The Silent Killer Of Relationships You Wouldn’t Think About
When faced with the question of what destroys relationships, most people will think of infidelity, money issues, or a lack of communication. The truth is that the number one reason that many relationships fail comes from within. When our expectations go unmet, we often sabotage our relationships.
It’s a fact that Americans value marriage. Over 90% of adolescents and young adults see themselves as getting married one day. Perhaps this is the reason that many relationships fail. Young people see marriage and relationships as something to aspire to, and it becomes a dream rather than a concrete accomplishment.
Expectations and Disappointments
Andrew J. Cherlin is a professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins explains that relationships and marriages are often “discarded” when unrealistic expectations are not met. He notes that 10% of women living in America have lived with at least three partners by the age of 35. He also notes that all American children are at risk of witnessing the dissolution of their parents’ marriages. Cherlin explains that once a partner feels that his or her expectations have not been met, he or she then begins thinking as an individual. This makes cracks in the foundation of the relationship, and the other party may not even realize it.
Furthermore, a 2013 study in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology discovered that those who exhibit overly-optimistic views on marriage often lack problem-solving behaviors. These same individuals reported declines in marital happiness over a period of time. It seems that having specific expectations of one’s partner is simply a set-up for failure.
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A Consumerist View of Relationships
Professor of family sciences William Doherty agrees with this assertion, and also believes that our consumer culture may be the culprit for this kind of thinking. Doherty speaks to the sense of entitlement that many people have. His assumption is that we start to see a difficult relationship like a car that breaks down often or an article of clothing that no longer fits. When a person is faced with the reality that another person cannot always fit his or her expectations, it is just too easy to toss that relationship aside.
Psychologist Barry Schwartz agrees with this notion and adds that our views of the perfect marriage are often not attainable. He notes that many Americans actually feel entitled to the perfect marriage. What is a perfect marriage? Unfortunately, many people see their partner as existing to make them happy.
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How to Escape the Trap of Expectation
Since expectations can have such a damaging effect, the solution may be to stop having so many of them. It is not unrealistic to expect to be treated with respect, but thinking that a partner cannot be upset or make mistakes is damaging.
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Eli J. Finkel, professor of psychology at Northwestern University, suggests having common goals and spending more time together. A potential solution is to acknowledge your sadness if your expectations were not met, but to accept your partner compassionately for who they are.
Another technique is to imagine yourself speaking to a friend who has the same expectations as you. C. Snow, a clinical psychologist, notes that her patients often see a situation more reasonably if they imagine it from another angle.
Flexibility is a great way to solve relationship difficulties. If you have an expectation that the laundry must be done on a certain day, then you may become angry when it isn’t. This anger and frustration does not finish the chore. Likewise, your partner may feel resentful or hurt that he or she cannot met your expectations. Ask yourself if your expectation is reasonable, and try to find ways to be flexible to keep the relationship healthy.