Expectations in Relationships

There’s a turn of phrase folks sometimes use...well, what do you expect?

The tone typically implies that, in some way, our expectations are not aligned with those of the person who’s asking. This can make us feel embarrassed or wrong as we realize, whatever our hope or need was, it clearly wasn’t shared by our relationship partner. If our sense of how things “should be” isn’t shared, understood, or empathized with…(big fear ahead)…are our expectations reasonable?

These types of disconnections can be stressful as we worry that if our hopes and expectations aren’t “reasonable” from another’s point of view, then maybe connection will be outside of our reach. If we catastrophize further, our thoughts can spiral to believe we will always be alone. There’s nothing so close to the core of human dread as an aloneness we didn’t seek and don’t know how to overcome. But if the question of expectations is more kindly framed, or even asked by us of ourselves, it could actually be a KEY to connection, which makes it worth reflecting on, perhaps even communicating to your partner about. When we can clearly define and take ownership of our expectations (maybe with the help of a  counsellor), we are vastly more prepared to meet our personal needs and communicate ourselves more effectively around our relational needs. Of course, improved insight and expression increases the chances that our needs will be met.

For example, as I write this, I’m abroad and staying in a hotel for the next two weeks. I know from living with myself for some time now, that I expect some sense of comfort and beauty from my daily life. This hope could present a challenge to me in a strange place where my choices are limited and my surroundings unfamiliar. Being able to connect more successfully with these expectations of mine over the years (with lots of work), means that one of my first activities upon settling into my hotel room was to go out to the local store and buy a small potted plant for the room and some supplies for my morning coffee. It worked! The next morning, I woke up cheerful, knowing that while much about my day may be exciting, strange, or unfamiliar, I can rely on these daily constants.

Doing the work of reflecting around our own hopes, needs and expectations can empower us to build trust with ourselves and our lives. We can find sturdiness in our knowing that, no matter how circumstances change, we can attend to our own comfort. This is both empowering for us and can be freeing for our relationship partners.

This is especially true if we can acknowledge that while our collective cultural conditioning might give us some similarity of expectation in relationship, it doesn’t account for the nuances of family culture, life experiences, relational modelling or trauma history. We are much the same as people and unique as individuals. As such, we sometimes have different hopes, needs and expectations or a different sense of how to meet them. Being assertive and proactive is crucial when communicating these expectations to your partner. Whether you are   discussing having kids or where to travel to for a vacation, it is always better to speak up rather than assume your partner already knows what you’re thinking. This can avoid the pitfalls of your expectations not being met, and the guesswork that often comes with that. If there is a disagreement, plan a time to sit down and talk about how both of you can best have your needs met; aim for collaboration, not compromise.

When connecting with each other, there is a personal responsibility for having our own needs met. Once this is achieved, relating becomes more steady and connected, and we become team members in constructing our own happiness. We can begin to trust that our partner’s efforts and our own come from a place of personal empowerment, sovereignty toward self, and authentic love.

Amber Huggins, MS RCC
Walmlsey EFAP