By Jessica Higgins, PhD, LPC
Expectations can fuel and motivate how we relate and react to others. Commonly, we expect our partners to treat us in a particular way and love us in the way that we want to be loved.
Here are 10 tips to consider when exploring your expectations in relationship:
1. Expectations are often unconscious. Have you ever found yourself feeling sad or disappointed and not known why? With a little reflection, you may realize you had an expectation about something or someone and didn’t even know it.
To help bring awareness to your expectations, take some time to ponder what your expectations are and how you acquired them. We pick-up messages about what relationships are suppose to be like and how we should be treated from movies, television, family, and friends. If we don’t take time to consider our expectations, then we may adopt other people’s expectations that are not relevant or appropriate for us.
2. Expectations can be detrimental to relationships. Expectations can feel overwhelming and stifling to the organic flow in relationships. If we have expectations of others and are really attached to the outcome, then we can engage in power struggles by using manipulation or control tactics to get our way. This strategy often leads to conflict and unhealthy dynamics where partners do not feel free, authentic, and honest.
Realizing that your partner is not going to live up to your expectations or ideals can be devastating. Couples can feel disappointed, frustrated, betrayed, or resentful and move to end the relationship because of unmet desires and unfulfilled expectations. Frustration can also be a signal that a boundary of yours is being crossed.
3. Knowing the difference between expectations, needs, and desires.
- Expectations are hopes and beliefs that are focused on the future, and may or may not be realistic.
- A need is something that is necessary for healthy relating and living. Do you know what is essential for you to have a healthy relationship (i.e. fidelity, kindness, lack of drug or alcohol addiction, etc.)? What are your deal breakers or non-negotiables?
- A desire is a want or preference about something you would like to have or receive.
4. Taking ownership for your needs and desires. The truth of the matter is –we know what we need better than anyone else. Ultimately, it is our responsibility to get our own needs met. If we give ownership to someone else for getting our needs met, than we can feel dependent, powerless, and misunderstood.
Taking ownership also inspires action. We realize we have the power to create change. Also, we have the opportunity to nurture ourselves in the ways that we need it most. This is a difficult practice, but it can be very empowering.
Taking ownership of your needs can also be a spiritual practice. You can realize that your relationship does not source your energy. When you stay connected with your spirituality, you realize that you can source your energy from your spiritual connection rather than your relationship.
5. Expressing your needs, desires, and expectations. Have you ever consciously expected or desired something from someone, but didn’t voice it? We probably have all had this experience to some degree or another. Usually, this is a recipe for disappointment. How is someone suppose to know what you want if you don’t tell them? Even if they get it right a time or two, it sets up a dynamic were people are operating on assumptions, which often leads to miscommunication and frustration.
We often hide our expectations, needs, and desires because we fear that we will be rejected or that our partner will not be able to meet our needs. But how do we experience resolution if we cut ourselves off before we even try?
This may seem scary and vulnerable because it requires you to open yourself up and acknowledge that you have needs to your partner. But imagine being able to ask for what you need in a clear and clean way (to own it, without making it someone else’s responsibility) and then to receive it from someone who genuinely wants to give it to you. This can truly be a transformational experience.
By taking ownership of our needs, desires, and expectations, we can work with our partners. We can help teach them what works and doesn’t work for us, and then we have the opportunity to learn and grow together.
6. Giving people the benefit of the doubt. Usually, people are doing the best the can. And your partner is probably loving you in the best way he/she knows how. This is important to remember when you are holding your partner up to an expectation or an ideal of yours. It may be helpful to consider, the question “how would I respond, if I felt trusting?”
This is often easier said than done, especially when you feel hurt and protective. Trusting someone and giving them the benefit of the doubt can be extremely difficult if you have experienced a lot of hurt and betrayal. So it is important to keep track of your boundaries and needs. If you are taking responsibility for your needs, then you will be more likely to take care of yourself. When it comes to other people, you get to choose what you are okay with and what you are not okay with. However, it is important to remember that you cannot control another person.
7. Seeking support, if you need it. Expressing your needs and giving someone the benefit of the doubt can be tricky territory, especially if you didn’t get your needs met when you were young. It is natural to attempt to fulfill these unmet needs. However, you may not know that you are doing this.
If you feel a strong reaction, feel threatened, or really protective, than this may be a good indication that there may be an underlying hurt or an unmet need. There are many opportunities to heal and grow, through self-help books, articles, groups, and one-on-one counseling. It’s never too late to learn new skills and to start practicing them.
8. Receiving the love people have to give in the way they give it. Imagine receiving a gift from someone. You open it and tell them you don’t like it; they should have shopped at a different store, spent a different amount, gotten a different gift, and wrapped it differently. It seems ridiculous right? Well, think about someone’s time, energy, attention, and love as a gift. How well to do you receive people’s gifts?
It’s important to advocate for our needs and express our desires. But can you feel an energy shift or the dynamic shift when you release your attachment to how the other person responds?
9. Allowing for space and mystery. Without a ton of expectations, you can allow yourself to be more in the moment, receive, and be pleasantly surprised. You can receive your loved one’s expressions and gestures as genuine and authentic gifts. You can start to appreciate them with a sense of newness. You may have a greater appreciation for the miracle of love.
Allowing space for people to meet you in the best way they know how is truly a beautiful and powerful experience.
10. Understanding the give and receive nature of relationships. In successful relationships, there is a good level of ownership, honest communication, and a mutual dynamic of giving and receiving. The types of giving may vary depending on situations, styles, and personalities. Actual authentic compatibility may be more about how two people can accept each other and foster each other’s development, rather than how similar they are.