Is relational happiness reality minus expectations? Have you ever watched that seen from the the movie, 500 Days Of Summer, where Joseph Gordon Levitt, can’t wait to meet his ex, Zoey Deschanel at a party she’s hosting? He thinks that the meeting will go one way; they will immediately reconnect and realize that they are meant to be together. Instead he leaves feeling deeply disappointed. Instead of rekindling their relationship, they hardly speak. He leaves after learning that Zoey is engaged to another man.
It’s a lesson about expectations. They don’t always meet our reality. When we focus so much on how we think things should go, it’s easy to emotionally crash when that doesn’t happen. So that begs the question, is relational happiness reality minus expectations?
Truthfully, the answer is not black and white. Consider this; It’s important to have boundaries when it comes to expectations. For example, if I expect my partner to be kind to me and they are not, then I’m not going to stay in that relationship or accept that they are just unkind. But, if I expect that my partner texts me every morning when they go to work and they don’t, then I can probably adjust my expectations so that I don’t take it personally.
Let’s discuss more about when it’s appropriate to insist on having your relational expectations met versus when acceptance of reality is the way to go.
When to lean toward relational expectations
FACT: Most people who enter into a relationship hoping 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, relational happiness includes individuals who are willing to make a change for the greater good. Relationships that work are all about the repair of the argument, not about the content.
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.
Relational happiness also involves balance. The balance to be different and respect our partners differences, as well as the need to be the same and want the same things.
When To Accept Your Partner For Who They Are
Relationships tend to deteriorate when someone thinks that their partner is trying to change them. It’s not healthy, but folks start to keep score. They think, “I am changing x amount about myself. But, my partner hasn’t changed a thing.”
There is a time to ask your partner to make a change, and there is a time to accept reality without expectations. But how do you know when?
A few questions you can ask yourself to know when to accept reality minus expectations are:
- Is this something I can live without?
- How will my partner feel when I ask them to give this up?
- What about my partners behavior is triggering for me?
- Can I change the way I feel when my partner responds this way?
*except for when abuse is involved
Challenge Your Thoughts By Asking: “Where did I learn how to show love?”
Deep down humans want to feel like they belong. We have evolved this way to survive; to be in groups. So it can feel triggering when a member of our group wants to be different. That means they might leave. Or perhaps it could lead to eventually being left. It’s scary.
Sometimes we think, “If my partner loved me than… they would change x for me.” It’s a form of mindreading.
Mindreading is an expectation that your partner knows and does what you want from them without it being verbally communicated. Most often, these implicit expectations are formed through lived experiences with your family of origin. For example, if your mom used to bring you soup when you were sick, then you might expect your partner to know that you want soup when you’re sick.
This impedes relational happiness because it inevitably concludes with disappointment.
Is Relational Happiness Reality Minus Expectations?
Our brains are plastic which means we can change. But we cannot become someone who we are not. Moreover, we can’t make realistic 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.
Jennifer Seip, LMFT
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