Communicating Realistic Ex-pectations:
An Act of Love
Love is not enough. It must be the foundation, the cornerstone, but not the complete structure. It’s much too pliable. Too yielding.
- Bette Davis
When we first meet someone and fall in love, we experience a sense of euphoria, ecstasy and enchant-ment. We think that our new love can do no wrong and he/she will make all our dreams come true. Be-lieving we’ve been blessed to have met the perfect partner, we’re susceptible to the seductive notion that a blissful and effortless future awaits us. Myths like this, which abound around love and relationships, can fuel unrealistic expectations that hinder the potential longevity of the union.
Many of us are aware that the prevailing myths surrounding love and relationships are perpetuated through literature, television, women’s magazines, and the Hollywood image of love and romance, yet the child part of us holds on to one or more of these fanciful ideals. Although it’s very common in the honey-moon phase of a relationship to idealise and idolise each other by processes such as denial and rationali-sation, eventually partners are challenged to come to terms with the realisation that, like themselves, their partner is less than perfect.
We don’t help matters when we avoid discussing with our potential partner our respective standards for ourself, our partner and the relationship. Generally we aren’t fully aware of our expectations and our relationship ideals. They remain vague and ambiguous notions rather than clear criteria. We take for granted that our new partner will share our values. And even when we are aware of some of our expecta-tions, we may keep them to ourselves at the outset of the involvement because we don’t want to draw attention away from the love and positive feelings we’re experiencing. Some of us may believe we’re preserving our love by not disclosing our expectations because we fear that doing so may be too dictato-rial...too pushy. What we don’t fully realise is that it’s actually self-respecting and an act of love to discuss our assumptions and expectations with our partner, thereby inviting informed decision-making about the relationship.
Frustration can result when we don’t communicate our assumptions and expectations because we believe they are self-evident, clearly understood and agreed to by our partner. Many of us think that if our partner’s ideas, values, needs, or perceptions don’t concur with our own,
then something is wrong with our partner. When we make these divisive right/wrong judgements resent-ment manifests in conflict. Feeling self-righteous we believe we’re justified in blaming our partner for not holding up his/her side of what we believe was an implicit bargain.
Another trap we fall into is that our standards are far too high. Some of the expectations we hold for ourself are perfectionistic and based on our idealised self-image. Thus, we’re likely to delude our-selves about our faults, overestimate our relationship competence and underestimate the challenges in-volved in sustaining a loving bond. In expecting our partner to live up to the high standards we set our-selves, we think ‘If I can do it, my partner should be able to do it.’ Whereas we struggle to accept our own limitations and those of our partner, we don’t expect our cat to answer the phone or our dog to bring in the washing.
In addition to the impact of the media and literature on our mental image of a relationship, we de-velop a blueprint of a relationship from our experience of our parents’ attachment. If we stopped to con-sider the diverse possibilities that lead others, like our partner, to embrace norms and values that are very different from our own we’d be more inclined to (a) examine whether our expectations are largely consis-tent with those of our partner; and (b) contemplate how we’ll handle diversity before we make a serious commitment to each other.
We are entitled to hold a relationship vision, however. Moreover, it’s reasonable that some of our expectations are not negotiable. If we have high self-esteem, for example, we might decide that adultery, addictions and/or any form of abuse are intolerable. Notwithstanding our right to hold reasonable expec-tations, the relationship is sailing into troubled waters if either yourself or your partner is not competent or willing to meet a significant number of each other’s expectations.
The solution to discrepant expectations can be as simple as changing our standards or as painful as kissing our partner goodbye. Let’s explore another option, which is establishing some relationship infrastructure that is likely to reduce conflict. You can do this by observing the following:
Be honest but gentle with yourself. Take steps to reduce your shortcomings but refuse to indulge in any form of self-condemnation.
Increase your knowledge of your expectations. The more you understand about your expectations the better chance you’ll have to communicate them to your partner.
Notice how your expectations are implied in your behaviour.
Invite your partner to explain his/her expectations. Where there is significant disparity explore your options together.
Make intentional decisions together about your relationship, focusing on what’s best for your particu-lar involvement rather than being driven by cultural norms, your parents’ standards or the Hollywood image of love and romance.
Ask for what you want. "If you ask for nothing, you might get it."
Realise that your partner has a right to be different from you. You were probably raised in very differ-ent family environments, with different beliefs, customs, values, etc.
Avoid placing a heavy burden on your partner or yourself by expecting too much.
It’s counterproductive to blame your partner for not living up to your expectations and not being able to fulfil your needs. Blame is a relationship contaminant.
Realise that some conflict is inevitable and see it as an opportunity to deepen the intimacy level be-tween yourself and your partner by expanding your understanding and acceptance of each other.
Expect pain! A pain-free relationship exists only in imagination.
It’s never too late to consider your expectations and discuss them with your partner. Being flexible about your standards is likely to reduce the probability of severe conflict. Also, accept the differences between yourself and your partner if you want to position yourself to tap your relationship potential.
First published "Free Spirited" Magazine March, 2004
Copyright – Elizabeth Ryan, February, 2003 – All Rights Reserved
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