Let’s talk about relationships and expectations.
I often ask couples in therapy about expectations: of their relationships, of each other, and of themselves. It really sounds too simple and basic. “Of course we have talked about expectations,” is the answer I most likely get when I ask this question. But when we look at this with more detail, we find out that not really, these expectations have not been shared with each other. And sometimes, each partner might not even be aware of these expectations. They’ve remained in the background, sitting quietly but making an impact on the relationship just as well.
Expectations are beliefs that something should happen. They can be small, like expecting your partner to pick up their plate after dinner, or more intricate, like expecting your partner to inquire in detail about your day after you come home and say, “Work was stressful today.” You would [reasonable] expect them to ask, „Tell me about it.“ Maybe offer you something to drink, invite you to the sofa, and listen attentively while you pour your heart out. Having them say, instead, „Oh, great. Me too. Can you take out the garbage?“ is probably not in line with what you expected.
The problem is that we rarely bring these expectations forth, and we rarely share them with each other. Saying, “ I had a stressful day at work,” is a statement, it’s not a question, and it’s not an invitation for your partner to share anything afterwards. True, it would be reasonable to expect your partner to ask, “What happened? Do you want to tell me about it?” But they can choose not to. Because you didn’t tell them that you needed something from them, and they might not be aware of this need.
Often times, we might not be quite clear on what our expectations even are. A helpful exercise for this can be to find a quiet place in your home, or wherever you feel the most comfortable, and reflect on the following questions:
- How do you believe your partner should behave like towards you? (Think specific situations: when you come home, when you send a text, when you call, when you feel sick/sad/happy/worried…)
- What do you think your relationship should look like in terms of expression of affection, sharing of household duties, finances, caretaking of one another, meeting with family or friends..?
*Expression of affection can be emotional and/or physical. It can range from a small gesture like a slight touch while passing each other, to holding hands, kissing, or being intimate.
How do you believe your partner should respond to your needs? And most importantly, how do you express your needs?
A relationship is a continuous ebb and flow – of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It does not stay static. We, as individuals, are in a constant state of development and change, and our relationships should reflect these changes as well. But sometimes it’s challenging to keep up with our own growth, so it’s really unrealistic to expect our partners to be cognizant of these nuances without letting them know.
So be kind to yourself, to your partner, and to your relationship. Invite each other out for coffee or dinner, and talk about what your expectations are. Checking in every so often will strengthen your relationship foundation, and your love and care for each other.
And if you’re finding it challenging to get that conversation started, don’t hesitate and reach out.
Couple’s therapy is not only for couple’s in trouble – but also for those who would like to provide a little bit of TLC to their relationship.
And self-care is worth it.