I know that “realistic expectations” is probably the least romantic sounding phrase ever. I realize that most of you are out there looking for much more awesome qualities in a relationship, like “We have the same values” and “We have the same silly sense of humor” and “We’re both obsessed with Firefly.” And I get it – these are important things to look for when you’re dating someone (um, especially that last one), but having “realistic expectations” somewhere on your radar will go a long way in helping you build a relationship that lasts beyond the honeymoon phase.
Believe me, I’m not trying to kill the romance here. By “realistic expectations,” I don’t mean that you should settle for someone who is OK … I guess. Being realistic doesn’t mean that you have to resign yourself to someone who doesn’t make you happy, or to a relationship that’s boring or conflict-ridden. By all means, hold out for a great love, for that person who makes your belly feel all fizzy in a good way and who makes you laugh so hard that you make that embarrassing snorting sound with your nose. Having realistic expectations doesn’t mean that you have to put up with a partner who isn’t great. It simply means that you have to be OK with a partner who is human, just like you—and who, like you, is imperfect.
Our culture puts a lot of pressure on romantic relationships. Movies and marketing tell us that finding the perfect romantic partner is our primary goal in life, and, if we can only find “The One,” then the relationship itself will be easy and last 4EVER. And so we, in turn, put pressure on ourselves and our partners to fulfill this romantic ideal; to always be in sync, to always know what the other person is thinking, to always do the right thing. It’s no wonder that so many relationships fall apart when this sort of fantasy turns out to be just that!
If you can let go of unrealistic expectations, and accept that things won’t always be perfect, then you can pave the way for a love that’s real, in which you and your partner recognize each other for who you really are—as wonderful, flawed human beings. And isn’t that what we all want? Read on for 5 reasons that realistic expectations lead to strong relationships:
1. You don’t expect your partner to fix all of your problems, so you work on fixing them yourself
Despite what Coldplay tells us, your partner cannot “fix you.” It can be tempting to think that once you find the right partner, every other problem in your life will simply be resolved, but that’s not how things work. But if you’re not expecting to have your S.O. wave a magic wand and make everything better, then you open up the space for yourself to work through these issues. You learn that the right partner can be an amazing support while you work on yourself, but you don’t expect him or her to do that work for you.
2. You speak up about what you want (because you don’t expect the other person to always know)
The ideal of the partner who always knows what you’re thinking without you having to explain is understandably compelling, but it’s just that: an ideal. In real life, unless your S.O. is actually psychic (in which case, you should cash in on that, STAT), he or she won’t be able to know what you’re feeling all the time. When you accept that as reality, you learn that you have to communicate openly about what you want, which will, in turn, give you and your S.O. the sturdy foundation of communication that every relationship needs.
3. You cut each other some slack
A couple with realistic expectations of each other knows that each half of the equation is simply not going to be perfect all the time. Both of you will, on occasion, be cranky, hangry, exhausted, and self-absorbed, and it’s OK—in fact, you expect it. That expectation doesn’t necessarily mean that you let your S.O. off the hook for being a jerk, but it does mean that you can accept these road bumps for what they are (relatively insignificant lapses of an otherwise good person), and move forward.
4. You don’t panic when you hit a rough spot
When you approach your relationship realistically, you know that difficult patches will happen. When you’re with someone for years – even decades – you know that there will be times when you are simply not on the same page, and that’s fine. You can weather through those choppy waters and then really appreciate when your relationship returns to smooth sailing. (Yes, relationships are like boats, apparently).
5. You enjoy what you have, rather than obsess about what you lack
When you’re not focusing on all the ways that your partner doesn’t live up to your romantic ideal, you give yourself the room to appreciate all of the things that make that person awesome. And who knows? You may find that you end up loving the ways that your partner diverges from your fantasy.