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4 Common Relationship Expectations That Are Actually Unhealthy


There’s a popular quote by William Shakespeare that goes,

“Expectation is the root of all heartache.”

In other words, nothing can ruin a good relationship faster than unrealistic expectations.

Over the years, popular culture, the media, and society as a whole have contributed to the emergence of unhealthy relationship expectations that are directly linked with lower levels of satisfaction and higher levels of resentment and frustration in modern relationships.

What follows is a list of four common, yet unhealthy relationship expectations most people have, and a breakdown of why they can ruin relationships with potential.

1. The “My Partner Must Fulfill All My Emotional Needs” Expectation

“My partner couldn't fulfill all my emotional needs.”

How many times have you heard something along those lines?

In case you didn’t know, emotional needs are desires that, when fulfilled, make us feel content and happy, and, when unfulfilled, leave us with feelings of dissatisfaction and frustration.

However, saying that your partner doesn’t fulfill all your emotional needs is like saying that they can’t make you feel whole.

For example, some innate emotional needs are “attention”, “validation”, “connection” and “meaning”. Let’s say you have a partner that gives you attention, makes you feel validated, and makes an effort to connect with you.

Won’t you still have the need to connect with other like-minded people, make friends, or find something that gives meaning to your life in order to feel emotionally fulfilled? Also, what about when your partner is struggling and isn’t able to meet your needs?

In other words, expecting that your partner will tend to ALL your emotional needs is an unhealthy relationship expectation. In fact, thinking that someone else will make you feel emotionally fulfilled always leads to disappointment.

What you should do instead, is have multiple sources for emotional fulfillment, and look for someone who will complement you–not make you feel whole.

2. The “My Relationship Doesn't Progress As Expected” Expectation

Since our relationships take place within a social context and aren’t isolated experiences, it’s easy to fall into the comparison trap, and consequently, form the unhealthy expectation that your relationships should develop and progress following a specific pattern.

For example, most people:

  • become frustrated if, after a couple of weeks of dating, the person they’re seeing doesn’t initiate “the talk” of making it official
  • think that all relationships should eventually result in marriage and kids
  • assume their partner doesn’t see them seriously if they haven’t introduced them to their friends or family within a specific timeframe

The truth, however, is that all relationships are different, develop differently, and have different outcomes. There are no rules. No specific timelines or timeframes within which certain things must happen.

Expecting your relationship to develop in a specific way can cloud your judgment, lead you to false assumptions, and result in self-sabotage. It’s better to take the necessary time to learn and understand your partner (and the way they act/the pace at which they move within a relationship) in and out, and openly discuss how you envision your relationship’s future.


3. The “My Partner Will Change for Me” Expectation

Years ago, when I was taking my first shy (and very awkward) steps into the dating world, I would get involved with people who were a bad fit for me, thinking that once they fell in love with me, they would change.

Those thoughts seemed pretty romantic and exciting to me at the time, but, after a while, I understood that no one would ever change themselves for me — or for anyone else, for that matter.

You see, although you can facilitate change through encouragement and inspiration, you can’t make someone change their fundamental character qualities. As psychotherapist Sharon Martin’s advises in her article in PsychCentral:

“Not everyone wants to change (or not in the way you think they should) and that’s their prerogative. Despite your desire to help, you can’t make people change and you can’t fix their problems (even when you have great ideas and their best interest at heart!). You simply can’t fix or solve other people’s problems and trying to do so often just makes things worse.”

If you push your partner to change for you, when they don’t really want to, feelings of frustration, dissatisfaction, and resentment are bound to ensue — for both of you. And even if they do change, they’ll probably revert back to their old ways as soon as they stop feeling the need to impress you.

Never expect someone to change for you — and don’t change who you are to meet someone else’s expectations.

4. The “The Right Relationship Won’t Require Sacrifices” Expectation

Remember that article you read from that “relationship expert” who claimed that, once you find the one, you won’t have to make any sacrifices in your relationship?

Yeah, it’s time to forget all that utter nonsense — that’s one of the most unhealthy and unrealistic relationship expectations you could have.

Relationships always require sacrifice. Sometimes the sacrifice might be small, like offering to do the household chores when your partner isn’t feeling well, and some others, it could be life-changing, like moving to another country in order to be close to your partner.

One thing’s for sure: sacrifices are inevitable, and essential if you want to keep your relationship going.

By holding onto the unhealthy expectation that the right relationship won’t require any sacrifices, you’re basically embarking on a wild goose chase — that will have you give up on relationships with potential and feel lonely and dissatisfied.

All Things Considered…

Our relationship expectations matter because what you expect from a relationship influences what you bring into it and the way you navigate it.

Understandably, sometimes it can be challenging to differentiate between what’s healthy to expect from a relationship and what isn’t.

Because healthy, realistic expectations make for healthy and fulfilling relationships, keep in mind that:

  1. Realistically, your partner won’t be able to fulfill every single one of your emotional needs all the time–don’t expect them to. That’s why it’s important to have multiple sources for your emotional fulfillment.
  2. If you expect your relationship to develop at a specific pace, in a specific way, you’ll probably end up self-sabotaging it. Different relationships evolve differently.
  3. Don’t expect your partner to change for you–genuine change comes from within. Pressuring them into becoming something they’re not, will result in feelings of resentment and dissatisfaction.
  4. All relationships require sacrifice.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Margaret Pan