Relationships Problems What To Do When Your Expectations Don’t Match Your Reality
By Jennifer Seip, LMFT
Let’s imagine that you’re creating a meme. It has two pictures standing side by side. In addition, they both feature a couple.
The image on the left shows the couple kissing in bed. They look like they are really into each other. To illustrate this, underneath their image is a caption.
Now, the image on the right features that same couple. Only this time, one person is on the toilet and the other is standing at the door carrying Pepto Bismol. The caption says,
Surely, most people who have been in a long relationship know that once they’re in it for a bit, some of the romance dies. The parts of them that they’ve been hiding from their partners come out.
When to lean toward relationship expectations
FACT: Most people who enter into a relationship hope their partner will change in some form or another.
I honestly don’t know the number. But I can tell you from experience that most people wish their partner would be different in some way. This isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, healthy relationships include individuals who are willing to make a change for the greater good.
But while that still may be true, if you’re pushing your partner to be too much like you, then you might find yourself in trouble.
When to accept reality
Relationships tend to deteriorate when someone thinks that their partner is trying to change them. Or, when the expectations of the relationship are too high. To explain, humans have an innate instinct to want to be accepted as they are. They don’t enter relationships thinking,
“I really hope that you need me to be different in some way.”
Because, why would they? Deep down all humans want is to feel like they are good enough.
Choosing between trying to make your relationship expectations a reality versus letting your partner be who they are
Let’s being with an example.
Shirley and Jacob are coming to therapy citing “Communication Issues.” Shirley is a 35 year old woman who is married to a man, Jacob, whom she once adored. He did everything for her. He was kind and genuine. He listened and was attentive. However, he wasn’t making a lot of money.
When Shirley and Jacob first met, Jacob had a high paying financial job and worked 60 hour weeks. Shirley loved that he was financially driven.
After a few years passed, Jacob slowly started to realize that he wasn’t happy living his life with career where most of his time was spent at work. He liked having more free time to do his hobbies and felt good with less.
Unfortunately, quitting his job meant that Shirley would feel betrayed. She always expected that he make large amounts of money. Furthermore, she expected to have a certain kind of lifestyle that goes with that.
So, Shirley dealt with this by feeling angry at Jacob and resenting him. She called him names and told him that he was a loser.
This example might sound extreme but let’s go with it. In a perfect world, both people adapt.
Shirley will learn to accept the reality that Jacob isn’t the kind of person who will be happy working 60 hours a week. Also, she will adjust her idea of what the perfect “lifestyle” is.
Jacob will be more understanding of Shirley’s very real financial fears and he will find a way to compromise by moving to a different company with a similar salary and a few less hours. The trade off is a happy marriage.
A second option is for both of them to realize that they have hit a wall. Maybe neither person wants to change.
If that’s the case, then they have to decide if they should stay together and change their relationship expectation. Furthermore that must understand that this will always be a point of contention.
If they choose the later, discussing expectations at every step of their relationship will go a long way.
Talk it out
Our brains are plastic which means we can change. But we cannot become someone who we are not. Moreover, we can’t make decisions until we talk about relationship expectations. Try having a check-in, and talk about some of your fears. You can also make a list of wants and needs. Then decide if you’re asking for something that you want, but can let go of, or a must have.
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