When our relationships aren’t going as we had hoped or planned, we can find ourselves asking if our expectations are too high.
Our expectations can be categorised as standards (basic things we should all demand) and opinions (things we each prefer). So I might have an opinion that a person should write love notes, whereas you might have an opinion that a person needs to have really cool style. But together, we both agree that respect, trust and honesty is a relationship standard.
The problem is some of us struggle to distinguish between the two. And sometimes, we mix up high expectations with low quality beliefs.
In my early twenties, I briefly dated a guy who consistently responded late to texts and barely bothered to call. I believed at the time; wanting him to communicate more when we were apart was asking for too much. After all, he was very responsive in person. I’m now aware he couldn’t fulfil my needs.
What are reasonable expectations in a relationship?
Think about your non-negotiables – what would stop you from being happy with your partner?
As an example, I refuse to negotiate on:
- Faithfulness – I expect exclusivity, trust and honesty.
- Physical attraction.
- Good communication – someone who feels comfortable opening up and expressing their thoughts.
- Effort – a willingness to try to get along with my friends and family, try activities and things I like that might be out his comfort zone.
- Being treated well – loving and respecting me as I am, not overly critical.
- Romance and intimacy – cuddles, romantic gestures, passionate sex, holding hands – acts of love.
- Ambition – having the drive to achieve goals and equally support mine.
- Long-term commitment – not giving up when things might go cold, showing commitment to keeping our relationship fun and exciting, not letting us go stale or distant.
- General wellness – someone who isn’t going to spend every evening eating takeaways, ready meals and other processed food.
As a standard, I consider these points non-negotiable because I need them to feel happy. They’re standards I also hold for myself when I’m with someone.
Reasonable expectations support your wellbeing and care. They can look slightly different for each person – you might want someone who is on a similar wage, wants to get married, can embrace your dog or cat.
How do you know if your expectations are too high in a relationship?
High expectations aren’t a bad thing – it doesn’t mean you’ll always be disappointed or you’re too picky. The expectations we set can show how much we value ourselves. So it makes sense that they’re high – I consider my expectations high because I’m not going to settle on less than my standards.
What we want becomes a problem when it feels too unrealistic. When we have requirements that no person can reach.
This usually involves an unrealistic ideal: A perfect person who is always available when you need them, someone who always communicates well, always plans incredible dates, always agrees with your political and social views.
Other unrealistic ideals revolve around very specific characteristics: A certain height, look, style, income, body. There’s no shame in wanting a stereotypically attractive partner or one with a great wage. However, these types of physical traits can minimise your dating chances and potentially stop you from building a connection with people who are otherwise suitable – your ‘soulmate’ may not have the exact physical image your expectations demand.
Where do our too high expectations come from?
According to relationship counsellor, Natasha Silverman, high expectations tend to link to our own self-worth. If you struggle with low self-esteem, you may purposely create an overwhelming list of requirements unconsciously believing that a “high status” date will make you feel “good enough”.
Natasha also says expectations can come from the fear of ‘getting it wrong’. If you want to settle down, you may believe certain requirements will stop you from dating the wrong people.
Although our partners are an extension of us (in some ways), we’re still individuals. We can’t expect anyone to patch up our own problems, solve our insecurities or be responsible for how we’re feeling.
I used to date men I thought could ‘make up’ for what I lacked. When I first started dating, I was convinced I needed someone loud and outspoken because I felt quiet and awkward. When I was struggling financially and didn’t know what to do for a career, I wanted someone with a great income. And when I was 19 and coming home to eat toast and chocolate for dinner, I desired a guy really into fitness. These were expectations that didn’t fulfil my relationships goals – they were just traits that plastered a band-aid on my insecurities.
I look at my boyfriend today and believe him to be perfect for me. Yes, he’s not into social media and blogging, he’s not going to jump for joy about visiting a museum, he doesn’t love old movies. But he’ll support my blogging goals, he’ll take me to a museum and show interest and he’ll sit through a film I love that he doesn’t (even if that means multitasking a video game).
Every individual has their own set problems – there is no 100% match for us. It’s about finding the right balance.
Should you ever lower your requirements?
Think about whether your expectations are achievable and realistic.
John Gottman from The Gottman Institute believes we should strive for ‘good enough relationships’. This means we have high expectations for how we’re treated (respect, loyalty, kindness). But we don’t expect our partners to solve all our problems and we understand that conflict is usually inevitable. Good enough is about compromise and learning to effectively manage conflict and repair.
Often, I find people place expectations on their partner’s that they don’t verbally communicate. They’ll just expect a bouquet of flowers on Valentine’s, or jewellery for Christmas. They’ll want their partner to act more spontaneous or give more compliments without telling them. Regardless of how much someone knows you, nobody is a mind reader.
If you’re worried your expectations are too high in your relationship, communicate this to your partner. Talk about the standards you each expect. Every person has their own beliefs and feelings as to what a healthy relationship looks.
Looking for more personal, specific advice? Why not write to me at my Ask Laura column.