People who come to couples counseling often want to know: What is the most common problem couples experience? Some assume it is either financial disagreements or sexual issues, but while those are indeed common struggles in relationships, they are typically symptoms of a more significant, underlying issue. Others hypothesize the primary cause of failed relationships is frequent fighting. That’s not generally true, either.
The one thing that most often ruins relationships? A pattern of unmet expectations.
The pattern of not meeting expectations starts the same way every time: one or both people decide not to express their wants/needs. There are numerous, easily justifiable reasons for this. It could be you don’t want to deal with the vulnerability of possibly being rejected, or you may mistakenly believe the people who love you should automatically know what you want in all scenarios. Have you ever heard someone you care about say, “If you loved me, you would know what I need you to do” or “If you loved me, you would know what I like”?
I hate to break it to you, but our loved ones can’t actually read our minds. Although we’ve been programmed to believe an inability to pick up on the subtle cues we send equates to a lack of love or caring, it’s simply so. It’s a very common issue in relationships of all configurations: one or both people continue to have expectations they don’t express, or state them in a way that is not understandable. One unmet need piles on top of the last. This happens over and over until it becomes an unhealthy pattern.
It’s a very common issue in relationships of all configurations: one or both people continue to have expectations they don’t express, or state them in a way that is not understandable. One unmet need piles on top of the last. This happens over and over until it becomes an unhealthy pattern.
Luckily, this is a problem with a simple solution. The key is to start changing the pattern as soon as you recognize it. The first step is to determine what your wants/needs are within the relationship. You can’t effectively teach someone how to treat you until you know yourself. We often focus so much on what we aren’t getting from our partner that we don’t even realize what we want. Make sure you know what’s most important, and be able to express that clearly before you even attempt to get those wants met; it may eliminate a lot of frustration and hurt feelings.
Then, even though it may sound scary, learn to express your needs. Talk about the difficult topics you have been avoiding. As much as we would like to think problems don’t exist if we don’t talk about them, they are always under the surface—until we start a conversation. Simply inquire about each other’s preferences in various scenarios. Discover each other’s values and beliefs so there can be a deeper understanding of related behaviors.
The idea of clearly expressing your wants/needs can be terrifying. There’s always the chance your partner will decide they don’t want to meet your needs. Maybe you will discover your values on a particular topic, something you have avoided talking about, are incompatible. You could find out there’s an area of the relationship that needs attention and effort. However, isn’t that better than the alternative?
You deserve to be happy. You deserve to be understood. You deserve to have your needs met. That can only happen if you have the courage to express yourself. There are great therapists out there, as well as other resources, if you need help getting things started.
© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.