We all build our lives around a variety of expectations. Societal pressures, cultural norms, and even family values shape who we think we ought to be and the life we ought to have. We say to ourselves (consciously or unconsciously), “I should be in a relationship by now,” or “I should be able to do this (work, parenting, etc.) better,” and even, “My husband should know what I want even when I do not say something about it.” Sometimes reality parallels our hopes and expectations, and we are right were we think we should be. More often than not, however, our reality is different – sometimes the exact opposite – of what we expected or wanted. This happens in all areas of our lives, but it can be especially difficult when our expectations, hopes, and dreams about our romantic relationships bump up against the realities of every day life. Below are eight ways to limit resentment and disappointment when your reality doesn’t match your expectations.
- 1. Talk about your hopes and dreams. Some couples are together for many years before they have an open, honest conversation about each person’s values, hopes, dreams, and expectations for themselves, their family, and their relationship. Let your partner know about these parts of yourself, and be curious about your partner’s experience, as well.
- 2. Do not blame your partner for choices you have made. Although it can feel accurate to put the onus on someone else for why our life does not look the way we want it to look, but we all make our own choices and are responsible for our own actions. Shift your focus back on yourself and see how that helps you gain control over your life. If your reality is not what you wanted it to be, take some ownership of that and make meaningful changes that help your expectations and reality align a little more.
- 3. Be mindful of “should’s.” Think about how much of your life is governed by thoughts that involve the word “should.” Are these thoughts ones that bring you joy, satisfaction, and possibility or are they limiting and judgmental toward yourself and others? Be curious with yourself and your partner about how and why these “should’s” have developed, and put these thoughts or beliefs aside if they are not serving your or your relationship in a healthy way.
- 4. Work together to change what you can. Recruit your partner as a resource to help you make important changes. If you had hoped to go to college but instead spent years in a job that did not satisfy you, work together with your partner to find creative ways to help you reach that goal. This connects you both, rather than tears you apart, in an effort to help you realize a dream.
- 5. Practice acceptance. Much of our strife, in our relationship with our loved ones and ourselves, comes when we push or fight against what is. When things are not how we wanted them, we have a choice. We can fight it and let it make us miserable, mad, resentful, and angry, or we can figure out a way to accept our reality for what it is. Acceptance helps you move on in a way that feels free and is far more effective in the long run.
- 6. Re-evaluate your expectations. Oftentimes, it can be helpful to re-evaluate what you want from yourself, your partner, and your life together. Try to understand how and why you have these certain expectations, and then make a conscious decision to shape them into something that is more in line with your present reality.
- 7. Mourn losses. It can be very helpful for you and your partner to grieve and mourn the loss of a hoped-for reality or situation. Maybe you had expected to be making more money or be able to finally take that vacation you always wanted. It can be sad to come to terms with the reality of what you wish was happening in your life, so share in that with your partner and help one another move forward.
- 8. Create a new, shared vision of your life. Once you have moved toward acceptance of your present reality, re-evaluated your expectations, and perhaps even mourned, come together with your partner to create a renewed, meaningful vision of your life together based on what matters most to you both.
Contributed by Staff Therapist, Rachel Goldsmith