3 Tips to Manage Your Expectations of Your Partner
And Why It's Necessary To Do So
Before we dive into managing our expectations of our partners, or other people in general, I want to explain that there is a difference between having standards of how you want to be treated and having expectations of how others should react to you.
Having a standard of treatment is like having some previously agreed upon criteria for behavior. For example, and just to name a couple, you should have standards of 1.) professional behavior at work and 2.) personal behavior in your relationships. This is an indication of a clear and understandable line of acceptable and non-acceptable behavior.
For example: At work, it’s usually not acceptable to tell dirty jokes while in the office. This is a clear, easy to understand line or boundary, and you agree to behave a certain way when you sign your job offer. In your personal relationships, it should not acceptable to be physically or verbally violent towards each other. This is a clear, easy to understand line which is previously agreed upon. These are clear standards for social and professional interaction.
Expectations are more like believing that something will happen in the future and having a strong assumption of how you think it should go.
For example: Let's say you think it'll be nice to surprise your partner with a nice dinner after work. You plan everything out, get the supplies, and spring for some romantic chocolate covered strawberries. You spend a lot of time cleaning the house, cooking dinner, and making sure everything is perfect for when they come home. You expect them to be surprised, grateful, and appreciative of your efforts. After all, you went out of your way to make their evening special, right? Why would they want to act any other way?
To your surprise, when your partner walks through the door they react in the exact opposite way you expected them to. They are tired from a stressful day at the office and all they want to do is grab a quick bite, take a shower, and go lay down. This leads you to feel upset. How could they not appreciate all the work you put in? Don't they care about you?
When you have an expectation of how someone else should behave or react, you're setting yourself up to be disappointed and upset. It causes you to search for answers to questions that don't need to be asked. While it may seem like your partner doesn't care or appreciate your romantic gesture, the fact is they are exhausted from a long day of dealing with stress that you don't know about, and sometimes doing the song and dance of a romantic evening can feel like even more work! You also didn't ask them if they even wanted dinner when they got home, you just expected them to be grateful and appreciative that you made it.
See where the disconnect happens? By having expectations of your partner's behavior you're setting yourself up for emotional failure.
So now that we know the difference between having standards of treatment and expectations of other's behavior, we can talk about a few ways you can manage your expectations of your partner:
1.) Don’t assume anything. This is SO easy to do and most people do it multiple times each day. Instead of assuming, try having a conversation with your partner where you clearly state what you want and how you feel.
In the example above, one party assumed that their partner would want the romantic dinner surprise and expected them to act a certain way because of their own assumption. This plan backfired, and caused them to experience some negative emotions. Assumptions and expectations typically go hand in hand, and both need to be managed carefully.
2.) Try to see things from the other person’s perspective. Most of us don’t try to walk in another person’s shoes before passing judgement. We don’t think about WHY they failed us, we just know that they did and they suck for it.
In the relationship example above, one party was upset at the response of their partner. Instead of getting upset that they rejected the romantic gesture, try thinking about it from the other person’s perspective. Their partner had a long, stressful day at work, this is probably the first chance they’ve gotten to relax all day, they just want to shower and lay down… and that’s okay! Who hasn't had a day like that before?
Instead of feeling personally insulted and possibly fighting about a misunderstanding, throw some food on a plate and take it into the room after their shower! Offer to rub their feet while they nibble and listen to what they have to say about their day! I promise this will not only get you a better response from your partner, but it will also leave you feeling better because you didn't unnecessarily escalate the situation.
3.) Communicate your feelings openly and honestly with your partner, and don’t expect them to guess how you want to feel or be treated. Don't worry about what they're going to think if you speak up, just do it. If there was better communication in the example above, the outcome would have been drastically different.
It's also important to realize that it is your responsibility to feel the way you want to feel. It is not your partner's, mother's, friend's, or coworker's responsibility to make you feel happy or satisfied. Stop putting that expectation on other people and learn to be the source of your own happiness.
When we manage our own expectations of our partners, and others in general, it makes our lives easier. We are constantly setting ourselves up for disappointment when we expect others to ‘act’ or ‘be a certain way.'
When you remove your expectations of others, you’re not only allowing them to truly be themselves without limitations, you’re also setting yourself up to have a better experience with them.