"It’s just too much pressure": 4 relationship 'expectations' you need to ditch immediately
When it comes to thinking about what kind of partner you want in your life, it’s common to have a few non-negotiables on the list.
Whether it’s thinking there should always be a romantic ‘spark’, avoiding conflict or expecting a certain amount of sex – everyone has a different set of deal breakers when they’re dating.
Watch: Here are some of the biggest relationship red flags you need to look out for.
But while everyone’s expectations of a healthy relationship might be a little different, and it’s normal for yours to be different from your partner’s, how do we know if we’re asking too much from the person we’re dating?
In fact, how do we develop all of these expectations in the first place?
Well, apparently it’s ingrained in us throughout our childhood.
Couples counsellor Lissy Abrahams said that when we’re children, we form our own unique “relational template”, and later this can alter across adulthood due to other couple relationships.
“These were shaped by our parents, extended family, our culture, religion, film and television, teachers, friends and not friends, governments, celebrities, and more. We didn’t form expectations from nowhere,” she said.
“They’ve been shaped inside us, and we often take them to be a fact – that is, how partners should and shouldn’t behave and feel in a couple relationship. So many of the expectations are formed around safety. Divorce has meant that we now fear losing our partner more than at any other time in history.”
And while some of these expectations might be helpful to the health of your relationship, forever focusing on the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ and where your relationship ‘should’ be going and where it ‘shouldn’t’, might be a hindrance.
And when you’re happy in love, it can be pretty hard to miss these signs.
So, that’s why we’ve brought in our expert.
Here, Abrahams tells us some of the biggest unrealistic relationship expectations we need to ditch, immediately.
1. That your partner needs to be your everything
According to our expert, this one is a fairly new belief. And it’s actually more damaging than you might think.
“It’s only in the more recent decades that we have this notion,” said Abrahams.
“We expect a soulmate, a lover, a confidante, a therapist, [someone with whom to] raise children and be a great parent to our children,” said Abrahams.
“That they are amazingly attentive to us, work hard, manage a household, buy us lovely presents on special occasions, navigate the gap in our love languages, make us happy, financially have our back, help us buy a home, are great with our family and friends and so much more.”
Anyone else exhausted just reading that?!
But apparently, according to Abrahams, these are the sort of things we have ended up expecting from our partner over the decades, and we can often feel a sense of betrayal or distress when they fall short.
These days, our expectations of what makes a relationship ‘healthy’ and how things should be is quite different to what they were years ago. And they can actually sabotage our connection with someone before they make them better.
“Partnerships of the past were often defined by a marriage, yet the expectations were nothing like they are today. They were both a property and a reproduction arrangement. Love was not part of the pact,” explains Abrahams.
“Friendship wasn’t even necessary. If they experienced love or friendship, it was a bonus, yet never a prerequisite. Partners had their respective gender roles and love was often sought out elsewhere and didn’t typically destabilise the unit.”
Obviously times have changed, but with it we’ve developed high and often unreasonable expectations in order to form what we think is a well-rounded partnership.
“Expectations grew over time as people moved to cities, away from family. We were no longer having a village meet our needs and now turned to our spouse to meet these. Then women became more educated, joined the workforce and became more independent.”
“Women were also able to control their bodies and pregnancies through pharmaceuticals. Sex could be enjoyed more without the fear of falling pregnant. There was then a freedom to choose one’s partner, and this is where fantasies of ‘the one’ became unrealistic.”
And just to be clear, it’s the same for men – their expectations have increased, too.
Abrahams said, “We took ‘the one’ too literally, as if it meant ‘only one’, and we over-relied on this one mere mortal to be our one and only – our ‘everything’.”
2. That your partner can be your everything
Question for you: How much do you depend on your partner?
“For many partners, the fairytale beginning often turns into a nightmare due to the weight of the expectations that are based on fantasy, not reality. It’s simply not possible for one person to be our everything.”
“It’s just too much pressure on one person. I have seen relationships go through horrendous times because the fantasy partner created at the beginning of a relationship isn’t sustainable.”
