Placing unrealistic expectations on a partner is common in romantic relationships.
This could be around expecting the relationship to be argument-free, wanting to do everything together, or hoping they say the right thing on cue.
Trying to work out whether you or your significant other place unrealistic expectations on your relationship? Here are the key signs to look out for and lessons to take away.
1) Thinking it will be romantic all of the time
We have rom-coms, social media and advertising to thank for this one.
Everywhere we look, we see grand romantic gestures and sparks flying between fictional characters, people on billboards and couples on Instagram.
It’s all dialed up to the max for the ultimate impact, and it makes us feel like what we have isn’t good enough.
The reality is that the newly-engaged couple posting from the Bahamas also bicker about leaving socks lying around the house – and, if they don’t in the first few months, you can bet they certainly will a few years in.
There’s also more than meets the eye with these sorts of posts: a 2014 study revealed that people who constantly post about their romantic partners typically have low self-esteem and are seeking external validation. So it might not be that great, after all.
As for the adverts and movies, remember it’s all constructed from people’s fantasies. It triggers a sinister effect in the real world: a study from 2015 actually linked the media’s portrayal of persistent pursuit to stalking – rom-coms like Love Actually promote the notion that stalking is a compliment.
Don’t believe all you see on social media and in the movies.
The common unrealistic expectation is that romance is alive all day, every day in the form of gestures like bouquets of flowers and surprise plane tickets for weekend trips away.
One thing to recognise is that our partners have their unique love languages. It might not be covering the bed in rose petals every night (or ever), but instead leaving notes around the house that express gratitude or doing the chores so you don’t have to.
Be aware of the subtle small things your partner does every day to begin shifting your attitude around romantic expectations.
However, if gestures like rose petals on the bed are important to you then communicate this to your partner – just don’t expect them every night.
2) That your partner will be into all of the same things as you
For your relationship to be successful there are fundamental values you’ll want to align with your partner on, like your short and long-term goals, and ultimately what’s important to you in life.
For example, do you both want a big family, to work and live in a bustling city or to travel around the world working as digital nomads for the next 10 years?
Psychotherapist Blair Glaser explains that it’s necessary you arrive at a common vision, which is a simple leadership skill.
But it’s unlikely your partner is a carbon copy of you, who’s into all of the same things as you. Expecting otherwise is where it starts getting into unrealistic territory.
There might be lots of mutual interests, but it’s healthy to retain your individuality and have your own things going on.
While you might have once shared numerous mutual interests, remember we evolve, grow and change our perspectives as we get older, read more books and meet new people.
In a relationship, changes could manifest as butting heads over religious views and diet choices.
You might have always been a big meat eater, who loved cooking steaks each week, but now you want to go vegan; maybe after years of attending the church, you want to explore Buddhism.
It’s crucial your partner understands and supports your decisions – and doesn’t belittle you in any way – but one thing you can’t do is expect them to also make these transitions with you. You’re on your own life path.
Respectfully agreeing to disagree is one way to navigate these situations.
Though, of course, if cooking meat-free and practicing Buddhism is absolutely what you want in a partner, then you’ll need to go back to the drawing board and have a discussion about your fundamental values.
3) They’ll always say the right thing
No one can read your mind – despite what the rom-coms tell us.
Your partner might know you inside-out, but they’re certainly not a mind reader so you can’t expect them to say the right thing on cue every time.
It might be that you’ve bought a new item of clothing and you’re hoping your partner will gush over how great you look, but instead, they say you look “nice”.
It’s not going to go well if you have a preconceived idea of what you want anyone to say; we have no control over what compliments others dish out or the advice they share.
A 2015 study from Baylor University confirms that expecting your partner to be a mind-reader, which is technically called “passive immobility”, harms relationships.
You’ll be filled with disappointment all of the time if you place an expectation on what you want to hear. Accepting this truth and making peace with it will make your life a lot easier – in all situations in life, including romantic relationships.
Cut your partner some slack if they fail to say exactly what you wanted to hear – as long as they mean well.
Though, remember there’s a difference between someone who disregards your efforts and doesn’t ever pay you a kind compliment, and someone who doesn’t deliver their thoughts quite like you’d like to hear – but the good intention is there.
Communicating what it is you need to hear from your partner is important, as is relinquishing control over their choice of words.
