The Difference Between Standards & Unrealistic Expectations In Relationships
Having standards and boundaries is a necessary part of any functioning, healthy relationship, but where is the line between standards and unrealistic expectations? Here, we unpack the important question of what a reasonable and realistic standard is—and what isn't.
What are standards all about?
Standards are how you relate to yourself, whereas expectations are how you're relating to another person, according to Paulette Sherman, Psy.D., psychologist and author of Marriage and the Law of Attraction.
"Expectations are about how you hope the other person will respond, and standards are more about knowing yourself and taking care of yourself, while you consciously create your life," she says. As such, reasonable standards reflect your own values in a relationship.
"They stem from who you are and how you want to live your life," Sherman notes. "For example, you have a standard of honesty in a relationship or a standard of respectful communication. A healthy standard is generally a broad principle like honesty, loyalty, or generally keeping your word."
Standards are healthy, and when we consciously choose partners who already reflect our values, unrealistic expectations are less likely to interfere. "Once you choose someone," Sherman says, "you should have already determined if they matched your core standards because you probably won't change them. It's best to watch closely and determine what their own standards are and whether their most important ones match yours."
How they differ from expectations.
Any sort of expectation beyond your core values and needs, Sherman adds, like "expectations that a partner can read your mind, load the dishwasher just like you do, or have all the same preferences" is not realistic. And, she adds, "would be putting unreasonable expectations on your partner to be your clone."
As therapist and relationship expert Valerie Kolick, M.A., previously writes for mbg, "Whenever we set an expectation that our partners don't meet, we feel let down. We've set them up to disappoint us and set ourselves up to be hurt."
As Sherman notes, virtually every couple will have to learn to manage expectations and compromise. "You grew up differently," she says, "and you may have to compromise on some things and accept those differences in others in order to co-create your lives."
"Expectations don't allow for the variability of life," Kolick says. "Expectation is a breeding ground for disappointment and resentment. Holding on to resentments is one of the most destructive things you can do in a relationship."
The bottom line.
Expectations are bound to happen, which is why it's important to recognize which ones are grounded in valid standards that should be honored and which are simply unrealistic. The theory of the five love languages, for example, is meant to remind couples that they are two separate people who can approach something that seems universal—love—in totally different ways.
"People can work on managing expectations by realizing that their partner is a separate person, and they make their own choices in life," Sherman tells mbg. "You don't necessarily need to lower your standards for yourself, and it's OK to have a few standard essentials when choosing a mate too."
When in doubt, open and honest communication of standards while dating is key so the two of you can figure out whether you can fulfill each other's needs in a healthy way.
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