Building a healthy relationship takes time, care, and a lot of effort. One area where couples often struggle is in managing their expectations. Your expectations are about what kind of behavior or attitudes you desire to see come to pass in the future. Depending on the kinds of expectations you have, you can either nurture your relationship or put it under strain.

Should you have expectations in a relationship?

Depending on one’s experiences, some believe that you shouldn’t expect anything from a romantic partner in a relationship. There are several reasons for this, some of which are helpful, but others aren’t so much. One unhelpful reason to avoid expectations is to avoid being let down. Past experiences may lead to the conclusion that having expectations simply means leaving yourself vulnerable to disappointment.

A potentially helpful reason to avoid expectations is that they can end up putting your partner under pressure and undermining the health of the relationship. Of course, one could say that sometimes people have unreasonable expectations, and those can cause serious problems in a relationship. We all have expectations – the question is whether your expectations are reasonable or not.

Fear of disappointment shouldn’t lead you to ditch expectations altogether, especially if your expectations touch the needs you have. If your needs aren’t being met in the relationship, something isn’t right and should be addressed. Reasonable expectations, far from hindering a relationship, can help it thrive and help keep you both accountable.

Clear and reasonable expectations help to support and nurture healthy relationships. No relationship is perfect, but if you aim for a relationship that’s “good enough,” one that keeps a good balance between reasonable and high expectations while being aware of unreasonable expectations, you can form a healthy and well-rounded partnership.

Healthy expectations function to ensure that both partners are receiving the benefits of and contributing meaningfully to the relationship.

Some examples of healthy expectations in a relationship

Some expectations in a relationship are so basic that we often refer to them as standards. These are the non-negotiables of any healthy relationship, but it helps to name them so that you and your partner are on the same page. Having healthy expectations does not mean your relationship will be conflict-free. Happy and healthy relationships have their fair share of conflict, which, when handled well, leads to deeper mutual understanding.

Healthy expectations include the following:

  • To be treated with kindness.
  • To be loved and shown affection.
  • To be respected and have your perspective and needs valued.
  • To be safe, and not experience emotional or physical abuse.
  • For your partner to be loyal, committed, and faithful.
  • To be shown support by your partner.
  • To have a satisfying sexual connection with your spouse.

Some expectations are harder to meet than others. Others may be difficult to understand, but being in a partnership means making the effort to try and understand as well as meet those expectations.

When a relationship is marked by healthy expectations which are expressed and honored, that makes for a healthy partnership. It is important to remember that you and your partner will have different needs and expectations. Your values, past experiences, and personality all inform your expectations.

Managing healthy expectations

Each person has their own set of expectations about the relationship. These expectations are shaped by their past experiences, their personality, past relationships, and their visions for what they want the relationship to be. The problem with expectations comes with their potential to hinder appreciation and cultivation of what is because of what could or should be. You need to manage your expectations and have healthy expectations to nurture your relationship.

Ways to manage and nurture healthy expectations include the following:

Talk it out

Often, expectations are left hidden and are assumed. If the people in the relationship don’t talk about it, they can be disappointed and hurt, causing tension and conflict in the relationship. Get on the same page by talking through your expectations, and as these or your circumstances change, talk about that too. Otherwise, you might be angry or disappointed in your partner, and they don’t even know why!

Understand your lot

When you commit to a particular person, recognize that you’ve taken on a particular load. That person has their own proclivities, weaknesses, strengths, and so on. Unless you want to refashion them into your image of what a partner should be (which would be a painful process for you both), you should recognize that when you signed up with that person, you signed up for conflict in specific areas of your life together.

This doesn’t mean you can’t grow as individuals, but it means you need to come to terms with who you’re with.

Appreciate your lot

In that same vein, appreciate your partner for who they are, not who you want them to be. Maybe they don’t cook as well as you do, but if they try, honor that. Or perhaps they did the laundry a little later than you typically would, but they did it to make sure you didn’t have to. There’s always something to appreciate if you’re looking for it. Appreciating them will generate warmth in your relationship.

Maintain your connection

You and your partner are just that – partners. You are in this together, working as friends, honoring each other’s dreams, trusting each other, and working through difficulties together. Spend time together to build connection, get to know each other, and understand how to be there for one another.

Be willing to fix things

Forgiveness and reconciliation are key, as is the willingness to compromise and find a middle ground that works for you both. You’re both going to mess up, and you both need compassion and grace toward one another (Ephesians 4: 32; Colossians 3: 13-14).

Avoid comparisons

You and your partner are unique individuals. Don’t compare yourselves with another couple. Instead, cultivate your own list of expectations that match your unique needs and situation.

Don’t make threats

To get heard, sometimes people make threats, even to the relationship. This often results in shutting the conversation down, not enhancing it. Rather, find a different way to express how important your expectations are, and why they are important to you. Give your partner insight into what you’re thinking and why, and give them room to meet those expectations.

Be realistic

John Gottman, the renowned psychologist, states that “it’s unrealistic to expect a relationship to heal childhood wounds, or to become a pathway to spiritual enlightenment or self-actualization.” Don’t expect your partner to be perfect, to love things the same way you do, or to be the key to your happiness. A human being can’t bear the weight of that kind of pressure.

Other unrealistic expectations include ideas such as your spouse should always agree with you, that you’ll spend all your free time together, or that you’ll never argue, or that you’ll always have sex on a regular basis, and they should always know what you’re thinking or feeling. Such expectations cannot be met, and as such will almost always lead to disappointment. It is best to relinquish unrealistic expectations for the sake of your relationship.

Finding help with your expectations

Expectations help a relationship remain accountable and healthy, but that also depends on whether those expectations are themselves healthy and reasonable. Perhaps you and your partner have never discussed your expectations, and there’s friction in your relationship as a result. Or it might be that your expressed expectations have laid huge burdens that are hard to carry for one or both of you.

Help is available in the form of Christian counseling. Your counselor can help you reflect on who you are as a couple, how to appreciate your unique strengths, and be more aware of your unique needs. They can help you grow in your ability to communicate your expectations in a winsome way, and how to manage conflict when it arises. They can also help you learn how to discern reasonable from unreasonable expectations in a relationship.

Speak with a counselor today to become better attuned to one another and meet your mutual needs well.

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