4) Hoping for the relationship to be argument-free
In an ideal world, we would all get along all the time and our lives would be conflict-free.
But it’s not possible with opposing opinions flying around in all directions: we have unique life stories, upbringings, and belief systems to go off, and this means we clash with one another.
This happens in the workplace, in friendships, and, yep, in romantic relationships.
Disagreeing is healthy.
Here’s a fun fact from psychology and social scientist David Niven, taken from his book 100 Simple Secrets of Great Relationships: “Married couples who report they never argue with each other are 35 percent more likely to divorce within four years than are couples who report regularly disagreeing.”
Debating allows us to see new perspectives – so if you and your significant other do butt heads, see what you can learn from the situation. An outcome that works for you both is the ideal situation, but agreeing to disagree is a mature way to settle things.
It’s naive to think there won’t be any arguing at all, and this expectation that there won’t is one of the most damaging for a romantic relationship.
It’s just about how you argue. Nasty comments are a no-no and an unprogressive way to communicate, as is anything physical – if you’re experiencing this then it’s worth seeking professional help and speaking to your support network.
5) That you should do everything together
This notion is rooted in being two-peas-in-a-pod, an inseparable duo who do absolutely everything together.
When you first get into a relationship, it’s normal to want to be around that person all of the time and – but from the outset, it’s essential you retain your independence by having your own interests, hobbies and friends.
By spending all of your time with your significant other, your sense of self and individuality will blur and you’ll begin identifying as a double act, which isn’t how you started out in this life.
We’re all capable of being independent and it’s key we return to this truth regularly while in romantic relationships.
Spending too much time with your partner can also have a negative impact on other relationships around you.
Psychologist Theresa E. Didonato explains that “studies show that women who more quickly increase time spent with a romantic partner more quickly decrease the amount of time they spend with their best friend”.
Having an overlap with some friends will facilitate enjoying social events together so there is merit in fostering mutual friends. Though, retaining and nurturing separate friendships and groups will allow you to just be you.
As for hobbies and interests, if you were to do absolutely everything with your other half, what would there be to talk about?
Attending something fun together like a salsa class might be an idea for strengthening your connection, but insisting your partner comes along to your pottery class will mean one less thing to tell them all about.
Coming together with a partner should compliment and enhance your life; you shouldn’t feel dependent on them for your happiness or success, and the fear of doing absolutely everything with them is that you do develop codependency.
Like anything in life, it’s about balance. To foster a healthy relationship, there should be a mix of things you do and events you attend together, and those that you enjoy solo.
If you’re in a longer-term relationship and the thought of doing anything by yourself scares the hell out of you, step into that fear and put yourself out there – attend that birthday party by yourself and see that you can do it.
6) That everyone you know will love them
This is similar to expecting your partner to say the right thing: expecting that everyone you know will love your partner is absolutely out of your control.
There are many things in life that are out of our control, and how others think and behave is right up there. It’s our natural disposition to want to control what people are saying about us and our choices, but it’s a hard fact that we have no influence over it.
Trying to control what others think is a lose-lose situation: even if you tell others everything going on in your life is fantastic, including your relationship, people will have their own thoughts on the truth of the situation.
People love to gossip and hypothesize about others’ relationships and their longevity – reality dating shows are among the most-watched around the world. We love being voyeurs and having opinions about others’ decisions.
“We’re so driven to understand love, we will even overlook the artificial when we read a novel or watch a movie or play,” explains Helen Fisher, author of Anatomy of Love, to Good Housekeeping.
It’s important to shrug off the judgement of others, which we have no hold over.
There could be numerous reasons those around you don’t love your partner – some worth listening to more than others. Crucially, it depends where these opinions come from.
It’s perfectly normal to have ups-and-downs with your other half and vent to those around you about how annoying or inconsiderate they are, or how you want to move out.
It’s OK to tell others how you’re feeling in the moment and to share your thoughts, but be aware of the friction this might cause between your significant other and your friends and family.
If you’re consistently telling your support network that you’re miserable and your partner has done this and that – and it’s a genuinely toxic dynamic – then you have to appreciate why they don’t love them.
But if you’re not running to your friends and family to tell them about your relationship trials and tribulations, and they’ve just decided they don’t like your partner based on a comment they made or something they’ve heard about them from someone else, then it’s a case of mastering the art of not caring what others think.
This, of course, is a work in progress for all of us – though it’s not out of reach.