always agree with you and want the same things as you do

Yes, we do get into relationships based on compatibility of ideas and preferences, and because our goals have aligned. So, if your goals are to get married, have children, and grow old together, you can reasonably expect your partner to want the same. However, when it comes to what to buy for dinner or which colour would suit the walls better, it is only normal to have disagreements since each partner may want different things. Instead of demanding that they comply with your preferences, make use of compromises.

A realistic expectation would be an agreement to compromise and adjust both your preferences to meet a middle ground which will keep you both happy in the long run. Always remember that disagreements do not equal incompatibility (with the exception of non-negotiables of course).

(The writer is a Applied Psychologist [MBPsS])

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