High on Expectations

collage of a woman standing on the roof of building, overlooking an ocean

We’ve all heard of the phrase “lower your expectations”. You may have been told this when searching for your perfect soulmate (who you know is definitely out there) and wound up settling (because your expectations were indeed too high) for the first person who went on a second date with you. 

There are currently some interesting perspectives and debates in relationship science on whether having high or low expectations will lead to a better relationship. So place your bets now on which one you think is better.

If you’re like most people, your gut instinct is that having high expectations is worse because there is a higher chance that those expectations aren’t met. According to interdependence theory, unmet expectations are detrimental to a relationship. Expectations are unmet when the perceived relationship falls below one’s belief of what they deserve, which results in dissatisfaction.

For example, let’s say you want your partner to be perfect. Perfection is virtually impossible to achieve, so your expectations will most likely not be met. Having this extreme expectation has been found to not only negatively impact one’s own satisfaction and commitment, but also negatively affect their partner’s satisfaction

Even if you don’t demand perfection from your partner, what if you hold “irrational” beliefs —like your partner should be able to read your mind, or they should always be excellent in bed? When comparing couples with high, irrational expectations to those with low, realistic expectations, those who were irrational were found to be less satisfied in their relationships and estimated lower satisfaction levels at a future point in time. 

However, there is contradictory evidence advocating for holding high levels of romantic beliefs. It was found that those who had high or low levels of romantic beliefs did not differ in how many expectations were met by their current relationships. This suggests that whether or not you have high or low expectations, they’ll still be fulfilled at a similar rate. This may be because someone with strong romantic beliefs may idealize their partner —hoping for and actively changing their behavior and mindset to form a more positive perception of their relationship. 

There is no conclusion that can be made today on where your expectations should be, so apologies that you can’t cash out your bet. Though, I can make one recommendation and that is to ask yourself what your expectations are and to evaluate them. Know what you want and how strongly you stand on them.