Think back to the beginning of your relationship, and how different things were. There was that ‘specialness fantasy’, where everything felt really new and exciting.
The butterflies-in-the-stomach, the crazy sex, the flirty comments, the interesting discussions that would last for ages…
“At the beginning of a relationship, both partners often create a fantasy partner to show we are better than any other potential mates out there. It’s all a bit of a performance. It’s a lovely performance, but it’s a performance, nonetheless. We find our mate for life, move in together and at this point the partners reveal their more ordinary aspects.”
“It can feel brutal when our beloved takes their eyes off us more as it made us feel so secure and special. It can feel disastrous when the frequent sex diminishes, and we are left wanting.”
“Many partners are devastated that their partner doesn’t parent the children the way they expect – saying, ‘I thought he would be such a great dad.’ I often ask – why? As none of us know how to really be a parent until we have a child.”
“Some partners cannot comprehend how their partner didn’t become more serious about their career and has a lower earning capacity than they expected. Some can’t deal with their partner not being ‘the rock’ they need in difficult times.”
3. That we own our partner
Yeah, this one is a bit yucky. But it’s actually super common and you probably don’t even realise you’re doing it.
“The word ‘my’ implies ownership. We use the word ‘my’ to refer to my husband, wife, or partner. We may allow ourselves to treat them in ways we deem acceptable because they are ‘ours’,” said Abrahams.
“We overlay our relationship rules and expectations and expect them to comply so that we feel safe in the relationship. We can also control and manipulate them to do this.”
According to Abrahams, being committed should not equate to ownership. Remember, they’re their own person.
“We are both separate and unique beings whose worlds collided some time ago, and we decided to remain together. The more we recognise each other’s separateness, the healthier our relationship will be.”
4. That we can change our partner
Maybe it’s the fact your partner still can’t get along with your friends and family. Perhaps it’s their forgetfulness of important details and dates. Or the fact they’re not as career driven as you once thought.
But if you’re forever trying to change your partner, their personalities traits and the qualities that make them who they are – you’re going to have a bad time. Because needing to control your partner’s actions and thoughts is… not healthy.
Often, this can be linked to our ego, which can cause us to project inadequacy onto our partner, and see their faults and limitations.
“If you think you can change your partner – save your breath and change yourself. Ask yourself – why do they need to change? How can I get some of my needs met in a different way? Are they really needs or are they expectations based on how I was shaped by external forces across life?”
“We should anticipate that both of us will change over time and that we’ll be confronted with disappointment and even feelings of betrayal. This is because we have over-invested in our partner being our everything.”
The answer? I know we’re starting to sound like a broken record, but it’s all about keeping your boundaries and sense of individuality.
Learn to lean on others in the different communities you belong to for different reasons – whether it be your friends, family or your work colleagues. Because your partner isn’t the answer to all of life’s problems – you have other people in your life for a good reason!
“I recommend we take some pressure off relationships so they can be less fantasy-filled and more reality-based. Your friends can be your confidante, your work colleagues can be fun and enlivening, your sex life will alter across time – and it’s not always doom and gloom if it does.”
Abrahams said relationships prosper when both people maintain a level of independence within their own lives.
“Both of you will change over time as life changes all of us. Expectations need adjusting to life’s changes and the reality of who our partner is, not who we want them to be.”
Now, read that last line again.
If you would like to learn more from Lissy Abrahams, check out her e-book on what makes a couple’s relationship happy.
Lissy Abrahams is part of Mamamia’s health panel. She is a leading individual and couple psychotherapist who has dedicated her career to helping hundreds of clients navigate life’s obstacles and challenges. Lissy founded and manages the Sydney-based therapy clinic, Heath Group Practice, and works therapeutically with clients around the world. She has published academic work and launched a successful online course to help partners stop fighting and communicate respectfully. Her latest book is ‘Relationship Reset’, due for release on 26th July.
UPDATE: OUT NOW