By: Cristina Trette, MA, LMFT
Couples tend to carry an array of expectations for the other and the relationship. Whether we are aware of it or not, we all have expectations on household duties, finances, decision making, housing, vacation, sleep, routines, parenting, raising children. Since this is a romantic relationship, and not a business arrangement, we also have expectations around sex, passion, intimacy, commitment, fidelity, connection, friendship, companionship, and partnership.
Some expectations are healthy and reasonable, such as, expecting to interact with care, honesty, and respect. Yet many have unrealistically high expectations, and the adjustment of this, can make relationships better.
I appreciate this quote by the late Wayne Dyer:
“In all of your relationships, if you can love someone enough to allow them to be exactly what they choose to be—without any expectations from you—you’ll know true peace in your lifetime. True love means you love a person for what they are, not for what you think they should be."
Esther Perel, Relationship Expert, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and author of the popular relationship book, Mating In Captivity summarizes our modern expectations well:
“So we come to one person, and we basically are asking them to give us what once an entire village used to provide. Give me belonging, give me identity, give me continuity, but give me transcendence and mystery and awe all in one. Give me comfort, give me edge. Give me novelty, give me familiarity... At the same time, we expect our committed relationships to be romantic as well as emotionally and sexually fulfilling. Is it any wonder that so many relationships crumble under the weight of it all?”
Perel makes an important point. Some of us are placing massive pressure on our partner to meet all of our expectations (and we may not even know it). When our partner falls short, which they will, we might become frustrated, restless, bored, apathetic, demanding, hopeless, unfulfilled, or angry. Instead of checking our expectations to see if they are realistic. Or working together to be for one another while accepting one another's shortcoming and limitations, many fantasize that there is a perfect partner out there that will meet all of their expectations (or, that they are better off alone).
Many of us buy into the idealized partner fantasy whom we expect to be intellectually stimulating, a great listener, good in bed, nice to look at, connected, sexy, attuned, successful, fun, romantic, healthy, or any other adjectives that suits us. A relationship with this person is dreamy. Who wouldn't want a partner that is thriving in their own right, exceeds our expectations, and knows exactly how to be there for us in mind, body, and spirit?
But the fact of the matter is, the perfect person, partner, and relationship simply does not exist. In fact, someone who appears to be perfect, and who checks our boxes of expectation, will eventually fall short when thrown into the complexities of romantic love, perfection fades fast. Long term love is a where we we all are forced to recon with our psyche. Intimate relationships are training grounds of personal growth where perfection fades fast. When this happens, if we want to stay together long term, we may want to discover something more purposeful to hold on to. We will want to talk about more realistic, attainable and sustainable goals for our relationship without hyped-up expectations and promise of all the bells and whistles.
No one can do all the things, all the time, for someone else. We will all have bad days, hard seasons, and terrible moments in which we cannot muster up the energy to meet our partners expectations. With couples today having full lives, careers, kids, self-care, personal goals, ambitions, and all the tasks of daily living, sometimes the starting point for creating a more fulfilling relationship is acceptance ourselves, and our partner, exactly where we are at.
Does this mean we become complacent and stay stuck in misery? No. But it may mean we dive deep within our psyche to see if we placing unrealistic expectations on our partners. It may also means we will want to strengthen the areas of our life that need tending to or we create a web of support for ourselves knowing that our partner is only one person and that having friends, familys and others that we turn to outside our relationshi can be incredibly healthy.
It also means that we will want to get clear about what we want or need in our relationship. A great exercise involved writing out all of what we want in our relationship if we could have the ideal. Examine whether or not they are realistic. Explore what is really important to you, grieve what you will decide to let go of, accept the things you cannot change, examine what needs strengthening.
Then drop in to focus on what really matters. Select the handful of expectations that are very important to you. Be willing to clearly state what it is you want, or want to work toward, in conversations with your partner (without judgement, demand, criticism, or complaint). What matters to you will be different than what matters to me. Yet after facilitating thousands of couples therapy sessions I have a pretty good idea as to what matters most within romantic relationship: friendship, physical and emotional connection, and the ability to reach and respond to one another. A long list of expectations will never be able to compete with a secure and loving bond.
Hello! I am Cristina Trette! I am a Couples Therapist. I love helping others connect and communicate with the people they love the most. If you have any comments or questions, reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment below!