Are Unmet Expectations Causing Your Relationship Issues?

A couple sits at a formal dining table, man reads newspaper, woman rests her head in her hand and looks off to one side. Wearing fancy dress.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.

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  • Leave a Comment
  • JoEllen

    March 9th, 2017 at 8:19 AM

    I feel in some ways like this is me but…
    why should I have to lower my own personal expectations for what he is only willing to do or achieve? That doesn’t seem fair to me, if I know that there are certain things that I want or expect out of the relationship but he isn’t willing to give me.
    I feel like I am always the one having to compromise and so I have gotten a little bit tired of that. Why shouldn’t he have to at least meet me in the middle?

  • matthew

    March 11th, 2017 at 6:55 AM

    One thing that we have to consider is does our partner even know what these expectations are and have we given them a real shot to meet those? Or are they things that are so unrealistic that it is not going to be something that anyone could ever achieve? If you haven’t made the expectations ones that are accessible to someone who is reasonably trying, then you are to blame as well.

  • Tyler

    March 13th, 2017 at 7:28 AM

    I used to date thins lady and man, she had all kinds of thoughts on things that I should or shouldn’t do but do you think that she ever actually told me what they were? No she just again expected I guess that I could read her mind and that I should just know what she needed. How am I supposed to just be able to know if you won’t even tell me? If you are in an adult relationship, then telling someone about your needs shouldn’t be any big deal should it? But for her? You would have thought that I was asking for the impossible.

  • dottie

    March 14th, 2017 at 2:33 PM

    How will I ever get what it is that I deserve if I don’t have some idea of the things that I expect?

  • Amy

    March 18th, 2017 at 7:03 AM

    I keep reading and re-reading your question. Can you clarify what you are asking? This article really has me thinking too, and I’m interested in everyone’s take on it.
    Maybe if you can elaborate and explain what you are thinking, we can both learn together😊

  • Eva

    December 17th, 2020 at 1:43 AM

    What if whenever I try to communicate my needs, I’m reminded about others who have it worse than me? Over and over… Should I continue to try or just internalise and move along like he wants? At this point I’m not even confident to say anything out loud anymore.

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