Unspoken Expectations: the silent killer of relationships
Unspoken expectations are like poison in any relationship, as it can lead to disappointment, frustration, and as author Neil Strauss would say “ premeditated resentments”. With unmet expectations being one of the major causes of divorce in today’s marriages, not communicating your expectations doesn't just affect your love life, but can also impact your career, friendships, and personal goals. Expectations can range from how you expect to be treated, how you expect the other person to talk to you, or even how long you expect to wait to get married.
It’s important to note that having expectations is normal, but not communicating your expectations is where it can get messy. For example, I have a friend who’s been dating a guy for a couple months, and has started to develop some built up resentment. She tells me that he never seems to have time for her and therefore she doesn't feel like a priority. To simply put it, her needs and expectations are not being met. While a new relationship can be fun and exciting, it can also get irritating and frustrating if it does not live up to your expectations. However, if you do not communicate your needs it will often lead to resentment, which oftentimes leads to disappointment, hurt, and anger. Therefore, I told my friend to begin by communicating her needs. Although communicating our needs is never easy, it is integral to ensuring that our partners are willing and able to meet our expectations. In order for expectations to be effective, they need to be understood, communicated, and fulfilled so that they do not result in built up resentment.
The Difference Between Standards and Expectations
Most people use expectations and standards interchangeably to communicate what they want out of a relationship. However, the trick lies in understanding the difference between the two. Standards are a certain level of quality or guidelines that you follow and accept in the present moment. They can represent what you desire from a partner, whether it be similar familial values or similar economical backgrounds.Expectations however, are what we believe should happen in the future – certain actions we wish someone would take or an event we wish would happen.
When these actions or events don’t meet our expectations, we may feel a string of negative emotions such as disappointment. Therefore it is important to understand that while we can control whether someone meets our standards, we have limited control over whether someone can meet our expectations.
How to Deal with Unspoken Expectations
The number one way to feed resentment is to keep unmet expectations to yourself. Therefore, it is important that you express your needs to your partner openly and honestly with courage, compassion, and compromise. Talking about your expectations ahead of time can save you a lot of disappointments and misunderstandings in the long run. Communicating your expectations in a relationship might feel daunting in the beginning but will get easier as you get to know and trust your partner.
Here are a few points to help guide you through the process:
- Let Your Emotions Point the Way
Becoming self-aware is always a good place to start when we’re communicating something that may be challenging. Therefore, taking the time to journal out your feelings and write down your expectations, even if you think you’ve shared them before, can help validate and bring clarity to your expectations. Then ask yourself, where did these expectations come from? Many unspoken expectations are based on family traditions and values, past relationships, life experience and friends. Anytime an intense feeling comes up can be an invitation to reflect on any unspoken expectations that have not been met, allow it to come to your awareness so it can be communicated.
- Prioritize Appreciation Over Expectations
“Turn your expectations into appreciation and your whole life will change”. (Tony Robbins) When our focus is centered on our differences in expectations, rather than our appreciation for one another, conflict can easily arise. Having expectations with a lack of appreciation can lead to nagging, which can then lead to frustration and often drives us further away from our partner. Instead of focusing on the negative, make a point to value your partner’s positive qualities.
- Show Compassion & Respect
According to lifecoach and author, Tony Robbins, “to successfully navigate any relationship, you want to demonstrate compassion by prioritizing your love over your expectations”. While expectations can help clear up boundaries and needs, it’s important to remember that your connection and partnership is what’s most important.
Being able to seek a playful and empathetic way to express differences can offer respect for each other’s values, perspective and needs, which is often a healthy basis for communication.
- Avoid Comparing Your Relationship to Others’ Relationships
Within all our busy lives we may not notice that we take on “textbook” expectations or ideals that make it easier for us to decide what we need and want in a relationship. However, in adopting a generalized template, we neglect our very own unique template. Subsequently, leaving little room for our own authentic personality, needs, desires (and those of your partner). Refrain from adopting other couples’ standards and expectations in a relationship and work with your partner to develop your own.
- Don’t Stagnate
While we always hope to never return to uncomfortable situations and conversations, learning how to manage expectations or conflict for that matter, is often never a one-time deal. Discussing and rediscussing expectations is a continuous cycle that allows you to touch base and check in with whether each other’s needs are being met. Just because your relationship has no conflict doesn’t make it an excuse to sit back and relax. Commit to never-ending improvement, where you and your partner can work towards building the relationship you desire.
- Be Grateful for the Gift of Clarity
Discussing our relational expectations isn’t always easy, however when we allow ourselves to be open and honest with our expectations, it brings the gift of clarity, better communication, and the chance for a deeper connection.
Building a healthy partnership takes work, but it’s well worth the effort. If you’re needing help managing expectations in a relationship, connect with a relationship or personal counselor at An Elegant Mind Counseling.