Expectations in a Relationship: 9 Reasonable Expectations

Relationships are complex, beautiful things. Committing to sharing your life with someone inevitably involves navigating a web of hopes, dreams, and, yes – expectations. We all have them, whether we realize it or not.

  • What kind of affection and romance do you expect?
  • How much quality time do you envision spending together?
  • What does support look like during challenging times?

The list goes on.

Here’s the thing – your expectations won’t always align perfectly with your partner’s. And that’s okay! The key is learning to communicate openly and honestly to find a realistic middle ground.

This article will explore strategies for:

  • Identifying reasonable vs. unrealistic expectations
  • Expressing your needs and listening to your partner’s perspective
  • Compromising when expectations don’t match up
  • Reevaluating expectations as your relationship evolves

The goal? To help you build greater understandingempathy, and connection through a shared understanding of expectations. That way, you can keep your relationship thriving for years to come.

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Types of Expectations

Regarding relationships, it’s understandable to have wants and needs. But how do you know what expectations are reasonable versus unrealistic?

Here are some examples of healthy, realistic expectations:

Reasonable Expectations

As we covered earlier, reasonable expectations align with healthy relationship values like:

  • Mutual trust and honesty. You should be able to believe what your partner says and feel secure.
  • Equal commitment. Both people should invest time and energy into the relationship.
  • Respect. You have a right to be respected for your interests and opinions.
  • A certain level of affection and intimacy. It’s reasonable to expect physical and emotional connection.
  • Quality time together. Make your relationship a priority through shared experiences.
  • Support during difficult times. Being there for each other when things get complicated.
  • Compromise. Finding solutions together when you have different needs.
  • Empathy. Understanding each other’s perspectives and being willing to listen.
  • Friendship. Enjoying each other’s company and having fun together.

These expectations encourage behaviours that build closeness and understanding between partners. For example:

  • Making each other a priority
  • Listening without judgment
  • Sharing feelings openly
  • Respecting each other’s needs

Reasonable expectations foster secure attachment and interdependence. They provide a solid foundation for a thriving partnership.

Unrealistic Expectations

Conversely, unrealistic expectations often involve demands, criticisms, or rigid assumptions. For example:

  • Requires constant attention and validation
  • Expecting your partner to read your mind and know how you feel
  • Trying to change aspects of your partner’s personality or values
  • Assuming the relationship will be perfect and fight-free

Unrealistic expectations stem from insecurity and fear of abandonment. They attempt to control your partner’s behaviour. This undermines intimacy and pushes you apart.

Other examples of unrealistic expectations:

  • Demanding more investment than you give
  • Forbidding friendships with a certain gender
  • Requiring constant contact and check-ins

The key is awareness. Be honest with yourself about any hidden expectations or assumptions you may carry. Then, communicate openly with your partner.

Communicating Differences

Since each person brings a unique perspective, expectations won’t always match perfectly. This is normal! The key is Creating space to:

  • Express your needs and desires
  • Listen to your partner’s point of view
  • Identify areas of alignment and discord
  • Find reasonable compromise

You can bridge differences and build shared understanding with openness, empathy, and willingness to flex. This leads to greater connection and satisfaction for you both.

Meeting Expectations

Now that you know the difference between reasonable and unrealistic expectations, how can you meet them in a relationship?

First, it’s important to distinguish expectations from standards. Standards represent the qualities you need in a partner – integrity, shared values, etc. Expectations involve specific behaviours you anticipate from your partner.

While standards help choose a compatible partner, expectations shape the day-to-day experience.

Here are some tips for managing expectations and avoiding frustration:

  • Communicate clearly. Be explicit about what you need and expect from your partner. Don’t assume they’ll “just know.” 
  • Prioritize appreciation. Focus on your partner’s positive actions rather than where they fall short. This breeds goodwill.
  • Practice empathy. Seek to truly understand where your partner is coming from when expectations differ.
  • Allow imperfection. No one meets every expectation 100% of the time. Allow room for humanity.
  • Compromise. Be prepared to flex when your expectations don’t align. Meet in the middle.
  • Check in often. Revisit expectations frequently as circumstances change. Don’t let them become outdated.
  • Value the relationship. When expectations conflict, remember your love and commitment. Let those anchor you.

With open communication, empathy, and willingness to adapt, you can craft shared expectations that support a loving partnership. The key is focusing on understanding each other better, not controlling.

Communicating Expectations

Openly communicating expectations is key, but doing so effectively requires some finesse.

Here are some tips:

  • Set a calm time to talk. Don’t bring up expectations in the heat of an argument. Discuss them during a relaxed moment.
  • Use “I” statements. Rather than accusing (“You never make time for me!”), use “I feel __ when __.” This invites empathy.
  • Listen fully. Don’t just wait for your turn to talk. Truly focus on understanding your partner’s perspective.
  • Find common ground. After sharing your needs, look for areas where expectations already align. Build on those.
  • Suggest compromises. If expectations differ drastically, propose realistic solutions you both feel good about.
  • Remain flexible. Don’t dig your heels in stubbornly. Be open to meeting halfway.
  • Focus on the relationship. If tensions rise, redirect to your love and commitment. Those transcend any one expectation.
  • Keep communicating. Revisit expectations frequently as things change. It’s an ongoing dialogue.

