In our last post we talked about the “expectation filter” and how unrealistic and/or uncommunicated expectations have a tendency to change our perception of, and possibly even be detrimental to, our relationship.

However, wouldn’t it be somewhat of an unrealistic expectation in itself to think that we would never set expectations for our relationship or our partner?

The fact is, having expectations can be a good thing. Expectations not only create accountability and establish boundaries, but they can also inspire us to be better people, if not for ourselves then for our partner.

So then what’s the problem? Shouldn’t that mean that the more epic our expectations, the greater our opportunity for growth? Well, not necessarily.

Imagine that you and your partner have just purchased your first home together. You can’t wait to have more space after living in a one-bedroom apartment for 3 years. With more space, however, comes more work—new places to collect clutter, more rooms to keep clean, plus the entirely new addition of yard work and house maintenance! You’re both aware of these new tasks, and you both have expectations for how they’ll get done.

Cue the ominous tones.

You expect that you’ll split the work based on skill and interest. Your partner expects that you will simply tell him/her which tasks to take care of as they come up.  The thing is, you have not shared these expectations with each other. So now your lawn needs mowing, and you’re waiting for your partner to do it because he/she is the more outdoorsy one; meanwhile your partner is thinking you’re going to do it since you’ve not delegated the task to him/her.

Cue the chorus of “But I thought you were going to do it!”

As you can see, this situation can be avoided by communicating (assertively and respectfully, of course) about your expectations. This accomplishes two things: 1) It makes both of you aware of each other’s expectations. 2) It allows you to adjust expectations so that they are more likely to be met. To put it simply, remember the acronym CARE: Communicate About Realistic Expectations

Through communication, you might realize that you are both harboring unrealistic expectations: perhaps your partner’s work schedule will make it difficult for him/her to always get the mowing done in a timely manner, and your partner might realize that it would be unrealistic and inefficient to wait to do tasks until you ask. Together, you come up with a new, more realistic expectation that the task will be shared—whomever is available when it needs to be done will do it.

As long as you communicate about what you expect from your relationship and each other and make those expectations reasonable and realistic, you not only develop positive habits such as assertive communication, you also create an environment conducive to both relationship and personal growth.