When you first start dating someone, everything is new and exciting. When he does something romantic, it feels special. But the longer you are with a partner, the more trapped you both become by the assumptions and expectations you both develop for what “should” happen.
I might have certain expectations about the relationship I’m in. For example, I might think my partner:
- Should understand where I’m coming from when I talk.
- Should greet me enthusiastically every time we meet.
- Should understand why it’s important not to leave wrappers or other trash in my car.
What happens when my partner violates one of these expectations I unconsciously hold? I feel irritated. I feel like she has not acted like a good partner. Of course, these are just my idiosyncratic expectations. My expectations create the potential for hurt feelings, especially when my partner does not know about them.
It’s easy to fail someone who has a lot of expectations. The solution is to become aware of my expectations and not allow them to define the quality of my relationship.
Even positive expectations can become a trap over time. I’ll give you an example so you can see the problem with it.
Let’s say your partner enjoys bringing you flowers. At first, it seems special, a surprise that delights you. The delight shows on your face, and he experiences the reward of that positive reaction each time he shows up with a bundle of roses.
But over time, you begin to expect the roses every other week on a Friday. Now, the best he can do is meet your expectations. If he doesn’t bring you the flowers on Friday, you feel disappointed, wondering if something is wrong.
This is the trap of expectations. We have plenty of positive expectations, but once they become routine and predictable they rob our partner of the ability to impress us. If they fail to meet our expectations, we feel frustrated with them. So it’s only a matter of time until all the good things become predictable routines we expected, and the few failures become the only things we react to in our relationship.
If expectations are the problem, what’s the solution? Well, the solution is more of a process than a one-time fix. I’m talking about the process of continuously challenging ourselves to throw expectations aside so that we can give our partner room to affect our emotions in positive, fresh ways.
It might look something like this. Rather than assuming he is going to bring you flowers; you make a conscious effort to appreciate the fact that he brought them today, and decide not to expect them for the following week (even if you have noticed the pattern). A simple shift in your mentality can help you to genuinely appreciate any romantic gesture he makes, which keeps the passion alive in your relationship.
Expectations create traps for a relationship, and gradually erode the excitement and fun of being in a relationship. Again, this happens because positive actions become expected and routine, while failure to meet expectations creates arguments or hurt feelings. So the only thing expectations can really do is gradually diminish the vibrant energy in a relationship and gradually push a couple apart.
Here is what I should strive for. When my partner shows up to spend some time with me, I should try to be aware of any expectation that she will make me feel happy and meet all of my needs. I should try to minimize those expectations so that I leave room for her to impress me with her warmth, attentiveness, and choice to spend time with me (when she could be spending time with someone else).
In this way, I have bypassed the trap of expectations. I have given her back the power to bring up the positive feelings that come from being in a relationship. We both get back a little bit of that new appreciation that is so common during the first few weeks of a brand-new relationship.
Is there a way you could use this concept in your relationship? This is one small part of what it means to invest in a relationship, the kind that keeps getting better. Experiment with this idea, and see if you can get your partner interested in this as well.