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Real Talk About Relationship Expectations

This post was contributed by Heather, a loveisrespect advocate

It’s a New Year, which means lots of people have been making resolutions and talking about their goals and expectations for 2017. We all know how it goes: we often have totally unrealistic expectations for the upcoming year, and then we get mad at ourselves when we can’t live up to them. That’s why it’s so important to understand what’s realistic…and what’s not.

It’s the same with relationships. At loveisrespect, we often chat with people who have unrealistic relationship expectations, and this can lead to a lot of struggle or even unhealthy behaviors. Today, we want to break down some unrealistic expectations about relationships that can make them unhealthy or even abusive from the start. A healthy relationship requires trust, honesty, mutual respect and equality, and those are exactly the things that are missing when people come into relationships with these unrealistic expectations. Let’s dive in!

Unrealistic Expectation: I don’t want to get hurt. I expect my partner/s to keep their promises of “forever.”

Real Talk: Forever sounds romantic, but the truth is, for most of us “forever” doesn’t exist. It’s totally understandable and reasonable to not want to get hurt. No one goes into a relationship looking for pain or heartache! But no matter how much love there is between people, feelings can and do change. Everyone has the right to end any relationship at any time, for any reason. And that’s okay! We know breakups can be really tough, but just because a relationship ends doesn’t mean anyone failed, or that you don’t ever deserve to be happy in a healthy relationship.

To combat the blindsided feeling of breaking up when you thought everything was perfect, it’s important that you and your partner/s respect each other enough to be open and honest about how you each feel. Doing that requires trust and sturdy boundaries that are well understood by everyone in the relationship. Being in a relationship is an inherently vulnerable position, one that means leaving yourself open to potential heartbreak if your desires don’t match up. If you don’t feel like that vulnerability is something you could deal with, this may not be the right time for you to be in a relationship. After all, being single can be great!

Unrealistic Expectation: My partner/s should know me well enough to know what I want or what I meant.

Real Talk: We’re not mind readers here at loveisrespect, and neither are your partners. Clear communication about what we want – and don’t want – is always important. Getting upset because your partner didn’t know that the popcorn emoji you texted meant you wanted to go to the movies isn’t fair to anyone! It’s reasonable to assume that the longer people are dating, the better they’ll know each other. However, that kind of intimate understanding only comes from lots and lots of honest and respectful communication. It takes time and effort to develop secret codes, inside jokes and a deep understanding of someone, so we have to be patient. Even when we do have that level of comfort, misunderstandings will happen in every relationship, regardless of how long the relationship has existed. What determines whether those misunderstandings are healthy or unhealthy is how those conflicts are handled.

Unrealistic Expectation: My partner/s should always be my top priority, and I should be theirs.

Real Talk: BAE (Before Anyone Else, for the parents reading along) is not actually a healthy concept. People who are in relationships have lives outside the relationship, too. When and how you and your partner/s communicate and see each other should be a fair negotiation that is respectful all the way around. Demanding that you conform to their preferred communication style and amount – whether they require an in-person date once a week or a text every half-hour – is controlling and not respectful of your needs and boundaries. If you have a big test coming up, studying for that may be your number one focus, or if your sibling is sick, you may want to spend more time with them than with your partner/s. That doesn’t mean that you can only have time away from your relationship when you have a “good reason,” though. Your wants, needs and boundaries are just as important as your partner’s. Just like they have the right to decide what comes first in their life, you have that right, too.

Unrealistic Expectation: Being in a relationship means that I get to have sex with my partner/s whenever I want.

Real Talk: Um, no. You’re not the only person in your relationship! Partnered sex, whatever that means for you, inherently requires consent from both or all parties involved. There will be times in your relationship (if non-solo sex is something you’re interested in) when you will want to engage in some kind of sexual activity that your partner/s don’t. WHEN (not if) that happens, it’s your responsibility, morally and legally, to respect your partner’s boundaries and right to decide if, when and how to use their body sexually – just as they should respect your boundaries and bodily autonomy. Consent requires active, enthusiastic and ongoing communication about what is wanted, because everyone has different wants, needs and boundaries, and all of those things are subject to change at any time. Are you ready to have that conversation? If not, it may be a sign that you and your partner/s are not ready to have sex.

Unrealistic Expectation: My partner and I won’t want or need anyone else since we’re in a relationship.

Real Talk: Agreeing to monogamously and exclusively date someone doesn’t flip a switch that makes everyone else unattractive, so it’s unrealistic to think that people in relationships won’t look at, or even lust after, someone other than their partner at some point. There is no “should” when it comes to feelings. It’s the actions we choose to take based on our feelings that determine whether our relationship is healthy or not. Of course, it’s not necessary (and could be really hurtful) to tell your partner every time you find someone else attractive. But, if your feelings of lust or attraction develop into a desire to violate the healthy boundaries of your relationship that you and your partner have agreed to, it’s important (if it’s safe) to check in with your partner about how you’re feeling. Maybe you crush a lot and it’s nothing to worry about, or maybe it means your needs aren’t being met in your current relationship – only you can answer that.

Additionally, it’s healthy for everyone to have friends of all genders, regardless of who they’re attracted to. If a partner is isolating you from your friends, family, faith community, coworkers and even exes, that’s a big red flag for abuse. In a healthy relationship, it’s important for people to have time apart so they can cultivate those other relationships. There’s no way that any one person can fill anyone else’s every physical, emotional, social, intellectual and spiritual need, because humans are social animals. We evolved to rely on a community of people to survive, and everyone deserves to have a support system that is diverse, strong and encouraging.

If you or your partner are trying to work through any of these unrealistic expectations, or if there’s anything else going on in your relationship that just feels off, loveisrespect advocates are available 24/7. Just call 1-866-331-9474, chat here on our website or text “loveis” to 22522!

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