Last week I told you that to be happy in your life and relationship, you needed to keep your standards high and your expectations low. We went over how to identify your standards and how to keep those boundaries.
This week is all about those pesky expectations in your life and relationship and how, if you’re not careful, they’ll keep you unhappy and disconnected, no matter how great your relationship actually is.
So, here’s how you know if your expectations are too high:
If you’ve ever been disappointed or frustrated, your expectations were too high.
That’s where that comes from. You make assumptions, so you’re upset when the other people in your life don’t meet your expectations. I mean, that’s the very definition of disappointment if you look it up: the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations.
Now I’m going to tell you about the 4 key mistakes people make when it comes to expectations and what you want to do instead:
Mistake #1: They Judge the Relationship.
I find that the issue is that people have tons of judgments about their relationship and how things “should” be that show up in their too-high or ill-conceived expectations.
Don’t let anyone tell you how your relationship “should be.” Some couples keep separate bank accounts, some have switched traditional male and female roles, some have sex outside the marriage. It’s all about whatever works for you and your partner.
What to Do Instead: Identify Your Own Definition of What Works
What’s great is that relationship studies over the last 20 years have found that the expectations of both men and women have been changing quite a bit. We’ve become less rigid and less focused on the Ozzie and Harriet role models of the 1950s (hell, who even remembers them anymore?).
Research has found that people in happy, long-term relationships are three times more likely to embrace more flexible definitions of men’s and women’s roles. To be happy, you need to create your own definition of what works for you and your partner and stop comparing yourself to other ideals.
Mistake #2: They Listen to What Others Say.
Be careful about listening to what others say is the “right” way to live in your relationship. Just because something works for others, doesn’t mean it’s right for you. It’s easy to get caught up in what our parents or friends tell us. But, at the end of the day, you’ve got to listen to your own heart and instincts.
What to Do Instead: What Other People Think is None of Your Business
Couples today are often meeting and marrying later, after they’ve already begun working and creating money and assets. It’s more common now for couples, even those with children, to keep their money separate or to have less traditional ways of working with money in their relationship. I even know some very happy couples who have sex outside the relationship. Now, for many of you reading this, that would be a deal breaker. But, for many, this is the way to make it work. The point is, you need to find what works for your relationship without focusing on what other people might think. What other people think of you is none of your business.
Mistake #3: They’re Fish Who Don’t Know They’re Wet
Lots of people have all kinds of expectations, but don’t realize that’s what they are. They just take it for granted that “anyone would think this way” or “any sane person would agree.” Nope.
What to Do Instead: Make the Implicit, Explicit
What other expectations are you carrying around about your relationship? We often don’t know what our expectations are until certain situations or life circumstances present themselves. We often just think that this is “right.” It’s “right” that my partner and I take all our vacations together. Of course, the father of my children will want to get up in the night and take care of the baby too. My partner should make dinner for me every night. Yes, men should always help with the housework. Of course my wife is going to go back to work after we have children.
Uncovering and making explicit these conscious and unconscious expectations is important as you move forward with finding peace and happiness in your relationship.
Mistake #4: They Expect Their Partner to Make Them Happy
If there’s one expectation that seems to permeate every romantic relationship it’s the feeling that your partner should make you happy.
This seems to stem from the fact that most people think that other people can make them feel a certain way. It’s so common to say things like, “She drives me crazy” or “He made me so mad” because, despite all the stuff we know, we still think it’s possible for other people to “make” us feel things.
Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” But really this line should be: “No one can make you feel without your consent.” In other words, other people do what they do, but our reactions are our own responsibility. It’s not their “fault” that we’re angry, sad, lonely or impatient. Because we tend towards this way of thinking, the next logical step is to think that others make us happy.
And this brings you to looking outside of yourself for your happiness. You might look to other things like food, drugs and alcohol, buying new things, or video games for your happiness. But, other than a brief, momentary gain, none of these things do the trick.
Expecting others (especially your partner) to be the source of your happiness is one of the most common ways we look outside of ourselves to “fix” or elevate our mood. You do this even though you know, in your heart of hearts, that it’s wrong. You know you shouldn’t look to your partner, or anyone else for that matter, to make you happy but it’s so hard not to fall into the trap. You also know that your partner’s bad mood shouldn’t affect you, yet it so often does.
Tell me if this sounds familiar… Your partner comes home and is in a bad mood and suddenly your own mood is completely changed. You start to focus on how they’re feeling and, before you know it, it’s completely affected how you’re feeling.
What to Do Instead: Don’t Lose Yourself
I know it’s hard to pull yourself out of this cycle or way of thinking. There’s only one way I know of to make sure you don’t get (or stay) pulled into this unhealthy behavior. It’s by not losing yourself. At the end of the day, you need to come first. Remember that if (God forbid) you’re on a plane that’s going down, you’re supposed to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before you put it on anyone else.
Even the airlines know that you’ve got to take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else. It’s common to forget yourself once you get into a long-term relationship. You start to see yourself as wife, boyfriend, father, or fiancé. Don’t forget that you are not two people – you’re not a couple – you’re just yourself.
If you’re ready to get clear on your standards and expectations, enter your name and email below to download the free Standards and Expectations worksheet.