Whether you're single or coupled, managing your expectations can lead to a happier life.
Relationships are a tricky business—for singles in search of them and for couples in the trenches. We all have ideas about what a good relationship looks like, and we all have different needs and desires that we hope to have met. Yet, there are some unrealistic expectations that Toronto-based psychologist and relationship expert Nicole McCance sees time and time again. Here are the five most common and a few tricks for working through them.
Unrealistic expectation 1: My partner should always know what I need
"A lot of my female clients tell me their partner should ‘just know,'" says McCance. "'He should know that I need a hug when I'm down.' Or 'he should know that I'm exhausted when I get home from work—yet the laundry bin is still sitting on the stairs and there are dishes everywhere.'" But you have to share your needs if you expect to have them met. You might even need to reiterate a few times. "There are some men that actually don't see the laundry bin. They'll trip over it before they see it." The important thing: Don't equate his ignorance about your needs with how he feels for you. Just because your partner doesn't care about the laundry (and, of course, laundry could stand in for anything you wish he would do) doesn't mean he doesn't care about you.
Unrealistic expectation 2: Compatible couples never argue
McCance says a lot of couples come to her office for the first time believing that their relationship is failing because they're arguing. But bickering is totally normal. "It's more about how you argue and how quickly you make up," she says. "The recovery time should be less than half an hour. A healthy couple is really good at apologizing and letting it go."
But if you keep having the same arguments over and over again, it may be time to focus on acceptance and your partner's strengths. "Sometimes we need to accept that we are different and have different personalities," says McCance. You don't have to agree on everything to have a good relationship.
Unrealistic expectation 3: Couples should spend all their time together
Get a life, girl. Yes, couples should enjoy spending time together, but that doesn't mean that every waking minute outside of work should be spent holding hands. "Some people believe that if you're lovers, then your lives should be enmeshed," says McCance. "But that's not true." It's healthy to have your own interests and friends and even spend time alone. Cultivate at least part of your life that belongs solely to you.
Unrealistic expectation 4: Good relationships don't need work
Literally anything worth doing in life takes work. "Think about that," McCance says. "A fit person has to work really hard to get those abs. It takes hard work to get a great job. Relationships are probably the most complicated thing that we do in life so they're also going to take the most work." That said, a healthy relationship between two compatible people won't feel like hard work every single day. "I do believe that if you're with the right person, there will be a sense of ease in the relationship," says McCance. "But that doesn't mean it will always be easy. Life has challenges."
Unrealistic expectation 5: The right partner should meet all my needs
"I see this person often," says McCance. "They're in their mid-40s. They wanted a baby and are panicking now because of their age. They tell me, 'Oh my god, Nicole. I had the craziest expectations. I would comment on his socks. The way he drinks his wine.'" That's an extreme, where a woman expects her partner to tick off a million tiny boxes that aren't important in the long run.
This expectation can also affect long-term relationships, where individuals think that their partner should fulfill all of their intellectual, social, emotional, physical and spiritual needs all of the time. But that's an unrealistic fantasy. Instead, focus on the big things, says McCance. "Do you feel respected? Do you feel like this person is honest and faithful to you? Do you feel safe with them? Bottom line: if, when you're with them, you feel secure in your life and yourself, then you're with the right person. The rest doesn't matter."
Of course, most people will harbour unrealistic expectations on occasion. Here's what to do if you're not sure where your desires fall:
Share your needs
Your partner can't read your mind, period. If you want him (or her) to do something, you're going to have to tell him—preferably when neither of you are hungry, tired or prone to picking an arbitrary fight. Then you can decide together if your desire is realistic or not. For example, if you always want your partner to respond to your text messages within half an hour… that might not be realistic for many reasons (he's working; he's trying to enjoy time with friends without staring at his phone; he's driving). But the first step is to discuss it, find out if you might be asking too much and then work out a solution together.
Talk to close friends
If you still disagree with your partner, it may be time to talk to other couples. Choose friends you trust and use them to gauge if you want too much or if your expectations are common and reasonable. If you're single and can never seem to find someone who makes you happy, you can also ask a friend or two to go through your checklist of must-haves and knock a few items off (like, does he really need to have a big family, read the same books and want to cook you dinner every night?).
Write it out
Start journaling ASAP, says McCance, because we all have patterns of behaviour. "Journal every time your expectations aren't being met," she says. "Then go back and read your journal once a month. You may begin to learn some self-awareness and see: 'Wow, I'm a little high maintenance.'"