There’s a common theme to the problems experienced by men and women that are either in relationships, falling out of them, or trying to get into them: expectations.

There’s constant talk about relationships: How to get them, how to have them, how to keep them, how to end them and much more. All of this keeps women’s magazines flying off the shelves, dubious talk shows popular, and self help books being as easy to read and buy as your average contemporary fiction novel. There is one message that they need to get through though–we need to get a grip on our expectations.

If men and women want to experience better relationships, we must be aware of our expectations and we must discuss them.
If we were mind readers, both sexes would be from Venus (or Mars) and we’d all be living happily ever after.

We either expect too little or expect too much, and we often don’t discuss the expectations that we do have. Many of us haven’t even explored our expectations of relationships independently and they only come to light when shit hits the fan, and we’re clean out of relationship toilet paper.

So what do I mean by expectations? The type of expectations I refer to are the physical, emotional, characteristic, and quality of life expectations. Ask most women what type of man they would like to be with, and the first ‘qualities’ will be nice smile, hair, bum, six-pack, blonde, brown hair, dark hair, sexy eyes, olive skin, black, white, good sense of humour, kind, trustworthy, good job, practical with money, handy with a hammer, and the list goes on and on. These are not bad things for you to expect from a potential partner, and some of them are important, but physical qualities are not the be all and end all. It doesn’t make you feel any better when a good looking, well groomed, sharply dressed man with a good sense of humour is disrespecting you.

It’s hard to imagine that people can expect too little but many women sell themselves short. They don’t expect fidelity, commitment, respect, and many basics that quite frankly shouldn’t even be expectations. The men that they are with usually think that bestowing any of these basic factors of a relationship is a favour or a treat.

I considered myself to have generally good self-esteem with a few insecurities like the average woman, yet I found myself with a man who it turned out had been ‘bestowing’ me with such favours. After we broke up, we had a number of tense discussions about our relationship. On one such occasion I told him that I felt that he had not treated me well in the run up to and after the break up (we had lived together). He was outraged and said, “How can you say that I treated you badly? It’s not as if you caught me in bed with another woman or I used to beat you up?”

I actually burst out laughing, and at that moment I realised that I was stark raving mad to be upset about breaking up with this ridiculous excuse of a man.

If women do not want to find themselves with shady men that continue to take advantage because they are allowed to, we must raise our game. Any woman that makes excuses for a man that repeatedly treats her badly and doesn’t seem to expect better, is a women who has too little expectations. Is it too much to be spoken to with respect? To be listened to? To not be beaten? I think not.

By expecting too little we automatically make it hard for ourselves. The race to the proverbial finishing line where good things such as a steady, solid relationship with marriage, children and shared experiences await becomes one big bloody marathon, that due to poor stretching and preparation hurts every muscle in your body, and you feel like dropping out just because there doesn’t seem much point and you don’t think you’re going to cross the finishing line anyway so you may as well just accept a poor result.

And then we come to the women that expect too much. Let me clarify a few things. There is nothing wrong with expecting a good and decent life for yourself. There is certainly nothing wrong with expecting the basics. There is however something wrong when you have expectations that are not realistic, or remotely obtainable for the other party concerned. Why are there women out there that expect a man to come into their lives and be and do everything, that in many cases the woman should be doing herself?

I know strong, independent women with great personalities and good careers, and they require a man that will ‘keep them in the life that they have become accustomed to’ because they need a man with a healthy bank account to keep things afloat when they have their babies and say bye bye to their careers. I have listened to countless single women talking about the man they haven’t met yet that needs to have a degree and a masters, overflowing bank account, good background, posh school educated, nice car, several holidays a year, a certain religion, contacts for entry onto the best guest lists, good looking so that he produces good looking kids, a nice big house in the right area, and a whole host of things that have no business being on the list of expectations. Not one of the women that has this very long list has met a man who fits the bill, and it comes as no surprise. Don’t forget, that even if you did meet this man with all of these qualities, what are you going to do if he turns out to be a wife beater or a cheater? I know there are women out there that will grin and bear it because the materialistic side of the relationship is what seems to matter, but they won’t be happy, and it is a prime example of women having too many expectations, and too many wrong expectations.

What about when you manage to pin down a guy and you’re in a relationship, but there are lots of rows and you’re beginning to wonder if you were both on the same planet when you got together. This is where not discussing what you expect from your partner or a relationship can lead to bitter arguments, battles of wills, and even breakups.

Emma 35 told me how she had been with her boyfriend for five years when they tied the knot. They were the ‘perfect couple’; she was a doctor, he was a vet, nice house, nice car, good social life, seemed to be on the same wavelength. They were married just over a year before they were headed for the divorce court. Not discussing their expectations meant that it took marrying him to discover that while he loved having the career woman for a girlfriend, he wanted a housewife and mother for a wife. Somehow this had escaped the conversation over the five-year pre-marriage period but this was probably because people assume that if you’re in the relationship and it’s lasted a certain amount of time and you’re talking marriage, that there isn’t any need to talk about expectations.

Not discussing what you expect out of a relationship is a guaranteed one-way ticket to disaster, and in the worse case scenario, divorce court. Talking about what you both expect means that if you have ridiculous or remotely unrealistic expectations, these can be addressed. If you want children and he thinks that he will be forever content with a goldfish or a dog, this comes out of the closet too. If he wants you to spend inordinate amounts of time with his mother, doesn’t think that work is for women once they become married or have children, or wants you to convert to a particular religion, this all comes out in the wash too.

I know a couple who have been together for six years and share a home and life together. The woman wants to get married, but he says that she is on probation and that until she passes it, she will not pass go. i.e. get married. Every time I ask what the ‘terms and conditions’ are of this ‘probation’ he tells me that “She knows what she needs to do!” Does she? If there are certain things that you expect from a partner, rather than allow the partner to continue failing a test that they don’t even know they are taking, be honest and say what you expect. Contrary to popular opinion women are not mind readers. In fact, none of us are, and while it may seem elementary, sometimes it’s good to spell it out. This means that when your expectations are not met, you have a genuine reason to not be happy and can sit down and discuss why.

So not expecting enough, expecting too much and not even bothering to discuss expectations, are making our relationships troublesome.

The key is to give some serious thought to what you’re expecting and even discuss it to test the madness or sanity of it. If we want to get out of the shark infested waters that we’re currently floating in, we need to speak up about our expectations, and more importantly, get real.

It’s important to remember though that if a person needs to do a huge amount of changing in order to meet your expectations, then maybe you should consider letting the relationship go. Strong relationships are built on give and take and compromise. If you fail to compromise, the expectations become a litany of demands making anything that you say sound negative.

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