Always Feeling a Little Dissatisfied With Your Relationship?
Sometimes in couples counseling, I see that my clients’ dissatisfaction can be fueled by disappointment when their partner doesn’t meet their expectations or when they feel like they can’t possibly meet their partner’s expectations either. And sometimes the expectations they put on their relationships are simply unrealistic. These unrealistic expectations can be dangerous to the relationship, however, they can also be used to help strengthen the relationship when we begin to understand what these expectations actually mean and what to do with them!
Where Do Our Expectations Come From?
Expectations can come from previous relationships or couples we’ve looked up to in the past, but often times they can come from what we see in the media. Hollywood seems to be a breeding-ground for relationship expectations: the guy who suddenly appears at your window with a boombox ready to serenade you, the girl who friend-zoned you for years finally declaring her love and commitment for you, the ultimate happily ever after. Even as children, young girls see prince charming coming in for the rescue at exactly the right moment, and boys see a princess willing and ready to be swept off her feet. So, what are these scenes telling us? What are they doing to our relationships? How dangerous are unrealistic expectations, really?
The Danger in Unrealistic Expectations
In my experience as a therapist, I’ve noticed two main dangers in maintaining these unrealistic expectations. First, unrealistic expectations can set the relationship up for failure. The images of perfect relationships in the media can create a romanticized view of romance, leaving couples to expect the perfect fairy tale ending after every conflict. Real-life relationships, however, are much more complicated than a romantic comedy. Until we can appreciate the complexity, we will always be dissatisfied.
Second, my clients have expressed how unrealistic expectations can create distance and distrust in the relationship. The emotional rollercoaster of hopeful expectation and disheveling disappointment is taxing. After a while, it can feel like you or your partner may never come through. The worst part is that you both might be working extremely hard to satisfy each other, but the expectations put on yourself or your partner are distracting you from a deeper connection.
In the end, it may sound like we should do away with expectations all together, but actually, expectations can be helpful for a healthy relationship.
Expectations Aren’t Always a Bad Thing!
Ultimately, there are two things you should know about having unrealistic expectations: First, this is normal. Even therapists can be unrealistic with what we expect of our partners! And second, these expectations come from a good place, a place that tells us what we need in our relationships: to feel valued, loved and cared for. So how can we use expectations to help our relationships grow?
The Secret to a Real-Life Happily Ever After
- Be honest with yourself… what is this expectation really about? When working with my clients on this topic, I encourage them to identify what their primary need is behind the expectation. The truth is, what we expect from our partner can tell us what we need most from them. For example, if I expect my partner to take me on a fancy date once a week, I may actually be telling him that I need to feel valued. It goes much deeper than expecting a nice date night, it’s expecting a gesture that tells me my partner loves and values me.
- Don’t settle, communicate! Having unrealistic expectations doesn’t always mean we have to settle for less, it simply means we should evaluate what we need and effectively communicate that need to our partner. I encourage couples to communicate clearly what they expect and need from each other. Sometimes we can re-adjust our expectations so that they are attainable, but sometimes we need only tell our partner the primary need behind an expectation so that they have a fair shot at coming through!
- Acknowledge and celebrate the small stuff. So maybe your partner doesn’t defeat a dragon and defend your honor, but helping out with dishes is just as good. Try to appreciate even the smallest gestures and you’ll be surprised how much your partner cares.
Having fair expectations that effectively communicate our needs is essential for a satisfying relationship, so maybe it’s time to explore expectations with your partner. After all, you may not be the star of a Cinderella story, but you still deserve a happily ever after.
Here’s to Healthy Expectations!
Georgi Chizk, M.S., LAMFT
Georgi Chizk, M.S., LAMFT is a warm, compassionate marriage counselor, individual therapist and family therapist who creates a safe and supportive space for you to find meaning in your struggles, realize your self-worth, and cultivate healthy connections with the most important people in your life.