As we are all learning, relationships can be sorely tested by the stay at home measures being recommended during this coronavirus pandemic. What I know, however, is that defining relationship expectations NOW can keep relationships healthy and can possibly help mend damaged ones and help move them forward stronger than ever.
In these modern days, establishing expectations at work is something that is done as a matter of course but, unfortunately, establishing relationship expectations is not so common. Why, I don’t know, because not having expectations around anything is a recipe for things to go awry.
So why does defining relationship expectations make such a difference, especially in these scary times?
#1 – Everyone knows what to expect.
One of the key reasons why defining relationship expectations now are so important is that everyone knows what to expect.
Think about work – when you start a project the first thing that is laid out is the participation expectations of everyone on the team. That way, as the project moves forward, everyone knows what their role is which, in turn, ensures that the project will be a success.
In a relationship, things work the same way. If you both can define what your expectations are then your relationship has a better chance of staying healthy.
In my relationship our expectations are as follows:
*I will decide what we are going to eat and I will cook and he will do the dishes, preferable right after dinner but that is negotiable.
*We will take a walk together every day, no excuses.
*I won’t blurt out horrible things that I read in the news without his permission.
*He gets 2 hours in the garage daily to putter.
*I get a footrub 4 nights a week.
These are the things that are most important to us and that we both expect from our relationship. Imagine if we didn’t understand each other’s expectations, if he didn’t do the dishes and I just blurted out horrible news. How quickly would we get upset with each other? How quickly would our nerves begin to fray?So, take the time and talk to your partner about your expectations, both around the coronavirus and big picture. It will be worth it, I promise.
#2 – You can start with honesty.
Every healthy relationship is built on honesty and defining expectations is an important part of being honest.
A client of mine is full of resentment around what her husband does and doesn’t do around the house. The problem is, she has never told him what she wants him to do – she just expects that he will figure it out. As a result, she passive aggressively nudges him to do what she wants him to do. And it pisses him off that she isn’t direct and that makes it more likely that he won’t get it done.
He tells me that if she were just honest with him about what she wanted done, and he was able to be honest with her about what he could do, they would be able to navigate all of this much better and eliminate the underlining tension that always exists in their household.
So, be honest with your partner about what you want so that you can include it in your expectations. Even if your partner isn’t sure he can meet the expectation, you have put it out there honestly so that you can discuss it.
#3 – You can better manage disagreements.
Let’s say that my boyfriend fails to do the dishes after agreeing that that was my expectation. Now imagine my client’s husband failing to do the dishes because he doesn’t know that he is expected to do them.
Now picture whose argument around the dishes would be loudest and longest? If my boyfriend knowingly didn’t do the dishes it would be hard for him to argue that I was being unreasonable and difficult. He would, hopefully, acknowledge that he dropped the ball and we would move on with our day.
The fight that would ensue, or the extended simmering anger, if my client’s husband didn’t do the dishes would be something that would not be easily managed. That she didn’t ask for what she wanted and he didn’t do it on his own would just lead to disagreement that has probably happened before. A disagreement that will never be settled and would lead to more issues down the road.
#4 – You can celebrate when things go right.
One of the nicest things about setting expectations is that, when they are met, we have an opportunity to thank each other and celebrate. Because these expectations are met, we know when our needs are being honored and that makes us feel happier and more secure in our relationship.
When my boyfriend gets to have his 2 hours in the garage, even if I wanted him to help me in the garden, he is a happy camper. He not only gets his time on his own but that he gets to do so makes him love me even more. And when he is that happy, my footrubs are much longer.
So, while setting expectations can be difficult at first, when they are stuck to, good things can be the result.
#5 – You can be hopeful.
People say that divorce attorneys are experiencing higher than normal inquiries into their services.
Couples who were previously able to ignore their marital issues because the busyness of their lives are now unable to do so. As a result, problems that were long simmering are rearing their ugly heads.
Imagine if you and your partner were able to sit down and define what you both wanted during this extended period together. Imagine if, instead of resenting each other for the things that haven’t been done, you are honest with each other about what you need and you are so happy when those needs are met. Imagine how that would serve to not only heal a relationship but also to give it hope for the future.
I know that for years, my biggest resentment around my ex-husband was that he started projects that he never finished. Our garage was filled with Home Depot bags full of parts that were never actually used. I so wish that I had, even once, spoken up around my struggles with all of those Home Depot bags. If I had asked him directly to finish a project before he started another one, who knows, it might have saved my marriage.
I would encourage you, in this time of isolation, to work on sharing what you both want in a relationship and see if you can work together to give each other those things. If you can do this, instead of repeating old patterns that are tearing you apart, something really good could come from this current crisis – a relationship strong and healthy and a family intact.
Defining relationship expectations can seem kind of contrived and unromantic but doing so can make a huge difference in a couple’s happiness.
But setting expectations, ones that you both are aware of and have agreed to, can go a long way towards healing a damaged relationship and preventing a healthy one from getting damaged.
So be honest, stop the fighting, celebrate taking care of each other and be hopeful for the future.
I know it might seem daunting but you can do it!