Unrealistic Expectations In Relationships


By: James P. Krehbiel

Often, we believe that others ought to treat us the way we want them to respond. We may tend to put a relationship on a pedestal expecting more from an interpersonal relationship than it can deliver. Then when others fail to meet our expectations, we feel betrayed, frustrated, and resentful. Albert Ellis, noted psychotherapist has said, "Where is it written that others must act the way we want them to. It may be preferable, but not necessary."

We may expect a great deal from others because we are dependent. We may lack confidence and rely on others to fill the void of our unsatisfied needs. Our demands of others may become overwhelming as we pursue and then watch as our friends back-peddle in reaction to our needs. As our friends pull away we project our own desire for wholeness in an emotionally dependent manner and a cycle of pursuing and distancing is created.

We may also carry over "expectation illusions" from childhood. Children expect their parents to nurture, protect and affirm them. However, many adults are unable to do these things. Children, in an effort to change their parents, perform to please, hoping that their parents will reinforce them and fulfill their children's emotional needs. When parent's behavior does not change in response to our needs, we become disappointed, feel abandoned, and internalize our feelings as being unlovable. What we didn't receive from our parents in terms of affection, support, and direction, we project onto others. We expect our friends to provide that which was missing during childhood. When friends are unable to deliver, we may become disenchanted and may give up on the relationship. We believe (as we did in childhood), that if we try harder, and perform for approval, others will be impressed with us and will fill our emptiness. Sadly, the void remains, and the expectation illusion continues.

When we expect too much from others, we are generally self-critical as well. The part of us that is self-critical is a remnant from childhood that typically represents the echo of one of our parents. The inner critic is the judge and jury of our behavior. It is the part of us that is filled with mandates such as, "you ought to", "you must", "how could you", "why didn't you." and so on. Often, instead of taking control of our critic, we project it onto others and make friends feel defective. We may use the same critical terminology on our friends that our parents used on us. It is always a good thing to take responsibility for our critic. We must listen to it, understand its history, and learn to give up its demands. Then we can approach our friendships with realistic expectations.

Invariably, unrealistic expectations are connected to issues of power, manipulation and control. We might embrace an underlying assumption which says, "People must act the way I want them to, or else I have no use for them." Another twist on this theme is filled with rage and anger. It goes, "People better act the way I want them to, or else I will pay them back!" Many times these assumptions are behind patterns of physical and emotional abuse. One partner will try to manipulate and control the behavior of their mate in order to get what they want. If the abused partner refuses, conflict ensues.

When a romantic relationship begins, the partners may be oblivious to each other's weaknesses. Often, our partner may carry our disowned energy in the relationship. Disowned energy represents the part that our partner overtly expresses that we wish was apart of our own experience. This is what makes the relationship intense. For example, a mate may be impulsive or free-spirited. In the beginning, this quality may be valued by the other partner and may be lacking in their behavioral repertoire. These complimentary qualities bring energy to the relationship during the early stages of courtship. Later in the relationship, however, the quality which was an asset may become a liability. We might complain, "I used to like your free-spirited attitude, but I didn't think it would lead to you making embarrassing comments to our friends." Conflict emerges as we reassess our expectations of our partners.

Having realistic expectations for others involves realizing that all of us are less than perfect. Instead of looking to others to meet our needs, we must take responsibility for our own life and make necessary changes that are in our best interest. We must leave our self-blame behind and find ways to untwist our thinking and behavior to make our lives more fulfilling. It is important to value and accept our partners and friends for who they are. It is in our best interest not to spend our energy trying to change them to fit an image of what we believe we need and what they can provide for us.

James P. Krehbiel, Ed.S., LPC is an author, freelance writer, and cognitive-behavioral therapist practicing in Scottsdale, Arizona. He can be reached at krehbielcounseling.com.

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