• Sarah M. Neal

Great Expectations: Setting Expectations Within Our Relationships

When we are clear on our own expectations, we are better equipped to have conversations with our people to discuss them. The chance of our Beloveds dropping the ball on expectations goes up if they don’t know what expectations we are holding them to. The same goes for us. We are more likely to disappoint our Beloveds if we don’t know what they expect from us.

Photo by Elisabetta Foco on Unsplash


When we engage in any relationship, we bring all sorts of expectations.


We have come to expect a wide variety of things from our bosses, coworkers, parents, siblings, friends, partners, and even the cashier at the grocery store.


Not all expectations are openly discussed, nor are they always positive. Example: You may expect your coworker to be a judgmental asshole OR, maybe you expect them to be super-supportive of you and your projects. Our expectations develop and change the more we get to know the people with whom we engage.


These expectations are not only held for others, but we also hold many for ourselves.


We may expect ourselves to act with dignity and grace even when under pressure. Maybe we expect ourselves to be at the top of the class with school or work. Some of us expect not to completely lose our shit when the cards are down. Many of us expect to be able to pull our own weight. Maybe we expect to be the “perfect” spouse/partner/parent/child/friend.


Let us not forget that the people around us also hold expectations for us as well.

Expectations, whether they are intentional or not, are an integral part of every relationship.


Because most of my work centers around personal relationships and personal growth, I want to focus on romantic partners. However, what I have to say about expectations can most certainly be applicable to all types of relationships, so apply where and as needed.


My inspiration to write about expectations comes from a client who has taken a brave step with the man she has been casually dating for several months now.


She is terrified, as many of us are when we decide to make the conscious step of making more of a commitment to a partner – especially when we have been badly hurt by in the past.


My client brought up expectations and how she doesn’t want to have any because expectations always lead to disappointment. She doesn’t want to get hurt.


How many of us have had expectations for our partners, friends, or family members and then been disappointed because the other person fell short?


How many of us have had people have expectations for us and then ended up hurting that person because we fell short of those expectations?


How many of us have had high expectations for ourselves within relationships and then beaten ourselves up because we fell short of those expectations?


How many of us “raised our hands” for all three?


I talk a lot about communication within relationships – especially romantic ones, but you really need them for all.


One of the things I have talked about often is communicating your needs and boundaries to your loved ones. Needs, boundaries, and expectations are all intertwined with each other and in order to express them to the people around us, we need to understand our own needs, boundaries, and expectations. We also need to know what the needs, expectations, and boundaries of others are.


I invite you to partake in a journaling exercise with me.


Think about your relationships. These can be romantic, platonic, or familial – whichever you want to focus on. You can focus on one relationship or multiple.


What are your expectations for that relationship? For example, if you are engaged, do you expect that relationship to evolve into marriage and for that marriage to last forever? To you expect to have children with that person? What are your expectations for what that relationship should look like – for you? I don’t want you to get caught up in what you think a relationship should look like because that is what others tell you it should. What do YOU think it should look like?


What are your expectations for the other person involved in that relationship? When someone says they are committed to you, what does that mean? If you decide you are exclusive, what exactly does that mean? Does that mean you expect that your partner will not look at another person of interest or have friends of the gender they are attracted to? Do you expect you partner to bring you flowers every time you argue? Do you expect your partner to act with integrity and do what they say they will do? Do you expect your partner to do half or all of the housework? What do you expect from your partner/friend/family member? This can range anywhere from the most mundane tasks to the level of emotional and physical support they give you. Think about your needs too as they can easily become expectations – especially if you expect that person to fulfill certain needs.


What can that person expect from you in that relationship? What can that person expect from you? Should that person expect you to spend all your free time with them, or should they expect that you need time to yourself? Should that person expect you to keep from having “straying eyes”? Should that person expect that you will always be there when you need them to the best of your ability, or should they expect that you probably won’t be? Can they expect you to respect their boundaries? Remember, this exercise isn’t for anyone but you, so be honest. Here is where your boundaries may show up. Keep in mind that boundaries can be healthy, and we all need them.


What do you expect from yourself? While this may seem very similar to the above question, it is slightly different. Sometimes we hold expectations for ourselves that we don’t discuss with others. These expectations can be tricky because if we fall short of them, we can end up feeling like dirt and the others in the relationship never had those same expectations of ourselves. For instance, I have a client who had some expectations for activities for his family during the holidays. He wanted to make sure there was enough money for every activity. He set this expectation for himself. He didn’t discuss it with his wife, he just felt obligated. He fell short of those expectations for himself. Life happened, and he wasn’t sure his family was going to do all the things to the degree he wanted to do them. He was beating himself up over it. I asked him if his wife and child had expected these things of him. I asked if he had discussions with his wife about all the activities and what she would think if they couldn’t do everything. As it happened, his wife didn’t have nearly the same expectations and he didn’t come close to falling short in her eyes.


When we are clear on our own expectations, we are better equipped to have conversations with our people to discuss them. The chance of our Beloveds dropping the ball on expectations goes up if they don’t know what expectations we are holding them to. The same goes for us. We are more likely to disappoint our Beloveds if we don’t know what they expect from us.


I loathe to disappoint my Beloveds. I loathe to disappoint anyone. Yet, I know that I will not ever always meet someone’s expectations one hundred percent. Hell, I may not even meet all my own for myself. However, if I am clear on what is expected of me, then I do my absolute best to meet those expectations. But, if I don’t know what is expected of me, then I probably won’t meet all of them and it could ruin the relationship no matter how casual or deep.


Our expectations may not line up all the way, which is why conversations centering around expectations need to happen. We may find that we need to adjust our expectations. Maybe our person can’t hold up to certain expectations of ours, maybe we can’t hold up to certain expectations of theirs. So then do we need to reevaluate the relationship? Are those expectations so important that to not meet them would be detrimental to the relationship?


My friend, Michael Haag of Probably Poly Podcast Ifind it on SoundCloud) hit the nail on the head for me when he said, “I would rather manage expectations than deal with perceived disappointment.”

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