Are Your Expectations Helping or Hurting Your Relationship?

Rear view of a couple holding hands and splashing in waves at beachYou may have heard this inspirational quote: “Two things to remember in life: Take care of your thoughts when you are alone, and take care of your words when you are with people.” Both things have application within our relationships, where our expectations can either positively or negatively affect a spouse or partner.

With terrorism a constant global threat and Zika on the rise, the recently concluded 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro had many on high alert. There may have been people who were distracted and unable to be truly present in the moment due to the thought of something terrible happening. For athletes, worry related to the possibility of an attack or infection may have affected their focus on their competition. For attendees, increased caution may have brought on unnecessary anxiety, which may have taken away from their enjoyment of the games.

The same can be said about our relationships. We can become so consumed by the possible pain of being let down, so consumed with expecting the worst from a partner or spouse, that we experience unnecessary anxiety and stress. Whether it’s a defense mechanism or personal strategy of not putting oneself in a position of being disappointed, when we carry negative thoughts and expectations into a relationship, we may be setting it up for failure.

Here are four questions to think about in your relationships:

  1. Do you expect the worst? We’ve all done it when boarding an airplane: we think about all the plane crashes over the years and wonder if the plane we’re boarding will be next. As a result, anxiety and stress build. Likewise, when you expect the worst in your relationship, you may focus on unrealistic or illogical scenarios which may never arise. Although you may be convinced you’re protecting yourself from possible harm, you’re in fact doing the opposite. Not only are you creating unnecessary anxiety and stress, you’re not allowing room for the possibility of something great to arise. To say it differently, you may be so consumed with what could go wrong that you miss out on what may be great. Have a realistic perspective in your relationship, but expect it to grow through positivity. Be willing to see the good in your partner or spouse as well as yourself; know just how fortunate you are to have a special person who cares for you.
  2. Do you have a negative outlook? You may have heard quotes such as “Negativity breeds negativity,” or, “When you focus only on the negative, that’s all you’ll see.” Our outlook on our relationships becomes the lens through which we view a partner or spouse. Seek positivity so when it comes, you can acknowledge and appreciate it. Let positivity be the lens through which you view your partner or spouse.
  3. Do you trust your partner or spouse? Many people have a hard time trusting. Trust is the basic bond that ties two people together. Without trust, love and intimacy cannot grow. When we are so caught up with asking questions such as, “I don’t know if I can trust this person,” we aren’t giving our partner or spouse an arena in which a relationship can thrive.
  4. Are you present? When you are consumed with expecting the worst, you aren’t fully engaged. Like an Olympics attendee who is so concerned with a possible attack or mosquito bite that enjoying the games is difficult, when you’re preoccupied with the possibility of something bad happening, you’re not present in the moment for the good things that are happening. Be present and engaged. Believe that your partner or spouse doesn’t want the relationship to fail. They don’t want to experience negative moments, either. Like you, they want a physical, emotional, and/or spiritual connection. In the age of technology, a connection means you are engaged with your loved one, not with your smartphone. Actively show your partner or spouse that they matter. Be present.

If you want a successful relationship, stop expecting the worst and start seeking positivity. Don’t spend countless hours breeding unnecessary anxiety and frustration when you could be growing intimacy. Ask yourself the questions above and let your answers guide you toward a flourishing relationship.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Stuart Fensterheim, LCSW, therapist in Scottsdale, Arizona

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.

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  • Manny

    Manny

    September 12th, 2016 at 10:20 AM

    My boyfriend doesn’t go around expecting the worst but I do think that there are times when his expectations o me and our relationship are unrealistic and this is really holding the two of us back as a couple. There are days when he makes me feel like I am his world and then there are others that he makes me feel like I can’t do anything right. I am tired of all of the back and forth and think that we need something that is a little more even keeled but he seems unable to do that.
    Is it time to give up what we have together?

  • Stuart Fensterheim

    Stuart Fensterheim

    October 5th, 2016 at 8:31 AM

    Manny its understandable that this would be a big concern of course. These type of cycles happen in relationship and can create lots of unhappiness. NO! I do not think you should consider ending this relationship but its very important that the two of you have a dialogue about how this pulls you apart and has you not feeling important and connected with him. You might want to go to my website I do a podcast on how to stop these cycles. I wish you well and if there is anything I can do to help with this let me know.

  • Silas

    Silas

    September 12th, 2016 at 2:30 PM

    I don’t know, I see how it could drag some people down but I actually think that it is pretty good to have high expectations at times, just to give both you and your partner something to strive for.

  • Garrett

    Garrett

    September 13th, 2016 at 10:17 AM

    Well we are all going to have expectations of what we would like for our partner or our relationship to be like.
    Some of these as we all well know will be realistic and there will be others that no one could ever measure up to no matter how perfect they may be.
    You have to learn to sort through them, know what has to be a priority and what can be dismissed as simply not being attainable.

  • bradley

    bradley

    September 14th, 2016 at 2:23 PM

    Whatever happened to just going with the flow?

  • NED

    NED

    September 15th, 2016 at 12:50 PM

    Usually I end up hurting mine because I expect a lot, alot from a person that I am going to be with.
    I think that I maybe hide that a little too much in the beginning but then the real me starts to come out, and I know that, and I think that turns people off.
    That was a tough pill to swallow

  • Cecil

    Cecil

    September 16th, 2016 at 1:55 PM

    Personally I think that it would be pretty unrealistic to think that you could go into something that is as big and as important as this and not have some expectations about what you want out of it.
    I don’t think that it would be very realistic at all for most of us to just kind of be like, ok whatever happens happens. No, that’s not usually how life works.
    I think that it is good to know what you want out of this and that way oif you and the other are not on the same page, then it could truthfully be time to reevaluate and see if the two of you are even in the same place with what you want at this point,

  • Sam

    Sam

    September 17th, 2016 at 9:13 AM

    I never quite feel like I live up to my wife’s standards so honestly I think that I am ready to stop trying.
    She always talks about the ways I disappoint her, so why even make any effort anymore if that is all I am to her?

  • Geneva

    Geneva

    September 19th, 2016 at 10:36 AM

    I could see how they could do both just depending on the viewpoint of the person who is setting the expectations.

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