In my last blog post, I looked at common reasons we have for entering into relationships; and at the dreams we have for what a relationship will give us.
Here are the expectations I most frequently hear:
- My partner will give me unconditional love and support
- My partner will be there for me, no matter what
- My partner will meet my needs, whatever those may be.
Most of us have these sorts of expectations, because they are held out as the ideal for a relationship in our culture. Yet, this “ideal” simply isn’t possible: No two people always see eye-to-eye, always get along, always do what the other person wants, or always behave lovingly toward each other. These things happen sometimes, but there is no way that these conditions will always be present in any relationship.
Note also that this list is all about what one gets, not what one gives. Relationships don’t work well when we have expectations only of our partner and not of ourselves; but it’s common for people to focus more on what they get, forgetting that what one gives has great significance.
Ellen and Mark (all identifying information changed), a couple who were chronically disappointed in their relationship, were not happy to hear that their expectations of each other were unlikely to always be met. “Why be in a relationship, if I’m not going to get these things?” Mark asked.
Indeed, why be in a relationship?
For starters, relationships bring us companionship. They provide someone with whom to share life’s ups and downs, share financial obligations and other responsibilities, have a sexual relationship, and possibly raise children.
In addition, being in a relationship can provide you with ongoing opportunities for personal growth.
- Someone who knows you well can help you to see things about yourself that that are worth knowing, that you might not otherwise see.
- Because it is extremely difficult to live up close and personal with someone who is different from you (e.g., any person you choose to be in a relationship with!), you will have ongoing opportunities to develop your ability to tolerate disappointment.
- How so? There is no way to have a relationship where you’re never disappointed in your partner or never a disappointment to him or her. You can learn how to be resilient in the face of disappointment, and this skill will help you to have a satisfying life and strong self-esteem.
- You can use the stressful situations that are a feature of any long-term relationship to learn how to stay calm when things get crazy. Not only will your relationship improve as you get better at managing your anxiety, but the rest of your life is likely to improve, as well.
- You will have multiple opportunities to figure out what is really important to you. When you and your partner want different things, there is often a great deal of pressure for one of you to give up what’s important to you. While there are times you can lean in your partner’s direction or your partner can lean in your direction, knowing when you can yield and when to hold firm requires clarity. Basing your relationship on honoring what is most important to both partners can help you to develop this clarity.
If you are struggling with disappointment in your relationship, feel free to reach out to me. I’ll be glad to help you find ways to make the most of life with your partner, by using your difficulties and stuck points as powerful opportunities for growth.