We all hold certain expectations in our lives about who we want to become, what we want to achieve and what we want our future to look like. However, we not only set expectations for ourselves, but also for our family, partners, friends and strangers.
When we set expectations for people we are in relationships with we expect them to think and act the way we would if we were in the same situation. These expectations are unrealistic and I think it’s fair to say that we all have been guilty of having impractical hopes in our relationships at some point in our lives.
Part of the reason why we project onto our partners what we want or need is that we have carried over many of our unrealistic expectations from our childhood. As children we make up unrealistic fairy tales in our minds about how our relationships should be like. For example, some girls grow up envisioning getting married to a ‘knight in shining armor’ who will treat them like princesses. The only way to describe our expectations would be as planned dissatisfaction because sooner or later we will become disappointed when we realize that the reality we live in is far from a magical fairy tale.
Nevertheless, because we are so used to going through our lives expecting things, we cannot help but bring our own expectations to the relationships we have. We not only expect our partners to automatically understand how we feel, we expect them to know exactly what would make us feel better.
For instance, imagine one of those days at work when we were really busy, tired and stressed and all we wanted was to come home and have a quiet evening with our partner. So while we were still at work, we imagined ourselves coming home and our partner surprising us with a romantic candle light dinner. We could see it clearly in our head, him opening the door for us holding a bunch of flowers and us throwing ourselves into his arms forgetting all about our stressful day. However, when we arrived home the smell of cooked dinner was not what awaited us. Instead we found a house full of people (on the very same evening we wanted our partner to turn into a ‘knight in shining armor’) as he has decided to invite a few friends around to watch a football match.
The problem with this unrealistic expectation wasn’t necessarily that we were expecting to have a relaxed evening after a very stressful day, the problem was that we didn’t communicate our expectation to our partner. Subsequently, instead of throwing ourselves into the arms of our partner, we were left standing in the doorway picturing different ways of 'hurting' our partner who left us feeling disappointed and angry.
Situations when we expect our partners to behave in a certain way can occur nearly every day and these daily unrealistic expectations when we project onto our partners what we expect from them can have a disastrous effect on our relationships.
So how do we get rid of our unrealistic expectations? First of all, we need to identify them, understand why they are unrealistic and then adjust them or let go of them. For instance, the unlikely expectation in the previous scenario was expecting our partner to read our mind and prepare a nice evening for us after a hard day at work. However, this expectation wasn’t communicated to him. Therefore, if in the future we would like to have a pleasant evening with our partner, we need to let him/her know that we have had a bad day and that a quiet evening was something that would make us feel better.
Don’t get me wrong, having some expectations in our relationships is fine. It’s normal to expect our partners to be faithful, to be considerate and to support us. Nevertheless, we might have expectations that are too high and our partners might not be able to fulfill them because they just simply don’t know how. For instance, if we expect our partners to resolve any disagreements we might have in a logical way we might end up being disappointed if they have never learned to think logically about conflicts. Hence, they might disappoint us every time we would have an argument because this is not how they have learned to behave in arguments.
High expectations lead to disappointment, anger and frustration. Therefore, we need to lower our expectations and allow our partners to be who they can be and accept them for that.
Moreover, changing our thinking about our unrealistic expectations will help us learn to set expectations that are appropriate and realistic. It will help us improve our relationships as problems created by unrealistic expectations will disappear and with that we will experience fewer disappointments.