Establishing realistic expectations for your relationships is absolutely crucial to their long-term success. But here's the thing, how do you know whether your expectations in relationships are realistic?
Let's go through several key factors to help you understand and answer this question for yourself.
You Tend to Get What You Expect
Throughout our podcast and website, we've often referred to the findings of Dr. Donald Baucom (a psychology professor at the University of North Carolina)
In one of his research projects that lasted over a decade, Dr. Baucom was studying marital expectations among couples. Want to know what he found?
You tend to get what you expect in your relationships.
Meaning, if you have low expectations for yourself and others, you'll tend to attract people who will live up to those standards. They'll treat you poorly and because it lives up to your expectations in relationships, you'll stick around thinking that it's normal.
On the other hand, if you have high (but realistic) expectations for yourself and others, you're probably going to end up in relationships where you're treated quite well. Because when someone doesn't live up to your expectations in relationships, you're going to have no problem bouncing!
This kind of falls into the common sense bucket, doesn't it?
It's why we say, "What you tell yourself matters." Because whatever beliefs and expectations you have for yourself, that will become your reality. Your expectations in relationships are dictated by your self-perception and self-beliefs (whether they be positive or negative).
Still, it's nice seeing common sense be supported by evidence-based research.
Maybe the next question should be, what should you expect?
What Should You Expect in Relationships if You're Single?
If you're currently single and you've found TWR, awesome!
We'd say to identify your Core Values and the type of relationship that you want to create (this is what we do within our Coaching Programs). Then from that place, expect your partner to bring what you bring to the table. Maybe not exactly the same things, but values, traits, and characteristics that complement the life you want to create.
What's unrealistic is to expect that your future partner is going to be something that you are not.
It's not realistic to expect your partner to be...
- Athletic and physically fit when you're out of shape
- Wealthy, when you're struggling to pay the bills
- Emotionally intelligent and vulnerable, when you're closed off
Once you've identified your Core Values, it's realistic to find a partner who shares similar values and beliefs. Expect that in the areas where you differ, you'll work together to become more aligned and understanding of one another.
In other words, if you're doing the work to better understand yourself, it's reasonable to expect the same from your future partner.
But now let's go to the other side of this coin. What if you're coming to this article and platform already in a committed relationship?
What Should You Expect in Relationships if You're Married?
For those of you that found 12 Week Relationships after you got married or found commitment, our advice is a little different.
Don't worry, it's not bad or scary, just different. (Oh and pssst, and welcome to TWR!)
For all of you married folk, we're going to start with this.
Most of us lack the proper knowledge and tools to identify healthy relationships that are based on our Core Values. Instead, most of us (we're talking 80% plus) are going to marry or commit to someone who complements our attachment wounds.
And guess what?
Most of those recurring issues and arguments in your relationship, they're not communication issues, they're attachment issues.
Because of this, we need to tailor expectations and understand that some problems have simple fixes, while others are not. Recurring arguments and conflict generally fit into that second category.
If you're in a committed relationship, it's not realistic or reasonable to expect that you're going to be fully aligned with your Core Values. Why? Because we didn't know any better before we got married.
We did the same thing everyone else does, we mistake attachment wounds for "chemistry" and marry the person that subconsciously reminds us of our childhood attachment wounds.
What I'm getting at is that it's OK to lower or reduce your expectations a bit. Don't get us wrong. We're not saying that you should be OK with any form of abuse (physical or emotional). Nor are we saying that you shouldn't expect to have a fulfilling marriage.
What we're saying is that you need to give your relationship and your partner time. It's realistic to expect that both of you are in it to win it. You're right to want your partner to work with you to improve your relationship. But you're not right to expect that everything is going to happen RIGHT AWAY!
It's not realistic to expect that you're going to be what some might call a "power couple" by next month!
It's going to take time. With the right knowledge and coaching, you can see significant improvement in weeks. In fact, we guarantee couples in Crystal Clarity (our online coaching program) that they will strengthen their marriage or partnership within 12 weeks.
But the process of growing together takes time. Set the appropriate expectations!
"Solvable vs Unsolvable" Problems
The Gottman Institute is a research organization that has done incredible work within the field of relationship science. It doesn't necessarily mean we always agree with their findings or approach, but we most definitely respect them.
On the subject of expecting that "all problems should be able to be solved," they said this.
"We should not expect to solve all our problems in the relationship, either. My Love Lab studies found that almost ⅔ of relationship conflict is perpetual."
What they're talking about is the fact that the majority of recurring arguments are due to childhood attachment wounds. This is again because, without the proper knowledge, most of us choose our relationships subconsciously based on these attachment wounds.
This is where we'd disagree, with a little asterisk.
We agree that no relationship will ever be perfect, there's always going to be some problems on the table.
But from our clinical experience, we've found that most of these recurring conflicts are by-in-large repairable when three things are present:
- The couple is committed in good faith to putting in the work
- Each person takes ownership of their wounds/trauma as they work through them
- The couple works to understand and align Core Values over time
We don't agree with Gottman's solution of "lowering expectations" or seeking a relationship that is simply "good enough." Neither do we agree that the majority of these recurring arguments are things that can't be resolved.
When you're dating, you should expect potential partners to bring what you bring to the relationship table.
When you're married, you should expect your spouse to treat you with love and kindness. You should also expect that they're committed to making things work just like you are.
But you should tailor your expectation when it comes to your timetable. Strengthening and repairing a relationship takes time, but it's most certainly doable.
We'd also say that it's most definitely worth the effort.