Every person walks into a new relationship with a certain set of expectations for how the relationship should look and even how the other person should act. In fact, researchers and mental health professionals have concluded that our expectations for romantic relationships can be influenced by our family, personal experiences in previous romantic interactions or even the media. In fact, it is difficult to begin a new relationship without having expectations; what is important to keep in mind is setting healthy expectations apart from problematic expectancies in a committed relationship.
Dr. Suzanne Fremont (Building a Healthy Relationship from the Start, The University of Texas at Austin Counseling and Mental Health Center) mentions 6 distinguishing factors between healthy and problematic expectations which can be helpful for couples who are trying to better nourish and develop their relationship.
· Maintain the Relationship. Like any type of equipment purchased, relationships also need regular maintenance and balancing. Yes, things might be peachy keen in the beginning (after all it isn’t called the honeymoon stage for nothing) however relationships take work, healthy compromises and expectations. One of the worst things a couple can do is become stagnant in the relationship and not change with the times. I am not talking about big maintenances, instead little ones that help to sustain happiness and growth. Just as my mother used to tell me ‘it is the little things that should matter, something small that he does that just makes life a little easier and brighter.’
· Accept Differences. This is a big one for most- if not all of us. No two people are alike and neither are their opinions, beliefs and values. However, there are some couples who come to expect that their partner will change only in the particular ways in which they want them to change (i.e. being more clean, eating more healthy, being less/more social, wanting to do yoga because you like it). On the other side of the spectrum, other couples may hold the unhealthy expectation that their significant other may never change from the exact person they are when the relationship is ignited. Obviously, neither of those expectations are healthy for any relationship, much less one that is in its beginning stages. A more realistic expectation would be to accept the differences in each of you and learn to grow and change together.
· Respect Your Partner's Rights. Dr. Suzanne Fremont states that ‘in healthy relationships, there is respect for each partner's right to have her/his own feelings, friends, activities, and opinions.’ People who believe that their partner should have the same interests, beliefs or even types of friends is simply unrealistic and damaging for any bond between two people.
· Respect Changes. As mentioned before, changes occur and are expected in any type of relationship; that is what people do, they grow and change. It is important to start a new relationship while keeping change and growth in mind; professional/personal goals, opinions wants and even feelings of love and intimacy will change with time. Coming from a mutual place of love and respect is most needed when dealing with changes in the relationship.
· Be Prepared to "Fight Fair." People are not programmed to get along 100% of the time; disagreements and differences in opinions are healthy for relationships to develop and grow. However, there is a difference between fighting and ‘fighting fare.’ Couples who argue in a negative manner tend to point blame to the other person instead of admitting when they did something wrong and owning up to their own responsibilities. Seeking healthy compromise and being able to admit fault when needed is part of ‘fighting fair’ and managing healthy expectations in the relationship.
· Express Wants and Needs. Unless you are a mind reader, communication is key during any stage of a relationship. Verbally expressing your wants and needs are vital survival skills for partnerships, after all we are social beings. Expressing your wants and needs is key to maintaining healthy expectations for yourself as well as for your partner.
Until next time--take care of yourself, take care of your mind.
Amanda Burk, MA, LPC-Intern, LMFT-A
Supervised By: Tammy Fischer, MA, LPC-S, LMFT-S
“Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.” – Buddha