Candy Hearts, Flowers, and…Disappointment?
February has arrived! Love and new relationship energy are in the air! Many of us look forward to celebrating relationship milestones on this fourteenth of February; however, is it possible that this day is more of a relationship trap than a celebration? If your partnership contains unrealistic expectations for how your love “should” be expressed, Valentine’s Day may fall a bit flat.
With love, it’s difficult to know where the middle ground is. To have expectations, or to not have expectations—that is the question! On the one hand, there is the belief that if you lower or completely eliminate expectations from your partner, you will never be disappointed. On the other hand, many emphasize the value of setting high expectations to ensure you aren’t settling for less than you deserve. So, which approach leads to an effective, healthy relationship?
It makes sense that our intimate relationships tend to be the most challenging and highlight our vulnerabilities. Our interactions with a loved one highlight our fear, shame, and insecurities as we navigate the relationship in a much more personal way than we typically do with other less intimate situations such as work or friends.
When we cling to unrealistic expectations from our partners, it exacerbates these challenges. We may expect them to fulfill all our needs, be our primary source of happiness, or even “fix” unresolved trauma from childhood. This can lead to a rigid or inflexible attachment that invariably brings on disappointment, sadness, resentment, and anger.
Realistic vs. Unrealistic Expectations
The key to not falling into the unrealistic expectation trap isn’t about having expectations. Instead, it’s about identifying what is reasonable to expect and what isn’t. Ask yourself:
“What do I fundamentally need to feel loved and safe in my relationship?”
Approaching relationship expectations through this lens encourages establishing non-negotiable boundaries while allowing space for mutual support and satisfaction. Specific needs, including respect, trust, empathy, and kindness, are universal aspects of feeling loved and safe. These are reasonable expectations to have in a relationship and can protect us from compromising our well-being.
It’s critical to identify what your specific fundamental needs are. Without these, you may yearn for basic relationship necessities that grant you a sense of connection and security, which is imperative in intimate relationships. As you explore what these needs are, the following points may help guide your internal reflection.
Differences are expected in a loving relationship
Each individual’s unique lived experiences, background, and personality will inform their perspectives and beliefs.
Individuals and relationships change over time
A beautiful aspect of the human experience is that we are continually evolving and growing. With change comes challenges – consistent communication and attention will support the relationship through this.
Relationships may not provide unconditional love
From a young age, messaging about finding your “better half” instills a belief that your partner should be your only source of fulfillment and love. This concept ignores the reality that no one person or thing can provide all that we need.
Your partner may or may not change as you wish they would
It is entirely appropriate for you to express your desires and needs to your partner. However, expecting that they will always change as you’d like them to is unrealistic and unhelpful. Ultimately, it is up to them whether they change (and it’s up to you to decide which acts of change are non-negotiables).
Self-reflection and awareness are required for us to dive deeper and differentiate between realistic and unrealistic expectations. Being mindful of this allows us to cultivate and maintain a more fulfilling, loving, and meaningful relationship.
How to Ask for What You Need
Now that you have identified your needs and realistic expectations, how do you effectively communicate these to your partner? Relationship experts Drs. Julie and John Gottman have identified six skills for constructive conflict management.
Soften the start of your conversation
How one begins the conversation sets the tone for the entire dialogue. Open the conversation softly and gently to promote more stability.
Complain, but don’t blame
Approaching your partner with criticism and blame is not productive and invites defensiveness. Instead, let them know what you’re upset about or what you need in a non-accusatory way.
Use “I” statements
Focus on how you are feeling, rather than criticizing your partner’s actions. Instead of saying, “You never listen to me,” try, “It’s really important for me to feel heard in the relationship, and I’m not feeling that in this moment.”
Describe what is happening, but try not to judge
Describing your perspective of the situation instead of expressing judgment will help your partner understand your needs more clearly.
Be polite and appreciative
Maintaining warmth and connection during conflict or a tense conversation can be one of the most challenging things to do, but respect and love for each other still exist in these moments. Try reminding yourself of this and showcasing appreciation even in challenging conversations.
Don’t store things up
Your partner can’t read your mind; therefore, you need to share your thoughts and feelings with them. They won’t be able to attend to your needs if they aren’t aware of them. And holding things in without addressing them breeds resentment, which can lead to further dissatisfaction.
For more skills that can help communicate needs and set realistic expectations, check out these worksheets! Incorporating skills learned in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy can transform your relationship with simple and easy steps. Cultivate These Skills with Support from a Therapist
These skills take time to develop and maintain – be kind and patient with yourself as you implement them. Pure Health Center offers both individual and couple’s counseling to help you learn to get the most out of your relationship!