We have plenty of experience in both individual and couples counseling in the Westchester and greater New York regions. One thing we have learned over the years is how easy it is for people to have unrealistic expectations of their relationships. Often times, those expectations are the root of relationship dissatisfaction.
Expectations are a normal thing. They also apply to more than just relationships. Every activity we engage in comes with certain expectations. When expectations are left unfulfilled, people have an opportunity to choose how they will react. Therein lies the crux of the issue. If a person’s expectations are unrealistic going in, the chances of having an adverse reaction are pretty significant.
A Basic Definition
A basic definition of unrealistic expectations is in order before we talk about how they damage relationships. An expectation is a strong belief in, or hope of, something happening in a particular way. By extension, an unrealistic expectation is a strong belief in something that is not likely to go your way.
For example, a young couple might begin the process of purchasing a home with the expectation that they will find everything they want. Any accomplished real estate agent can tell you that such expectations are unrealistic. No house is perfect. Most couples holding out for everything they want eventually end up settling when they realize their pursuit of the perfect home is a fool’s errand.
With a basic definition out of the way, let us talk about how unreasonable expectations can damage relationships. There are several key components we have observed in both individual and couples counseling.
Misunderstanding the Other’s Emotions
One of the most common unrealistic expectations among couples has to do with emotions. Both parties falsely assume the other knows and understands their emotions. This leads to the unrealistic expectation that there should never be emotional conflict between them. And yet, emotional conflict is an important part of every healthy relationship. It is going to occur anyway, so having an unrealistic expectation about it only makes conflicts harder to resolve.
Covering up Conflict
Taking conflict to the next step, a lot of people mistakenly believe that solid relationships are completely devoid of it. This causes them to go to very great lengths to cover up anything that could be perceived as conflict. Doing so is harmful for every relationship, but it is especially harmful for couples. Covering things up prevents couples from resolving their differences.
Failing to Grow and Change
Unrealistic expectations of what a relationship should be like can cause those involved in that relationship to fail to grow and change. The truth is that relationships evolve. A relationship you have had for 20 years is certainly not the same as it was when you and that other person first met.
Unfortunately, having unrealistic expectations invites the bad habit of trying to paint a perfect picture that doesn’t exist. This leads to a secondary habit of not wanting anything to change. If there is no change, a person can paint that perfect picture in their mind and keep it perfect forever. Growth and change are stunted, and the relationship begins to suffer harm.
There are other ways unrealistic expectations damage relationships. Those mentioned here only scratch the surface. The question is this: are any of your relationships being harmed by your expectations or the expectations of others? If so, counseling might be in order.
We offer couples counseling and individual counseling in Westchester and the surrounding area. We would be happy to discuss your needs with you. Also, don’t be afraid to ask about online counseling when you contact us.