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Jennifer Seip, MA Individual, Couples & Sex Therapy
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Love, Sex & Life Blog

Relationships Problems: What To Do When Your Expectations Don’t Match Your Reality

Relationships Problems: What To Do When Your Expectations Don’t Match Your Reality

Do you remember the meme that has two pictures, each one with a romantic couple in it? The first image is of the couple kissing in bed. They’re hot and heavy, arms all over each other. Underneath them reads a caption, “Expectations.” The second image has that same couple. Only one person is on the toilet and the other is standing at the door with Pepto Bismol in their hand. The caption says “Reality.”

I laugh at these memes all the time. They’re funny because they’re true! Anyone who has been in a long relationship knows that once your’e in it for a bit, some of the romance dies. The parts of ourselves that we’ve been hiding from our partners, come out.

Do you know how many people enter into a relationship hoping that their partner will change?

A lot! I honestly don’t know the number, but I can tell you from experience that most people wish their partner would be different in some way. This isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, good relationships are ones where each person is adaptable and willing to make a change for the greater good. Don’t be fooled though. If you’re pushing your partner to be too much like you, or for them to fill some idealistic role you’ve had in your head since you were 13, then you might find yourself in trouble.

Relationships go down hill as soon as someone thinks that their partner is trying to change them. Humans have an innate instinct to want to be accepted as they are. We don’t enter relationships saying to ourselves, “man, I really hope that you need me to be different in some way.” Why would we? Deep down all we want is to feel like we are good enough, just the way we are.

So, my suggestion to you is to think about the expectations you might have and ask yourself where they come from and could you be okay without them.

Can you accept your partner just the way they are? If not then why?

I’ll give you a common example.

Shirley and Jacob are coming to therapy citing “Communication Issues.” Shirley is a 35 year old woman who is married to a man, Jacob, whom she once adored. He did everything for her. He was kind and genuine. He listened and was attentive but, he wasn’t making a lot of money. When Shirley and Jacob first met, Jacob had a high paying financial job and worked 60 hour weeks. Shirley loved that he was financially driven.

A few years went by and Jacob slowly started to realize that he wasn’t happy living his life that way. He liked having more free time to do his hobbies and felt good with less, but now Shirley felt betrayed. She expected more out of him. She expected to have a certain kind of lifestyle that comes with more money. So, Shirley dealt with this by getting angry at Jacob and resenting him. She called him names and told him that he wasn’t good enough.

By the time Shirley and Jacob got to therapy, both were feeling angry and resentful. They each had expectations that weren’t being met. The reality was, Shirley wanted more financial security and Jacob didn’t enjoy working full-time. Neither person was happy.

So what can be done?

In a perfect world, both people adapt. Shirley learns to accept that Jacob isn’t the kind of person who will be happy working 60 hours and she adjusts her idea of what the perfect “lifestyle” is. Jacob works a little more understanding that Shirley isn’t feeling financially safe with the amount that he is currently making and without sacrificing too much.The trade off is a happy marriage.

Another option is for both of them to realize that they are at a standstill. Maybe this is some thing that neither person wants to change. If that’s the case, then should they stay together? Understanding that this will always be a point of contention?

I can’t answer that. I can say that discussing expectations at every step of your relationship will go a long way. People aren’t mind readers, nor are we Gumby. We can’t just become someone completely different because that’s what our partner’s want. We also can’t make decisions until we talk about expectations.  Ask yourself, who am I really? Who is my partner really? I know that conversations about expectations versus reality can be difficult and uncomfortable. However, it’s important to have them because they will help you make better choices.