Top 5 unreasonable relationship expectations

May 26,2020

Here’s the brutal truth: you’ve been taught to believe some serious BS about relationships.

We all have been! 

And these relationship myths are seriously harming our relationships. 

Today I want to share the top 5 relationship expectations most of us have, and the reasons why they are so damaging. 

Relationship expectation #1: Your partner completes you

Most of us are instilled with this fairy-tale view of relationships:

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve worked with who had massive lists of requirements that a partner must fulfill in order to just be considered for a date!

Even if we rationally understand that this whole “you complete me” thing isn’t really true, a lot of us still feel disappointed when our partner turns out to be a human being with inconsistencies and flaws and not Prince(ss) Charming.

This expectation can sneak into our lives in subtle ways too. Maybe you find yourself turning to your partner to help improve your mood or validate you, rather than seeking that from yourself.

Reality: You can – and should – be whole without a partner. 

And in fact, the more confident you feel in your own skin, the better of a partner you’ll attract. 

That’s because you’ll be looking for someone to add to your life, not to fill in the holes.

I met Xander at a period in my life where I was feeling pretty solid and confident in who I was. Life wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty dang good. Unlike other times in my life, I didn’t even feel like I wanted a relationship when I met Xander! I’m convinced that that’s a big part of the reason why things worked out so well for us (in addition to him being a great person, of course). 

Relationship expectation #2: Your partner should know you better than you know yourself

This expectation goes hand-in-hand with #1. Since our partner is supposed to be our perfect soulmate, they should also know us even better than we know ourselves. They should be able to anticipate our needs, and meet those needs without even being asked.

This expectation can show up in big and small ways too. 

You may find yourself getting angry or frustrated when your partner doesn’t read your mind. 

You may find yourself secretly holding back your desires, as a “test” for your partner to pass. 

You may find yourself doubting your relationship when your partner doesn’t live up to your expectations, thinking thoughts like, “Would a real soulmate buy me a birthday present that is so obviously not me?” or “Would a real soulmate forget to give the kids their baths yet again?“

And this expectation pops up in the bedroom, too. You might find yourself wishing your partner just magically knew what you needed to get turned on or have an orgasm, without having to ever tell them what you need. (Or even know what you need in the first place!)

Reality: You are a complete and total alien to your partner.

Regardless of how long you’ve been together – or how well you think you know each other – you have always been, and will always be, an alien to your partner.

This is seriously some of the best relationship advice I could ever give you!

When I’m feeling frustrated at Xander for not understanding me or my needs (which happens all the time!), I try to take a deep breath and remind myself, “I am an alien to Xander.” 

Then I try to think about what I would need to share with an alien in that moment in order to have my needs met. 

It cracks me up to think about this analogy, and it always reminds me that it’s not fair to expect Xander to know what to do all the time. 

Relationship expectation #3: Relationships should be easy

So many people think that if a relationship is “right”, it won’t feel like work. 

You won’t annoy each other. You won’t fight. It will just feel like smooth sailing and happily ever after.

A lot of people believe this so deeply that they’ll end a relationship the second things start to get complicated.

On the less extreme side, most of us have the experience of feeling bummed out and disappointed whenever we’re going through a rough patch. We’ll start to doubt whether the relationship is really working.

Reality: Relationships are HARD!

They take so much WORK!

It’s totally understandable to be upset or frustrated about this, but don’t fall into the trap of starting to doubt your relationship simply because it requires effort. 

Now, this expectation is interesting because there’s another side to it: relationships also shouldn’t be an insane amount of work!

I had a terrible relationship in college. My boyfriend and I fought constantly, and it never felt like our fights got resolved. But I remember glamorizing all the conflict, thinking, “We’re fighting for our love!” It honestly wasn’t even until my next relationship that I realized, “Ohhh, relationships take work, but they shouldn’t be that hard!”

So how do you differentiate between a normal amount of work and too much work? 

By paying attention to your progress. 

If you feel like you’re constantly fighting about the same things over and over again, in the exact same way, that’s not a good sign. 

But if you feel like you’re gradually getting better at communicating with each other, or understanding each other in a new way, or taking a different approach, that’s great! 

Relationship expectation #4: Men should do [fill in the blank] and women should do [fill in the blank]

We’re all taught to have specific gender expectations in our relationship. These can vary widely depending on the culture you grew up in, but might include beliefs like:

Even if you grow up being exposed to some exceptions, gender expectations can still seep into your psyche.

Xander and I are perfect examples. Both sets of our parents are staunch feminists who tried to instill in us the belief that women can do and be whatever they want. But as we shared with you last month, Xander and I still found ourselves unconsciously defaulting to having Xander be in charge of our finances. 

Reality: You have to make an active effort to define the rules and roles that are going to feel good for your relationship. 

Don’t let these subconscious gender stereotypes dictate your roles!

Instead, be active about taking a look at your joint responsibilities, and deciding who should be in charge of each thing. 

Relationship expectation #5: The passion should never fade

We’re taught to believe that in the right relationship, chemistry should be immediate and enduring. Without any effort, we should have perfect, movie-style sex and romance. 

If the chemistry flags at all in a relationship, it’s seen as a sign that it’s time to exit. 

Reality: Having a great sex life requires great effort! And every couple goes through serious ups and downs in their sex lives over time.

Xander and I had perfectly fine sex when we started being intimate, but it took us a little time to find our groove with each other and start having truly incredible sex. 

12 years later, it takes a lot of effort on both of our part to keep the fires burning!

We’ve gone through periods of time when Xander had a low sex drive, and times I had a low sex drive. We’ve had jaw-droppingly amazing sex, and plenty of mediocre sex. 

But when things are feeling less sexy between the two of us, we don’t panic. We trust in ourselves and each other to get things back on track.

So there you have it, the 5 most common unrealistic relationship expectations! 


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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!