Setting expectations in a new relationship is something that many couples don’t think to do.
When we start a new job, we generally go into it with some expectation of what the job is going to look like and how we can do the work so that we will be successful. When we enter a new relationship, we are following our heart, and our libido, two parts of our body that don’t lend to long term, successful relationships.
Imagine going into your new relationship knowing what you and your partner can and should expect from each other. Imagine not having to guess at what will make your partner happy but knowing because they told you so. Imagine not fighting with your partner over the small stuff and instead enjoying your life together. All of those things can happen if you set expectations.
Why does setting expectations in a new relationship make such a difference? Let me explain…
#1 – You will make conscious decisions.
Relationships are between 2 people, two individuals with lives and histories and issues and habits and friends and fears and hopes. When those two individuals embark on a relationship, their lives are suddenly tossed together into one and sometimes their individual pieces just don’t work together.
Setting expectations can identify those individual pieces and define how they are going to be managed.
I have a client who fell in love with a man who was a recovering alcoholic. A big part of his life was attending Alcoholic Anonymous meetings. While my client understood that this was a part of his life, as their relationship deepened she started resenting the time that he spent at his meetings instead of with her. She felt like if he loved her more, he would want to spend more time with her.
I encouraged her to talk to him about her expectations around time spent and to ask him about how he could balance his meetings and her without jeopardizing either his sobriety or the relationship. They came up with a plan that worked for both of them and she was happy. She knew when he was going to meetings and when he would be with her and she no longer felt threatened by them.
By identifying and addressing the meetings proactively, my client was able to stave off a potential long term issue with her guy.
#2 – You won’t feel let down.
One of the most difficult things to manage in a relationship is being let down. To have someone not do what you expect them to do and feeling let down because of it.
Many, many couples struggle with this issue and the number one reason for let down is because people don’t know what their partner expects of them. They make assumptions about what their partner wants and they are wrong. And, because they are guessing and are wrong, they let their partner down, even if they don’t mean to. By setting expectations, we can prevent the let down that comes from trying and failing to guess what your partner wants.
One day, the husband of one of my clients called his wife to ask if she needed anything on the way home. She didn’t need anything but was so glad that he called to ask. And then, he never did it again. Because he had done it that once, she hoped that he would do it again and when he didn’t, repeatedly, it started to really bug her and she got very resentful.
I asked her if he knew that she wanted him to call at the end of the day. She said that she assumed that he did because he asked that one time. I suggested that maybe he didn’t realize that it was important to her because that one time she didn’t need anything. I suggested that maybe if she asked him to do it regularly that he would be happy to oblige.
And she did and he did and they were happy!
Setting expectations in a new relationship, and an old one, is an excellent way to prevent let down and resentment.
#3 – You will know where to make change.
For many people in a relationship, a lot of time is spent stabbing around in the dark, trying to figure out what the other person needs. A lot of that time is wasted and, as a result, relationships get into a lot of trouble. Imagine knowing what exactly your partner expected of you and thereby knowing what you needed to do differently to make them happy.
In the example above, as soon as my client told her husband how much she appreciated it when he called on his way home, her husband knew exactly what he could do differently to make his wife happy. One small phone call could change the course of his evening, and his life. So, he made the change and all was good.
Don’t expect your partner to change if they don’t know what they need to do to change. Tell them so they can do so!
#4 – You can address issues.
Once you have succeeded in setting expectations in a new relationship you will have a road map of what you want your relationship to look like. Each person will have a clear expectation about what their role will be in the relationship and they will be able to act accordingly.
Of course, the best laid plans can fall apart and expectations can go unmet. But, if the expectations have been set and agreed upon, when they aren’t met it is easier to see what the issue is.
Think of expectations as a relationship contract – a signed agreement of what you intend to do for each other. In any contract, there is an agreement between each side, what each will do to meet the contract. If that contract is violated then there will be consequences. If a carpet isn’t delivered, the carpet company provides a refund. If a contractor’s work is shoddy, they fix it. If your wife agrees to not complain about your weekly golf game and she does, you are allowed to address it.
Setting relationship expectations in a new relationship will allow you to be able to be specific when addressing issues that arise when the expectations are unmet. Instead of being able to say ‘I am angry with you’ you can say ‘I am upset that you didn’t hold up your end of our agreement and let’s address it.’
Which would be more effective in solving conflict, do you think?
#5 – You will know how to succeed.
The best part of setting expectations in a new relationship is being able to celebrate when the expectations are met. For many people, all they want is to make the person they love happy. When the person you love is happy, you are happy. When the person you love is unhappy, life can be miserable.
If you know what your partners expectations are, you will be able to make the choice whether or not to meet those expectations and make them happen. And if you do choose to meet those expectations, relationship happiness, and all the good things that come with it, will be yours for the taking.
Which would be a better way to end the day: sulking because of unmet expectations or not sulking and having a little fun?
Setting expectations in a new relationship is an excellent way to ensure that your relationship can be a happy one.
By defining clear expectations so that everyone knows their role in the relationship, by not letting each other down and creating resentment, by understanding where to make change, how to deal with issues and how to celebrate your success, you are taking steps to keep your relationship a healthy and happy one.
Don’t be fooled by thinking that any couple in love should just be able to know what the other wants. That is the stuff of fairy tales.
Know what your person wants and needs and make sure they know yours and that is how fairy tales come true!
You can do it!