Setting Healthy and Fair Expectations in a Relationship

Relationship Rules
16 Aug 2023
11 min read
11 Healthy Expectations in a Relationship

Are you enjoying harmony in your relationship, or do you always seem out of sync? If the two of you are constantly bickering and you feel frustrated more than you should, try to discuss your expectations in a relationship. To do this right, you should develop healthy expectations in your relationship, communicate them with your partner, and understand what is reasonable vs. what isn’t.

Note that you can’t have a healthy relationship with unrealistic expectations. You and your partner have to be on the same page here. Otherwise, at least one of you is bound to be disappointed. So, how do you set healthy expectations in a relationship? Read on to find the answer.

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What Are Relationship Expectations?

Expectations in a relationship are beliefs that certain things will or will not happen within the context of your relationship.

Some relationship expectations are pretty common. For example, a married couple will expect that each person will be monogamous in most cases. However, even such expectations for one couple may not work for another, as some may choose to defy them.

Related reading: What Is Monogamy Today?

Other expectations in a relationship aren’t quite so common. They may be unique to a particular culture or simply a standard that a couple sets for themselves that other couples do not.

Sometimes, one person will walk into a situation with relationship expectations that their partner can’t abide by. This is where conflicts start, particularly if communication fails or builds resentment on either side.

Expectations in a relationship that are healthy

11 Healthy Relationship Expectations

There is absolutely nothing wrong with having expectations in a relationship. Reasonable expectations establish standards of behavior for both people and help them build a relationship that works for both of them. The key is to make realistic expectations that are agreed upon mutually, and to be flexible enough to recognize the need to change.

Here are 11 great examples of clear expectations in a relationship.

1. Be Trustworthy

Trust is one of the primary expectations in a relationship. Both people should be able to assume the other is acting in good faith. There should be absolute confidence that each partner won’t just act in their own interests, but will consider the relationship as well.

Related reading: How to Build Trust in a Relationship: 15 Tips

2. Be Equally Committed

Have you ever been in a relationship where it seemed as if you were expected to be more available and to give up more freedoms than your partner? That’s an unequal commitment, and it’s no way to form a healthy partnership.

Whether it’s a matter of sexual monogamy or deciding how to combine finances, both people involved in a committed romantic relationship should have the same obligations and commitments.

Related reading: Limerence vs Love: How to Tell the Difference

3. Mutual Respect Remains Foundational

Respect may seem like one of those expectations in a relationship that was never questioned. Sadly, this isn’t always the case. When a relationship is built around physical attraction, is rushed into, or is simply based on a desire to be in a relationship, this expectation may fall short.

This is why it is so important to get to know the other person before you dive into a relationship. Otherwise, you might feel disappointed and be unable to show them the respect they deserve.

Related reading: Are You in Love or Lust? Here’s Your Answer

4. Kindness and Empathy Are Always There

In a relationship, nobody is going to be in a good mood all of the time. There are going to be moments when each person does and says things that don’t reflect kindness or empathy.

Despite this, your ability to show and receive compassion is worth being your core expectation in a relationship. However, be ready that you should show compassion even if you’re angry. That is hard but necessary to meet the expectation.

5. Resolve Conflicts with Compromise

Reasonable expectations are often driven by a willingness to compromise. However, what people in healthy relationships understand is that this doesn’t always mean 50/50 give and take.

Instead, there may be times when one person gets almost everything they want, and the other person gives up a lot. The key here is to find a balance over time so that nobody feels as if they are always the one seeking compromise. This back-and-forth is the way to find solutions and prioritize a productive resolution over winning.

Related reading: Male Maturity – When Does It Kick In?

6. Have Honest Communication

Honest communication is one of the top expectations in a relationship. In order for this to happen, there are a few things that must be in place:

  • Willingness to be honest on the part of both people
  • Commitment to making the other person feel safe sharing their feelings
  • Ability to forgive and move forward
  • A team approach to disagreements
  • Freedom to express negative emotions safely

Clear communication doesn’t mean that it’s okay to criticize constantly. You can still use tact and be gentle while also sharing feelings that aren’t entirely positive. The result will be productive arguments that end with both people feeling secure in the relationship.

7. Affection Is Given and Received

This isn’t about sex. Although, mismatched expectations about that can certainly be problematic. Each couple will need to come to a mutual understanding of how sex and physical intimacy will work in their relationship.

Still, a happy relationship will include plenty of genuine affection that is enthusiastically given and received.

Related reading: How to Be a Better Lover – Inside and Out

8. Respect and Autonomy Go Together

Good relationships exemplify respect by honoring the autonomy of each person. When they set expectations for one another, they do that with the understanding that the other person is a trustworthy, fair-minded adult with independent interests, responsibilities, and needs.

It’s never healthy to expect your partner to orbit around you, or for you to do the same. Even in a new relationship, it’s good to start with expectations of independence and autonomy.

9. Spend Quality Time Together

You facilitate warmth and closeness when you save a portion of your free time to spend with your partner. This shows that they are a real priority to you.

People assume that spending quality time together is just about having fun together. There’s more to it than that. Two people can build up their relationship and become closer to one another by working together too. Consider tackling same projects, working on relationship-building activities, or even volunteering in the same community.

Related reading: Quality Time – It’s a Love Language

10. Expectations Are Equitable

Unfortunately, relationships are often built on mismatched expectations. Thanks to poor socialization, men’s expectations often reflect a lower bar than women’s in some areas. Conversely, women aren’t always capable of holding themselves to the same standards.

To maximize relationship expectations, both people must be aware that they may need to change their views. Don’t damage your current relationship because you are holding on to old-fashioned ideas that lead to different expectations based on gender or other factors.

