The four-step process for resolving mismatched relationship expectations

June 02,2020

“But that’s not what I want…”

What the heck do you do if your relationship expectations don’t line up with your partner’s expectations?

What if your needs are actually the exact opposite of what your partner is looking for?

I know this can feel really scary. Xander and I have been there ourselves!

So we’ve got your back with a four-step process for working through mismatched expectations.

Step 1: Evaluate your expectations

All month, I’ve been sharing resources with you to help you better understand and share your expectations. Hopefully you’ve been putting these tools to use and feeling more clarity.

But let’s assume that you and your partner have had some sort of conversation and realized that your expectations aren’t matching up.

This may initially cause you to second-guess yourself. Maybe you start wondering if you’re being unreasonable or demanding. 

So here’s a little trick for you…

Consider this question: “In the past, have I tended to set my expectations too high or too low?”

If you realize that you’ve set low expectations in the past, that might be a good reason to stand firm on your needs.

If you realize that you’ve been overly tough with your expectations in the past, see if there’s a way you can re-evaluate or soften some of those expectations. 

Step 2: Understand their expectations

Now it’s time to go deeper with your partner.

Ask your partner to share the story behind their expectations. 

Ask them questions like:

Have your partner ask you the same questions about your expectations, so they get to understand you better, too.

Sometimes just hearing the stories behind your partner’s expectations helps you soften towards them.

And sometimes, hearing the story behind your partner’s expectation completely changes your perspective.

For example, let’s say you’ve always managed the bills in your relationship, but your partner all of a sudden asks to be more involved in financial planning. 

You might take offense to this, feeling like your partner is judging you for not being “good enough” at managing your money. Or you might think your partner is suspicious and untrusting of you.

But if you were to ask your partner for the story behind their request, maybe they tell you that they’ve judged themselves as being “bad” at dealing with money, and they want to get better. Or maybe they’ve been worried that you’re judging them for not being more involved!

Totally different scenario, right?

Step 3: Validate each other

It can be really scary to realize that your expectations aren’t in alignment with your partner’s, and it’s easy to feel stuck. A lot of couples try to leap to problem-solving mode as quickly as possible.

But before trying to fix things, focus instead on validating each other’s expectations.

Say something like, “That makes sense to me” or “I understand why you have that desire.”

It doesn’t matter if you don’t agree with or share their expectation.

You just want to validate that it makes sense for them to have it.

Validation feels insanely good. Oftentimes, the only thing we truly need is to feel seen, heard, and validated.

There have been times when I’ve been upset with Xander, but the second he said, “I understand why you feel that way”, all my tension just melted away. 

After validating each other, take a little time to sit with things and see how you’re feeling about your expectations. Does it still feel like you’re a million miles apart, or do you feel closer together? Does a little misalignment not feel so bad after all?

Step 4: Try an experiment

The crazy thing about validation is that it opens up a space to come up with new solutions together. You create so much goodwill, energy, and creativity. 

I’ve shared before that Xander and I went through a really rough period early in our relationship where he didn’t initiate sex very often. It felt like our needs were nowhere close to alignment. I wanted more sex, he didn’t. We had a ton of fights about the situation, but nothing got better. 

We ended up deciding to go to therapy, and our therapist helped Xander validate my desire for more initiation, and helped me validate all of the energy-sapping stress that Xander was going through in other areas of his life.

As soon as we each got that validation, we started feeling like teammates again. We started approaching our situation with curiosity and coming up with ideas to try.

We were still feeling nervous about how much conflict our sex life had caused us, so we told ourselves, “What if we try these things just as experiments?” 

That took the pressure off of ourselves to come up with the perfect compromise or solution. We just decided to try some different things out and see what worked.

Lowering the bar in that way kept us feeling creative and excited. 

Some of our experiments didn’t work, so we moved on. But other experiments worked wonders.

It didn’t take long for our sex life to dramatically improve!

Just the word “experiment” feels so much less stressful, and so much more inviting. I highly recommend giving it a shot!

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HI THERE!

I'm Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist and writer specializing in helping you have more fun in the bedroom.

I have bachelor’s degrees in human sexuality and sociology from Brown University, and a master’s degree in counseling psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies. I’m also a licensed psychotherapist. I’ve been working in the sex therapy field since 2002 and have been featured by The New York Times, O: The Oprah Magazine, Real Simple, and many more.

If you’re interested in improving your sex life, you can work with me via my online courses or personal coaching sessions. I look forward to supporting you in creating the sex life you’ve always wanted!