How to Manage Expectations in Relationships

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As human beings, we need fulfilling relationships in order to fully thrive. Relationships with our family members, significant others, best friends, romantic flings, bosses and coworkers all throw various social interactions into our lives daily.

And the more relationships you have in your life, the better. Several studies by the National Institutes on Health (NIH) have shown that those with higher levels of human interaction—such as many strong friendships, healthy communicative marriages and active elderly sex lives—have better overall health outcomes.

What’s more, psychologists have even found that the interactions we share every day in our relationships are essential to our emotional and physical well-being.

Let’s face it, though. It can be hard to navigate relationships.

Sometimes, we suffer undue stress, anxiety and depression because expectations we hold for those in our relationships are unable to be met.

When we feel we aren’t receiving what we expect from others, it’s easy to feel let down and hold resentment toward other people.

Often, the solution lies in taking a look at your own expectations and asking yourself if they are reasonable and worth fighting for.

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Expectations in Relationships

While it’s important for everyone to have basic requirements in their relationships (i.e. respect, trust, justice, non-abuse, etc.), some of your expectations can be unrealistic and lower your chance of enjoying happy relationships.

I have this horrible habit of leaning on others in attempts to fill gaps inside myself, such as my lack of self-reliance and low self-esteem. I expect too much emotional contribution from my friends and significant other, which has a negative impact on our relationships in the long run.

Supplying me with constant support and optimism can be draining on the people in my life, who already have problems of their own.

By recognizing that my subtle demands for validation can be overbearing on the people in my life, I can focus instead on building my self-reliance and thinking for myself.

I’d be a fuller person and our relationships could be much more meaningful if I just put more effort into my personal issues myself.

Look at the people in your life and think about any relationships that cause you to feel stress. Is it possible that there is an imbalance of expectations between yourself and the other person thats causing a problem in the relationship?

Common Unrealistic Expectations in Relationships

Here are some examples of expectations which some people hold too strongly for healthy balanced relationships.

  • Expecting constant communication and close boundaries at all times
  • Expecting someone to live up to standards that you have set for them
  • Expecting someone to always agree with you; not allowing someone to disagree with you without taking it personally
  • Seeking constant approval from others as an attempt to inflate your self-esteem
  • Relying on others to make decisions for you

Tips for Managing Expectations in Relationships

While I’m not an old lady quite yet, I just hit my third decade, so I’ve learned a thing or two about relationships throughout the years.

My personal struggle lies in relying too much on others to make decisions for me and to determine my value and worth. It’s a lifelong struggle, and I’m still learning to deal with it.

But this is what I’ve learned so far—If we want to feel good about ourselves and the people in our lives, it’s important to learn how to manage our relationships in healthy, realistic ways.

Here are some helpful tips to evaluate your relationships and manage your own expectations for others:

Do Some Soul-Searching

Regularly examine your own expectations in relationships and assess whether or not those expectations are worth keeping.

Do some journaling. Lay down in a quiet room and take some time to think about your life.

Make a list of relationship expectations that are non-negotiable for you, such as respect and trust. These values are unique to your life—no one else can decide your relationship requirements for you. They are the aspects of a relationship that you require for your own well-being and benefit.

Then, list things that you may find yourself often wishing for in particular relationships: more attention? Better communication? More time together?

Define for yourself exactly what it would take for these expectations to be met.

Are these expectations realistic? If everyone could come through for us in the ways we wished they could, they’d be superheroes. Sometimes, we hold people to impossible standards without even realizing it.

Ask yourself if you dedicate the same amount of energy to the relationship that you wish you were getting in return. If not, that may be a sign that you have some expectations that need adjusting.

Consider Settling (Just a Little)

Psychologist John Gottman proposes that in order to find happiness in relationships, we should be willing to settle for “good enough.”

It’s impossible for a person to meet every single one of your expectations because humans are imperfect and it’s just not reasonable.

However, if you can find someone who meets enough of those expectations that you can feel satisfied, that’s Gottman’s idea of “good enough.”

By having too high of expectations, you will never encounter the “perfect” relationship you’re seeking. With too low of expectations, you risk putting yourself in an inferior position in an unbalanced relationship.

The best way to find satisfaction in your relationships is by finding the “happy medium—where enough realistic requirements are met that you are willing to overlook some of the unnecessary “wishes.”

Look Within and For Answers to Your Expectations

Through years of trial and error, I’ve learned that taking risks and making my own decisions without demanding guidance has allowed me to grow into a more confident person who can give more back in my relationships.

Self-esteem can make or break a relationship.

When someone relies too much on a relationship as their source of inner value, it’s counterproductive to their personal growth and the relationship’s well-being. Think of the saying, “You can’t love others until you love yourself.”

When you make someone else feel like your happiness depends on their contribution, they can feel trapped or burdened in the relationship. Their instinct is often to run because the relationship is becoming too emotionally taxing.

Look at your relationships to see if you have any unhealthy habits of leaning on others. This type of behavior only weakens your self-esteem, because it often reinforces the feeling of rejection when others ultimately cannot solve your problems.

Moving Forward

As I continue learning to force myself to rely more on my own instincts than others’ opinions and input, I realize how much more freedom comes with being your own friend.

You don’t feel as weighed down by expectations. You learn to accept your mistakes and move on with new skills.

By allowing less of your happiness to depend on others’ fulfillment of your expectations, you can eliminate unneeded stress and disappointment from your life.

It can be hard, at times, to know when it’s time to compromise and when to stick to your guns.

Hopefully the advice presented here can offer insight as you examine your relationship expectations. But ultimately, it’s your responsibility to take care of your own self-esteem and self-reliance.

You will never feel good about yourself if you rely on others to fill your inner voids.

Managing your expectations in relationships can be confusing and challenging—believe me, I know. You may find it beneficial to enlist the help of a professional therapist or a close confidante to help you identify unhealthy relationship habits and how you can change them.

I’m still not perfect, but the golden rule seems to be this: the less you ask or demand from others, the more everyone benefits from the relationship.

Additional Resources

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About the author

Valerie Sizelove
Valerie Sizelove is a freelance content writer who specializes in health, mental health, self-improvement and parenting topics. She also loves to spill her guts on Medium. When she’s not wrangling her four kids or writing, you might find Valerie weeding in her amateur vegetable garden or baking some phenomenal cookies.

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