The first step towards having healthy relationship expectations
The words felt foreign coming out of my mouth…
“If I’m making you dinner and we agree on what time we’re going to eat, I expect you to come down on time.”
I’d been busting my booty cooking a really nice dinner while Xander finished up the work day. We had planned to eat at 7:30, but Xander had kept calling down the stairs, “I’ll be there in 5 minutes!” It was inching towards 8:00, and I was pissed. (I’m pretty sure I was waving a spatula at him as I chastised him!)
It was a strange situation to find myself in because it was a major role reversal for us. Xander has been the primary cook in our relationship for over 12 years, but since we’ve been on lockdown, I’ve taken over preparing most of our meals.
But more importantly, I don’t use the word “expect” very often, so it felt harsh and aggressive coming off my tongue.
I had to step back for a second and re-evaluate myself.
Was it OK for me to have that expectation of Xander? Was it OK to state that expectation so directly? Was I sticking up for myself and the hard work I was putting into making dinner? Or was I being bossy and inflexible?
Even though this was just one small moment of frustration, the reality is that our expectations play a huge role in the health of our relationships.
Your expectations – and how you communicate those expectations – can bring your relationship closer together or tear it apart.
And expectations are particularly interesting because they can be teeny tiny, or they can be enormous.
Like my expectation that Xander come down for dinner on time versus my expectation that he be faithful to me.
So that’s why we’re going to spend the entire month of May talking about relationship expectations!
So let me ask you…
What do you expect from your relationship?
What do you expect from your partner?
What do you expect from your friends and family members?
When I sat down to write you this email, I asked myself those same questions. And to be perfectly honest with you, I felt a little stumped!
I realized I’ve never taken the time to truly define my relationship expectations.
In the moment, I know when my expectations haven’t been met, because I feel disappointed or angry. Just like what happened with my dinner plans.
But in those kinds of moments, I end up just being reactionary. I get triggered, and it usually leads to Xander and I having an argument.
I’m guessing you’ve had plenty of those kinds of experiences yourself!
Instead, think about how much different your relationships could be if you were able to communicate your expectations to others beforehand, rather than just reacting to your boundaries being violated in the moment.
We’re going to get to communicating your expectations later this month, but for now, I want you to start with examining your relationship expectations on your own.
So here’s your exercise for the week: come up with a list of about 10 expectations that you have for your relationship.
You can pick one specific relationship to work with, like your romantic relationship. Or you can think about relationships more broadly, including relationships with friends and family members.
First, let yourself go nuts and identify as many expectations as you possibly can.
To get you going, here are some of the ideas I came up with when I thought about my relationship with Xander:
- I expect Xander to be faithful.
- I expect Xander to be true to his word.
- I expect Xander to be willing to put work and effort into maintaining an extraordinary relationship with me.
- I expect Xander to take good care of himself.
- I expect Xander to be my teammate.
- I expect Xander to communicate with me, even when it’s hard.
Then, see if you can narrow your list down to the 10 most important expectations.
See if you can get more specific with your top 10 items too. For example, “I expect Xander to be my teammate” is pretty general. I could get more clear on what that actually means to me. Does that mean he always takes my side, even if he thinks I’m in the wrong? Does that mean he shares responsibilities evenly with me?
Next week, we’ll move on to how to communicate your expectations to other people!