Relationships: Avoiding Unrealistic Expectations

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So we’ve been talking in the last few posts about unrealistic expectations.  I talked about what they are, why they happen, and I created a great 30 question quiz you and your partner can have fun answering.  The main reason I have been posting on this is that I have been unfairly using unrealistic expectations with my girl, and I wanted to learn how to stop before I pushed her completely away.

I’d like to get into how to manage expectations and ways to openly express realistic expectations and how to make those expectations agreements.  Here are the links to the previous 3 posts:

Relationships Unrealistic Expectations (1)

Relationships Unrealistic Expectations (2)

30 Great Relationship Questions

Steps in Identifying and Handling Expectations

1.  Identify Faulty Assumptions–For some reason, when we get close to a person, we start to demand that this person act in a certain way.  We reason that “if you loved me, you would…”  This type of reasoning is based on two faulty assumptions

  1. That love can be defined in a certain way
  2. That the other person agrees with this definition

Neither assumption is reasonable, and once you accept that your way of thinking is not the only right way, you’ll find it easy to reject the assumption and therefore adjust or even completely drop your expectations.

2.  Seek To Understand–People show love in different ways, as explained by Gary Chapman in his book “The Five Love Languages”:  words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, gifts, and physical touch.  Someone else may speak a love language that you do not understand because your love language is different.

When someone tries to love you in their own way, it is you who may not understand.  This does not mean that they are not trying.  It is not their actions that you need to change, it is your understanding.

3.  Observe Carefully–When you stop expecting a certain behavior from others, you free yourself to see more clearly.  You will start to observe what they actually do, instead of constantly seeing the gap between what they do and what you want them to do.

4.  Recognize The Consequences–You would probably be upset if somebody loved you only when you behaved a certain way.  Spouses or partners who feel they are not good enough for their partners may seek acceptance somewhere else.

Relationships are not transactions.  If you’re in a relationship because of what you get out of it, it is a transaction.  We all have needs that have to be met, but it is futile to expect the other person to meet these needs.   It is easy to let go of expectations once we accept responsibility to meet our needs ourselves, and are in a relationship not for what we can get but for who we can be.

5.  Ask For Agreement–If an expectation you have is important because it touches on non-negotiable values or morality, seek to convert that expectation into an agreement.  Agreements are not expectations.  Expectations exist in your own mind, often without the knowledge of the other person.  Agreements are explicit verbal commitments by both parties on a set of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors.

Decide on what is non-negotiable to you.  Highlight these to the other person and explain why it is so important.  I’ve found that calm discussions work much better in this case than yelling matches.  IF you cannot convert a non-negotiable expectation to an agreement, you’ll have to make a tough choice.  You have to decide whether to let go of the expectation or the person.

Let go of your expectations.  With one simple change of thinking, you free two people at one time.  The other person is free from having to behave in a certain way, and you are free to love better.  Letting go is hard, but definitely worth it.

6.  Talk Openly About Your Unrealistic Expectations–Telling your loved one that you realize, for example, that it is unreasonable for her to always be available for texting, and explaining you will no longer have such an expectation, will surely relieve her that the burden of your unrealistic expectation has been lifted from her back.  And yes, that is an example of an unrealistic expectation I have had for my own partner.

Three Keys To Managing Relationship Expectations

  1.  Identifying Relationship Expectations–It may be near impossible to identify every expectation we have of every relationship in our lives.  Still, we can try to identify as many as we can for the most important relationships.  This is especially important for relationships that are already under strain.  This happens when one or both parties are not living up to the other’s expectations, or quarreling about whether these expectations are reasonable.

Make a list of all the expectations you have of your partner relationship.  It helps to start each sentence with “I expect…”  This reinforces the fact that expectations don’t exist out there, but only in our minds.  It also helps us take responsibility for our relationship expectations.

Making this list can be quite a wake up call, as we usually don’t realize how many expectations we have of a person.  Seeing our list in writing can also help us to get rid of the unrealistic expectations, so that we can focus on dealing with those that are most important.  Once you make your list, cross off all the ones YOU YOURSELF do not do 100% of the times.  Then, put yourself in the other person’s shoes and honestly ask yourself if what you are expecting is reasonable or not.  That should pare your list down pretty significantly.

2.  Communicating Relationship Expectations–There are two things to bear in mind when communicating relationship expectations.  Firstly, focus only on the most important so we don’t overwhelm the other person.  Secondly, choose the right time.  Ideally we should communicate only the single most important expectation we have and deal with that.  However, it may be tiresome to have this conversation about relationship expectations several times, so focusing on the most important three at one time is a good compromise.

Whenever possible choose the right time.  Communicate the expectation BEFORE there is a chance to fail to meet it.

3.  Seeking Agreement on Relationship Expectations–An expectation that is not identified nor communicated remains an expectation.  Once an expectation is communicated, however, there is a chance of reaching agreements.  It is crucial that in seeking agreement, we respect the other person’s right not to agree.

If the other person is aware of your relationship expectations and accepts these are reasonable, there is a high chance of reaching agreement.  Present your expectation in as reasonable a way as possible.

The other person may not agree to our relationship expectations for two reasons:

  1.  They find the expectation unreasonable.
  2. They cannot commit to meeting it.

When there is no agreement, your expectation remains an expectation.  You will then have to decide what to do about it.  It’s very difficult to let go of expectations you have of the future and of your partner.  Still, it’s the one thing that can improve your relationship dramatically.

Allowing our happiness to depend on someone else will make us miserable since we can’t control another’s actions.  It also places a huge burden on the other person to make us happy, a burden that is not fair because no single person can fulfill all our needs.

Final Tips

 1.   Live In The Moment–Not everyone has the blessing of being with a person who loves them.  Whenever you find your mind wandering into the future, bring it back into the moment and enjoy it, whether you’re with her or doing something else in your life. This moment will never come again.  Live it to the fullest.

2.  Be Grateful–It’s very human to desire certain outcomes.  Only those who learn to be grateful can escape the never-ending spiral of wanting more rather than being happy with what we have.  And we have so much, if only we had eyes to see.  Whenever you find yourself wishing for more in the relationship, shift your focus instead to what you already have, and count your blessings.

Final Thought

I have learned quite a lot over the last day or so about my shortcomings in my relationship.  I have certainly come to appreciate not only why I have been doing this, but also what to avoid and how.  I do plan on one other post regarding using CBT and Emotion Regulation when you might find your emotions getting caught up–usually because of an unrealistic expectation–and how to keep yourself centered and avoid further harm to your partner and yourself.

Having realistic expectations for others involves realizing that all of us are less than perfect.  Instead of looking to others to meet our needs, we must take responsibility for our own life and make necessary changes that are in our best interest.  We must leave our self-blame behind and find ways to untwist our thinking and behavior to make our lives more fulfilling and manageable.  It is important to value and accept our partners and friends for who they are.  It is in our best interest not to spend our energy trying to change them to fit an image of what we believe we need and what they can provide for us!