You can craft shared expectations that honour your needs with patience and care. The key is remembering you’re on the same team. Maintain that spirit, even during difficult conversations, and you’ll deepen your bond.

Overcoming Unmet Expectations

Despite your best efforts, there will likely be times when expectations go unmet, leaving you feeling frustrated and disappointed. How you handle this makes all the difference.

  • Communicate clearly. Express precisely how the unmet expectation made you feel. Stick to facts.
  • Listen fully. There may be circumstances you’re unaware of. Hear your partner out.
  • Take responsibility. Own your part in the situation. Don’t just blame your partner.
  • Compromise. Is there a middle ground that partially meets both your needs?
  • Get support. Lean on trusted friends or a counsellor to process any hurt. Don’t isolate.
  • Forgive. Ultimately, you have to make peace with your partner’s humanity. Resentment kills relationships.
  • Adjust expectations. If an expectation is repeatedly unmet, reconsider it. Is it truly realistic?
  • Focus on the positive. When tensions are high, redirect to gratitude and appreciation. This uplifts you both.

You can overcome the bumps and bruises of unmet expectations with empathy, humility and open communication. Doing so deepens intimacy and connection when you make it through together.

Remember, you’re on the same team. Maintain that mindset, even when expectations temporarily go unfulfilled, and your bond will grow stronger.

Shared Values and Healthy Expectations

Expectations are deeply intertwined with core values. When those differ dramatically between partners, it can lead to ongoing tension.

For example, if you value quality time but your partner is hyper-focused on their career, that disconnect will continually manifest.

Here are some tips for navigating mismatched values:

  • Identify differences early. Have open conversations about ethics, family, and lifestyle priorities before committing.
  • Communicate respectfully. Express your values without judgment about your partner’s. Seek mutual understanding of their perspective.
  • Find overlap. Look for shared values like integrity, growth, and connection. Build on those.
  • Establish boundaries. Be clear about values you won’t compromise on. If your partner can’t respect those, reevaluate.
  • Create space. Allow each other to explore individual interests and values without feeling threatened.
  • Focus on strengths. When you feel judged, redirect to the qualities you appreciate and admire in your partner.
  • Practice tolerance. You won’t always see eye to eye. Can you live with your differences? If not, they may be dealbreakers.
  • Try counselling. If values conflicts become toxic, seek help establishing boundaries and building understanding.
  • Adjust expectations. Reframe expectations through the lens of differences. Look for a realistic middle ground.
  • The importance of self-reflection: It would be valuable to discuss the significance of self-awareness in identifying and understanding our expectations before communicating them to our partners.
  • Cultural and societal influences on expectations: Discussing how cultural background and societal norms can shape expectations in a relationship

Fundamental value differences take effort to navigate. But with compromise and conscious understanding, shared expectations can still be crafted to create a loving relationship.

Reevaluating Expectations

Relationships evolve, so expectations must become, too. What worked early on may not fit years later.

Here are some times when expectations commonly shift:

  • Significant life changes: Marriage, kids, and new jobs all impact needs. Be ready to renegotiate expectations.
  • Evolving interests: Expectations may need realigning as you grow and change as individuals.
  • Comfort and complacency: Don’t let expectations get stale. Refresh them to revive their passion.
  • ** Milestones:** Anniversaries, significant birthdays, etc. Use them as opportunities for relationship check-ins.
  • Challenging transitions: Illness, family loss, moves all affect needs. Adjust expectations accordingly.
  • Relationship problems: When you hit rough patches, reevaluate expectations around roles, affection, etc.
  • Therapy: Counselling often reveals outdated expectations. Use it for a reset.

The key is tuning into your relationship regularly, not just when problems arise. Keep expectations flexible and tailored to where each of you is right now. This ensures a partnership that can withstand the test of time.


Navigating expectations in relationships requires empathy, compromise, and constant recalibration. But with intention and open communication, you can craft a shared understanding honouring your needs.

The key is upholding the spirit of partnership – you’re on the same team! Approach expectation conflicts not as battles to be won but opportunities to learn and grow together.

When expectations serve intimacy rather than control, they become the scaffolding of a lifelong love that remains flexible and strong. You’ve got this!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Unrealistic expectations involve trying to control your partner's behaviour or make demands. Watch out for:

  • Requiring constant attention/validation
  • Mind reading - expecting them to know your every feeling
  • Isolating from friends of a certain gender
  • Never argue or disagree
  • Wanting to change core parts of who your partner is

Have an open, non-judgmental conversation outside the bedroom or in counselling. Use "I feel ___" statements. Identify shared and opposing expectations. Look for a compromise that meets both your key needs.

Express your hurt clearly but calmly. Listen to their side. Take responsibility for your part. See if there's a middle ground. Get support from friends/counsellors. Try to forgive and move forward positively.

Ideally, have an informal chat about expectations 1-2 times monthly. Have a deeper check-in every 3-6 months. And evaluate them whenever you face a major life change or relationship issue.

Picture of Pareen Sehat MC, RCC

Pareen Sehat MC, RCC

Pareen’s career began in Behaviour Therapy, this is where she developed a passion for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy approaches. Following a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Psychology she pursued a Master of Counselling. Pareen is a Registered Clinical Counsellor (RCC) with the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors. She specializes in CBT and Lifespan Integrations approaches to anxiety and trauma. She has been published on major online publications such as - Yahoo, MSN, AskMen, PsychCentral, Best Life Online, and more.

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