Managing Expectations
This is an excerpt of an original work July, 2005, Quasi-Monogamy
licensed under a Creative Commons License.
RD110605

Managing Expectations
Expectations can have paradoxical effects on relationship satisfaction. Sometimes expectations increase satisfaction with a relationship. Sometimes expectations decrease satisfaction with a relationship. We can help make our relationships more satisfying by understanding and managing our expectations. Paradoxical Effects of Expectations; McNulty and Karney (2004), offer two reasons why expectations sometimes increase and sometimes decrease satisfaction with relationships. The first reason is that people use expectations in different ways. Some people use expectations to set goals for improvements. People who use expectations to work towards realistic goals that improve their relationships tend to be more satisfied with their relationships. Other people use expectations to evaluate how their relationships fall short of ideals. People who constantly compare their relationships to unfulfilled expectations tend to be less satisfied with their relationships.

The second reason why expectations have paradoxical effects on satisfaction is that people differ in relationship skills. People with strong relationship skills are better at solving problems and making changes that move their relationships closer to desired expectations. Moving their relationships closer to desired expectations makes these people feel satisfied. People who lack strong relationship skills are less effective at solving problems and making changes that move the relationship closer to desired expectations. Not making progress toward desired expectations leaves these people feeling disappointed and unsatisfied. The effects of expectations on satisfaction depend on the relationship skills possessed by the partners.

Positive expectations can increase the chance of having more satisfying relationships...as long as the expectations are realistic and we have good relationship skills. Unrealistic expectations combined with poor relationship skills typically lead to disappointment and unhappiness.

We can manage our expectations in three ways. First, we can work to make our skills match our expectations. Second, we can get rid of our unrealistic expectations. Third, we can accept our partners despite having some of our expectations unfulfilled.

Matching Skills and Expectations
We need to bring our relationship skills in line with the expectations we set for our relationships. For example, it doesn't make sense to expect great communication with our partners if our personal communication skills are not great. This may mean improving our skills to be able to realistically accomplish our higher expectations. Or, it may mean lowering our expectations somewhat to correspond with what we can realistically achieve given our skills. The important thing is to make changes so our relationship skills better match our expectations.

Getting Rid of Unrealistic Expectations
When reality fails to live up to our unrealistic expectations, we tend to blame reality. But it's our unrealistic expectations that deserve the blame. Getting rid of our unrealistic expectations can help make our relationships more satisfying.

Here's a list of some unrealistic expectations:

For-Me Expectation. Relationships based on a self-centered preoccupation with one's own needs probably won't last. Relationships are not arrangements to meet one partner's needs. Relationships are partnerships in which partners help meet one another's needs.

No-Effort Expectation. Great relationships don't just happen by magic. It takes hard work and sometimes requires painful choices. Having to work at a relationship does not mean something is wrong with the relationship. Nor does it mean it's time to change or replace your partners.

Hapily-Ever-After Expectation. No relationship provides an unending lifetime of bliss. Spouses simply cannot make each other happy all the time. Relationships have ups and downs. Partners may be happier during some periods and less happy during other periods. Even soul mates go through a less happy periods occasionally.

Romantic-Love Expectation. The intense feelings of romantic love at the beginning of a relationship do not last forever. When these feelings begin to subside, it does not mean partners have fallen out of love. It's simply time for the relationship to mature into a love based more strongly on commitment, companionship, and shared values.

Relationships-Are-Easier Expectation. Partners can help one another share life's burdens and responsibilities. However, living in relationships is by no means easy. Trying to form a household from two or more people of various genders, backgrounds, and experiences presents many difficult challenges.

Relationships-Solve-Problems Expectation. Relationships will not fix or solve all the problems in a person's life.

Change-My-Partner Expectation. Don't count on having a happy relationship after changing your partner. You can't change your partner. You can only change yourself.

The unrealistic expectations listed above are not unique to quasi-monogamous couples. Monogamous couples also can fall prey to them. However, there are unrealistic expectations more specific to quasimonogamous relationships:

Cure Cheating Expectation. Quasi-monogamy is not cheating with permission. Giving each other permission to have other lovers does not solve the problems that lead to cheating or repair the damage caused by cheating. Deciding to be quasi-monogamous won't cure the problems associated with cheating.

Limitless Love Expectation. All lovers require time and resources. There's a limit to the amount of time and resources we can devote to extra-couple lovers before our relationship as a couple begins to deteriorate.

Equal Relationships Expectation. Extra-couple lovers will not always develop equally strong or equally close relationships with both partners in a couple. It's not possible to dictate how relationships unfold.

The lists above do not cover all possible unrealistic expectations. They just include some of the more common ones. It's important for to think about the various expectations we bring to our relationships.

Accepting Partners
Realistic expectations are closely linked with accepting our partners. Accepting our partners requires flexibility, tolerance, benevolence, and gratitude. Flexibility helps us accept our partners as the relationship matures. The way we think about, feel about, and experience our partners during the first year of living together will not be the same as the way we think about, feel about, and experience our partners after 30 years of living together. Tolerance helps us accept our partners despite their peculiarities and idiosyncrasies. Our partners are not be perfect. But our partners may be okay at most things, and we can live with their little imperfections.

Benevolence helps us accept our partners when they make mistakes. Our partners sometimes mess up. By not always interpreting what our partners do in a negative light, and giving our partners the benefit of the doubt, we maintain a more accepting attitude when things go wrong.

Gratitude reminds us of the efforts our partners make in the relationship. Our partners may not meet all our needs and expectations, but they do meet some of our needs and expectations. Thanking our partners for these contributions to the relationship helps us accept our partners .