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Managing Expectations, Minimizing Disappointment

Managing ExpectationsWe go through virtually every moment of our life expecting a result. You expect your car to start when you turn the key. You expect to get a paycheck from your job. You expect a light to turn on when you flip the switch. And when these things don’t happen, you feel an immediate sense of frustration. The same can be said for relationship expectations. For many of us, our expectations differ greatly from those of our boyfriend/girlfriend, partner or spouse. In fact, these differences can be so significant that, if not dealt with, they can lead to the end of relationships and marriages.

Many of our expectations come from childhood experiences and the relationship that affected us the most—our parents and family. If you were raised in a single-parent home, you may have very low expectations for your partner or spouse. Or, perhaps you had a childhood fantasy of what a father or mother would be like and now your expectations might be set unrealistically high for a partner.

Even if you were raised in a home with both parents, you may have expectations that you are unaware of. For example, if a man grew up in a home with a father who worked all day, came home and didn’t help around the house, he also may expect to come home, kick his feet up and leave the housework to his wife. But, if his wife grew up in a home where both parents worked and her father took an active role in household chores, she will expect her husband to do the same. If these differences are important to one or both partners—and neither party is willing to compromise—the relationship will be strained.

Another example of different upbringing can often be found in the realm of finances. Perhaps you were raised in a home where money was tight and you learned at a very early age to hang onto every penny. However, your spouse may have been raised in an upper-middle class or affluent home where money wasn’t an issue so he (or she) may have more impulsive spending habits. For the relationship to be successful there must be a compromise.

Do you find yourself constantly bickering about things such as sharing household chores?  Maybe managing finances is a sticky subject or how to spend your holidays triggers an argument every year. Whatever the disagreement, chances are it all boils down to expectations. So, how do you resolve these issues without going to divorce court or a messy break up?

Instead of arguing constantly, take a step back and cool off for a few hours or days. When cooler heads have prevailed, the first question to ask your partner should be:  What is your expectation (regarding chores, money, etc.) and where does this expectation come from? It’s also a good idea to ask yourself the same question about your own point of view. Chances are, the two perspectives will be linked to your childhoods or maybe even past relationships.

Even partners that come from similar backgrounds can benefit from discussing expectations. What may seem obvious or normal to you may surprise your partner, and vice versa.

The University of Texas identified these additional steps for maintaining a good relationship:

  • Communicate what your needs and expectations are; expectations should be kept within reason.
  • Be willing to negotiate and compromise on the things you want from one another.
  • Do not demand that your partner change to meet all your expectations. Work to accept the differences between your ideal mate and the real person you are dating or married to.
  • Try to see things from the other person’s point of view. This doesn’t mean that you must agree with one another all the time, but rather understand and respect each other’s differences, points of view and separate needs.
  • Where critical differences do exist in your expectations, needs or opinions, try to work honestly and sincerely to negotiate. Seek professional help early rather than waiting until the situation becomes critical.
  • Do your best to treat your partner in a way that says, “I love you and trust you, and I want to work this out.”