In relationships, expectations can often have unexpected consequences

July 14, 2011

From Bangkok Post
For happy couples, few things in life come close to the feeling of being in love and being loved in return; it’s like living in a magical fantasy land where all is bright and beautiful. But many of us suffer a very rude awakening, later on, when our ideals are not being realised and our initial perceptions turn out to be false: it transpires that the object of our devotion is not the partner we’d expected him or her to become.
Being a relationship counsellor, I have observed many relationships unwind because the two parties can’t handle the disappointment of seeing great expectations not being fulfilled.
Having some expectations is normal and healthy, though nowadays people _ especially members of the younger generation _ tend to have too many expectations. This may reflect the unrealistic, idealised version of romantic love often portrayed in popular contemporary novels and TV dramas. Here, in the real world, unmet expectations have always been an abundant source of conflict and unhappiness in relationships and a leading cause of break-ups.
Men and women have many traits in common, but don’t expect them to think alike. It’s not realistic to expect your spouse to know everything that you’re feeling. Arguments between men and women often go unresolved, with one partner storming off in a huff shouting, “You don’t understand me at all!” My advice to couples is that each partner should make a concerted effort to better understand the other; after all, if you try to understand your partner, your partner is more likely to respond positively by trying to understand you better, too.
“The grass is always greener on the other side of the hill” is a famous expression filled with irony. It is human nature to assume that the things other people have are somehow better that what we have _ and that includes partners. This can lead to a mindset of “why can’t my partner by like his (or hers)?” which can be symptomatic of a relationship in peril. Since we’re talking about expectations, couples are well advised to expect that the grass is no more or less green than on the other side of that proverbial hill. In times of frustration, you may want to tell your partner, “I wish I had a spouse like so-and-so.” But imagine how painful it would be for your partner to hear that. Regardless of what is causing the problems in your relationship, remarks like that only make things worse. So do your relationship a favour and keep thoughts like that to yourself!
Many newlyweds enter marriage expecting to have lots of time to spend with their spouses, but work and other demands on your time too often win out. It’s also becoming more common to meet couples who work in separate cities and live together only on the weekends.
Relationships can survive _ and even thrive _ despite these pressures on one’s time. The quality of the time you spend together matters more than the quantity. Be sure to treasure the time you spend with each other; do things together that are meaningful instead of entertaining thoughts that your spouse doesn’t care enough about you.
The question of whether to share everything is usually about sharing money. It’s hardly rare for one partner to experience financial troubles that require help from the other. It shouldn’t place too heavy a strain on the relationship if it’s only a one-off or occasional occurrence. But financial problems can fester and grow to the point of sabotaging relationships. One practice that tends to help is for partners to retain for their own personal use any money they earn doing extra work.
Once a couple has spent a period of time living together, they begin to notice instances of their partner doing something surprising or unexpected; it might be as simple as a gesture or habitual movement they hadn’t noticed before. These new things result from their having reached a higher comfort level with each other, so there’s less need to hide things. Unless you notice your partner doing something awful or disturbing, the best response is to accept the change and cope with it. And remind yourself, every now and then, that there’s no such thing as a perfect person _ you and your partner included.
In one sense, an expectation is a tool for forcing one’s own way of thinking onto someone else. Sure, you may succeed in getting your partner to eventually change into someone closer to what you want; but the consequence of clinging to this expectation is that, rather than loving your partner for the person he or she is, you are actually loving an unreal, idealised image _ something created by your own imagination _ of the partner you wish you had.
When two people endure the countless obstacles and unwelcome surprises that life throws at them, yet are still able to hang onto a shared desire to be with each other in spite of it all… that’s the kind of love I’m talking about.


Writer Dr Pansak Sugkraroek is a reproductive endocrinologist at Bumrungrad Hospital.

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