11. Fair Division of Work

When people discuss expectations in relationships, they don’t always realize the impact that the division of household chores can have on people. This is often a more complex issue than people realize, and there is more to it than doing your fair share of work in the household.

For one thing, completing a checklist of chores is only part of the household work. If you are doing that while you expect your partner to take on the efforts of budgeting, planning family activities, tracking various maintenance tasks that need to be done infrequently throughout the year, staying connected with friends and family, and anticipating the needs of others, you can’t be surprised if they feel as if they are treated poorly.

The fair expectation is that both people in a relationship will take on ownership of all of the physical and mental tasks that must be carried out. This includes meeting higher expectations of situational awareness and communicating with your significant others.

Focus on being a loving partner in a relationship with mutual trust. Assume the person you are with wants to do their best even if you are both coming at the issue from different perspectives.

Related reading: A Guide to Growing an Exclusive Relationship

Do You Have Unrealistic Expectations?

It’s fine to have high expectations. The problem comes when you establish unrealistic expectations in a relationship. It’s exhausting for your lover to live up to these expectations and can breed resentment if they perceive you don’t hold yourself to the same standards.

Do you expect perfection from them, but grace for yourself? What about spending all their free time with you while you can have an active and independent social life? These are pretty extreme examples, but they work well to show how mismatched expectations are unhealthy expectations in a relationship.

The solution is to be open to an honest conversation about reasonable and unreasonable expectations. Chances are, you and your partner won’t completely agree on everything. However, if both of you can adjust your unrealistic relationship expectations while focusing on your partner’s positive qualities, you enjoy more relationship satisfaction.

Related reading: 11 Common Relationship Issues And What You Can Do About Them

Common relationship expectations questions

FAQ: Expectations in a Relationship

Your experiences in the dating world and in committed relationships will depend on your ability to have and meet realistic expectations. Here are 6 commonly asked questions about expectations in a healthy, long-term relationship.

1. How Do We Handle Conflicting Expectations?

Your relationship can survive most conflicts over expectations if you learn how to find a compromise.

This isn’t to say there’s no way expectations can be a relationship killer. They absolutely can be. That is why almost every relationship ends at some point. Somebody wants something that the other person can’t or won’t deliver. This is particularly true of expectations around sex and romance. Why? Because you simply can’t change another person’s sex drive. But as long as you want it to happen, you will be capable of finding a compromise.

2. What Is the Difference Between a Boundary and an Expectation?

At times, we refer to boundaries as the way to justify not allowing our partners time to themselves, professional freedom, and control of their social interactions. While both boundaries and expectations are good to have, they are not the same thing.

A boundary is something you decide that you will or will not accept for yourself. An expectation is a communicated standard of behavior you establish for another person. As you can imagine, an expectation requires the other person’s buy-in. Meanwhile, you don’t need that to set a boundary.

In healthy relationships, boundaries are simply respected. They aren’t subject to argument or debate. However, it is perfectly reasonable to discuss something you expect of your partner or vice-versa.

3. How Do I Know If My Expectations Are Fair?

It’s natural to wonder if what you expect is truly fair, particularly if your partner isn’t comfortable with this as a ground rule in your relationship. One thing that can help is to get a bit of a reality check from a third party that both of you trust. They can give you some real-life perspective on whether what you want is realistic or not.

If you do this, avoid asking someone who might not be objective. A family member might be too close to the situation. They might also have a similar enough background to you that they are equally hung up on certain expectations based on family culture rather than something that is reasonable.

4. Do Expectations Prevent Conflict?

Nothing prevents conflict all the time. But, when you both agree on what you can expect, that certainly helps. Nobody can claim to be blindsided by something that both of you have agreed you can expect from the other.

The other side of this is learning to manage expectations. Keep in mind that all you can do is establish what you want in terms of your partner’s behavior. Ultimately, they get to choose if they are going to comply or not. At that point, you can decide to manage expectations or accept their decision. Push things too far and you risk creating a situation your relationship can’t handle.

How Can I Improve My Ability to Manage Expectations?

Managing expectations is all about recognizing that you can’t control another human being. The very nature of people is to be at least somewhat resistant to being told what they can or cannot do.

So, you have two choices. The first is to choose to discuss the expectation through mutual dialogue and hope you both come to an agreement. The second is to decide if this is going to be a relationship dealbreaker for you.

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What’s the Best Way to Set a New Expectation?

Before you introduce a new expectation to your relationship, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I willing to apply this expectation to myself?
  • Is this expectation fair and does it pass the BS test?
  • Am I making this expectation out of frustration or resentment?
  • Would these be realistic expectations coming from my partner?
  • Have I thought this through to its logical conclusion?
  • After thinking about this for a few days are you still confident that it still makes sense?
  • Are you being pressured by family members to set a harmful or backward expectation?

If you still want to set this expectation in your relationship, the next step is to discuss it with your partner in a respectful way. Be receptive to their point of view and willing to compromise.

It also helps to word things in a way that allows your partner to see the expectation as something positive. For example, demanding they stop going out with friends sets a negative tone. But, setting an expectation that you spend time together every weekend is going to get a better response.

Final Thoughts: It’s All About Communication

There is nothing wrong with setting expectations in a relationship. By doing so, you and your partner help ensure a peaceful existence with fewer conflicts and emotional turmoil. As long as both of you are willing to communicate and meet one another halfway, you are sure to find a place of agreement and harmony.

Relationships Author
Geoffrey Williams
After taking a required Intro to Psychology course as an undergrad, I have never looked back. Since my doctoral program, I have specialized in adult relationship therapy. Through my studies and clinicals, I wrote several articles for professional journals and currently in the midst of writing a book.
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