Prince Charmings, Darling Princesses, and the Pitfalls of Expectations in Relationships

Rosalyn Baker

When many of us commit to another we truly believe we have found our Prince Charming or Darling Princess. Why else would we want to be with them if not because we believe we’re going to live happily ever after with our mate? Your other half will make you happy, meet all your needs and wants, and fulfill all your desires. Right? Hrm, probably not.

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Expectation-Disappointment-Resentment Cycle

A husband who is angry at his wife for wanting sex only once a week instead of three or wife who feels betrayed because her husband refers to spending time with the children as “babysitting,” are examples of unfulfilled expectations. The expectations are: she’ll want to have sex as often as I do, and he’ll want to spend time with the kids as much as I do. When expectations in relationships are not met, disappointment and resentment develops.

The first years of a relationship are often a struggle as each person tries to get the other to live up to their own preconceived expectations. If only I tell him in just the right words, in just the right way, at just the right time, and tell him often enough, I’ll get my point across. But after she’s told him 25 times and he still hasn’t changed, he’s fallen a few feet off his pedestal.

If this expectation-disappointment-resentment cycle happens often enough eventually the resentment starts to seep into other areas of the relationship. She may start nagging, get furious to blow off steam, or act passive-aggressively by withholding sex, become a workaholic, or have an affair. And her partner may do the same. The bond of love that binds a couple together can only take so much strain before it starts to unravel.

When couples commit to each other, they enter into the union with dozens of fantasies or images about what life will be like together. Typically these images are based on assumptions and not reality. A client once told me, “I knew she never cooked dinner before we got married but I thought it was romantic to go to restaurants so it didn’t bother me. But she hates to cook and I expected her to be like my mom who always had dinner ready when my dad came home from work. I get angry, hoping if I let her know how important it is to me she’ll change but she just gets mad and defensive, so we don’t eat together because it creates too much tension.”

Communication always seems to be an area that is rife with resentment. Another client once told me, “I thought I was marrying a man who would share feelings but I should have realized he’s never been very open. I assumed once we great closer and more trusting, he’d take more risks.” Her husband then responded, “Well, she is never satisfied with how much I talk to her. I thought she would let me make the final decisions but she goes on and on wanting to discuss things, trying to change my mind. I don’t think she respects my opinion. I figure I ought to have final say about somethings without having to explain myself.”

Breaking the Cycle: Reasonable Expectations & Meeting Our Own Needs

After many years together, couples usually come to know what they can expect from each other and are careful not to set expectations too high. Reevaluating and realigning expectations is a necessary requirement for making a successful life together. Either we get our expectations met or we don’t. We can try to make our significant other change or we can accept them for who they are. We can be angry or we can learn to meet our own needs.

One client expressed, “I’m lonely at night since my husband is usually working or with friends. I sit feeling lonely and resentful, then take it out on him when he gets home.”

Learning to meet our own needs is as important as setting realistic expectations. Since we all have more needs that our partners can fulfill, we must find ways to meet those needs and wants ourselves. 

It is important that we realize another person can never fill us up completely or make us whole. No one can meet all of another person’s needs and wants. Most of these we must take care of ourselves.

Ask your partner what he or she sees as reasonable expectations for a given situation. If you can’t agree, then one person or both will have to compromise. Through this give-and-take process you can learn to get some of your needs met, and the rest is up to you.

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Rosalyn Baker, LMSW, LMFT, MAC
Rosalyn Baker completed her Bachelor of Social Work and Teaching Certificate in Secondary Education in 1979 and her Masters in Social Work with a clinical counseling major, in 1983. She is also a trained as a Neurotherapist, Brain Fitness Coach, Wellness Coordinator and a Certified Nutritional Consultant.
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