Great Expectations

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by Alexi Kim

The expectations each person brings into a relationship can make or break it. The worst is when you are unclear in your own mind what your expectations are—you know you have them, but you can’t put your finger on the specifics. You shrug and say, “I’ll recognize it when I see it.”

This kind of thinking is setting yourself up for failure, for confusion, and for the bad kind of compromise. How can you expect to communicate your expectations to a partner if you can’t communicate them clearly to yourself? How can you expect to recognize when a relationship is not meeting your expectations if you don’t know what they are? In addition, having bad expectations of a partner or a relationship will create a toxic environment of its own. Requiring your partner to meet unstated, unreasonable, or impossible demands isn’t going to lead anywhere positive.

Examples of bad expectations include:

My partner should complete me. The right partner will complement you, not complete you. You are a complete person in and of yourself. Expecting another person to fix you, solve your problems, or put you or your life in order for you is putting a heavy, unfair burden on them, and generally will doom the relationship.

If my partner is the right one for me, he or she will know what I want and need. No one, even the most perfect match for you who ever lived, will be able to read your mind or anticipate your needs 100% of the time. Humans have developed ways to communicate for a reason: use them! Don’t put the task of guessing what you want and need on your partner. Do not be afraid to be straightforward! Women are often conditioned to do anything but simply ask for what we want. Don’t buy into that. Speak up!

Our relationship needs to be a specific way because that’s how relationships are done. You know what? It’s your relationship. You and your partner can do your relationship however works for you!Use your imagination. Color outside the box. Guy/girl but the girl makes more money? Certainly she can be the one to pay! Into more than one person? Why not date them both, openly and honestly? See a cute person across the bar? Make the first move. The only rules you and your partner need to follow are the ones that you both want and agree on.

While bad expectations can destroy a good relationship, good expectations help you separate the right relationship for you from one that’s wrong for you.

Good expectations include:

My partner will respect me, and that respect will be evident in the way my partner treats me. John Gottman is a professor of psychology who has studied the dynamics of relationships for many years. Of various signs of a bad or doomed relationship, Gottman considers contempt to be the worst. A lack of two-way respect between partners is a death knell for the relationship—and it should be! Respecting your partner—as a person, as your equal, as a partner in the most basic sense of the word—is vital, and just as vital is that your partner treat you with that same respect.

My partner will never lay a hand on me in anger or deliberately use words or actions to hurt me, and vice versa. When in a relationship, it can become difficult to recognize a toxic environment for what it is. You may have heard the cliché about the frog and the hot water. The story goes that if you put a frog in boiling water, it will jump out. But if you increase the heat gradually, the frog will stay in, and die. The point is that sometimes when a relationship gradually becomes a bad one, hurtful actions, words, and behaviors that would have been deal-breakers in the beginning are excused away because it is hard to think of turning your back on the time and energy you’ve put into the relationship, even when ending it is the best thing for you to do.

Now, it’s true sometimes people speak in anger or inadvertently hurt each other. This is normal, and in a long-term relationship, pretty much inevitable now and again (emphasis on the ‘now and again’). By ‘deliberately’, I mean “Is the person you love consciously doing things that hurt you in order to hurt you?” If so, that is a very bad sign. Please don’t ignore it.

My partner and I add to each other’s quality of life. This is perhaps the best expectation, and certainly one of the simplest. Is your life better with this person? A healthy relationship adds to each person’s overall happiness.

            So the next time you’re unhappy with your dating record or current relationship situation, take a moment to think about what your expectations are. Are they good? Are they realistic? Or are they bad and unfair, to you, to your partners?