Mike Hodson, MS, LAMFT
Think of a time when you interacted with a significant other who “just didn’t get it.” Throughout time you have developed an expectation for interacting with others, especially in relationships. You expect others to act in a certain way, but remain flexible for when you don’t act a certain way. When someone deviates from those expectations, common pitfalls can occur leaving you frustrated or disappointed.
One of the most common scenarios of mismatched relationship expectations is “attunement or mind reading.” When you expect your partner to know things such as what is bothering you; what you would have wanted; or whether or not you need space or to be listened to.
This stems from childhood. Our parents would know what to do when we were emotional because we could not articulate our feelings at such a young age. Because caregivers can’t usually fulfill every single emotional need during childhood, we often, unknowingly, look for romantic partners who can make up for those losses. (Kromberg, 2013)
By expecting your partner to “just get it,” you are setting your relationship up for potential failure. The Gottman Institute studied multiple couples over a three-year period and found that couples who were not meeting each other’s’ unspoken expectations experienced higher levels of dissatisfaction and hypervigilance (feeling on edge to detect threats or “waiting for the other shoe to drop”). (Lisitsa, 2013)
“When time passes and this response is triggered over and over again, it can throw them into fight-or-flight mode, or, when completely overwhelmed, to shut down the system completely – to stonewall” (Lisitsa, 2013). In essence, both partners may be thinking “Why do I even try with them” because one partner “doesn’t get it” and the other feels like “nothing is ever good enough.”
So what do you do about all of this? The simple answer is COMMUNICATION!
Talk to your partner about your wants, needs and desires. By clarifying what you want and need along with your partner doing the same, it allows both of you to know what to expect from the other. Additionally, each of you must also take responsibility for your expectations. If your expectations weren’t clarified beforehand, then your partner is missing an opportunity they weren’t aware of. Communication is the “simplest difficulty” a relationship needs in order to thrive. The more you understand about yourself and your partner through communication, the easier future hurdles are to overcome!
Kromberg, J. (2013). How realistic are your relationship expectations?. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/inside-out/201307/how-realistic-are-your-relationship-expectations
Lisitsa, E. (2013). The Research: Physiological and affective predictors of change in relationship satisfaction part II. Retrieved from https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-research-physiological-and-affective-predictors-of-change-in-relationship-satisfaction-part-ii/.