Couple looking out over the water wondering what xpectations in a relationship to avoid.

Even before I became a couples counselor and online couples therapist, I’ve been a “hopeless romantic” and had grand expectations in a relationship. Growing up, I loved the idea of love. I watched movies where both partners overcome some kind of obstacle to finally realize their need for the other, they confess their undying love, then live happily ever after. The End. 

I loved this idea growing up, because it just seemed so natural. It seemed like such a stark difference from the real-world relationships that were constantly falling apart around me. I realized that my idealization of relationships in the movies led me to develop some unrealistic expectations about relationships in my real life.

I’m sure I’m not the only one. As many of us grow up surrounded by fantasy relationships, when we’re faced with the prospect of building a relationship with another flawed human being, we may balk at their flaws and foibles, thinking “But you’re supposed to be perfect for me! Where’s my happily ever after??” Not realizing that there are always going to be unavoidable flaws even in the happiest of relationships.

Needs vs. Expectations in Relationships

Now that’s not to say that you have to accept every flaw your partner brings to the table. Everyone has their dealbreakers and standards, and that’s 100% ok! If you can’t handle a long-distance relationship, or don’t want to date someone who has children, or even just don’t want to date a vegetarian, that’s totally up to you, and as long as you communicate productively why the relationship won’t work, no harm done! 

There are also incredibly realistic expectations to have, like expecting your partner to help with cooking and cleaning, and to contribute to the household finances. You can’t expect them to like all of your friends, but you CAN expect them to be pleasant to them. If these needs and expectations are not being met, talk to your partner, and find a way to change those pronto! 

3 Unrealistic Expectations in Love

Expectations become unrealistic when they’re things about your partner that can’t be changed, or things that no human being can reasonably expect from themselves OR their partner. Below are three of the most common unrealistic expectations that lead to feelings of dissatisfaction in a partner. 

Unrealistic Relationship Expectation #1: “I have to be perfect.”  

As a couples therapist, I work with many couples who feel this pressure to be perfect for their partner, often stating their fear that sharing their weaknesses will somehow diminish the quality of their relationship and their value in the eyes of their partner.

These feelings of insecurity often lead to one or both partners tip-toeing around each other, neglecting to share their needs or fears, forfeiting the opportunity to experience a true, genuine connection with each other.

The need for perfection is detrimental because no human being in the history of forever has ever been faultless. Furthermore, perfectionism results in unsatisfactory relationships because there is a lack of depth and meaning when you are only sharing what you believe to be the best parts of you. In fact, vulnerability connects us. 

A partnership is about sharing life together.  To share life with another person is to offer them your whole heart with the hope that you are both able and willing to accept and love each other fully — accepting the good with the bad.

When this kind of intimacy happens, it creates a true partnership, a bond full of depth and meaning with a person who you feel safe to rely on, through both the difficulties of life and the joys.

Unrealistic Relationship Expectation #2: “This relationship is about meeting MY needs.”

Consider your partner’s perspective, what they need, and how you can fulfill them.

Living in an individualistic society, we can often place more emphasis on what I can get out of a relationship, or where our partner is failing to meet my needs.  

It is important for partners to understand how to meet each other’s needs in a way that provides safety and security in the relationship. However, we can be so focused on what our needs are, that we fail to see what our partners are needing from us and wind up neglecting them.

Partnership requires togetherness. Togetherness requires the courage to see beyond yourself into another person’s world. Consider your partner’s perspective, what they need, and how you can fulfill them. Doing this can create a community dynamic in your relationship, where you know that you and your partner are looking out for one another, that you’re not in this alone.

Unrealistic Expectation #3: “You should be my everything.”

In my role as a marriage counselor and couples therapist, I’ve noticed this narrative increasing in the couples I’ve seen: a relationship expectation that their partner needs to be their everything.

This unrealistic expectation often leads to someone feeling lonely and hurt when their partner is unable to meet their every need. This mindset also puts an intense pressure on both partners to become something that is unattainable.

No one person will be your perfect match in everything. You and your partner probably (and should!) have different hobbies, like different TV shows, and to try different restaurants. Having friends to enjoy these things with helps you both be more rounded people, and have things to talk about when you come back together. 

Just like it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community to keep a strong partnership. Having a shared community where both partners feel safe and supported by a number of people helps to lessen the pressure that you both have to be everything. Having a community creates an environment for your partnership to flourish as you realize that it does not have to be just the two of you against the world.

Here’s to Healthy Relationship Expectations!

Have you had some expectations in a relationship, like the ones I talk about here, that have gotten in your way of having the kind of happy relationship you want? I hope that this article helped shed some light on them, and offered you some tips for how to break free of some unrealistic relationship expectations!

Marriage Counseling Questions | Couples Therapy Questions

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