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Managing Expectations In Relationships: The Key To Happiness

Exploring the correlation between the expectations we set and our overall happiness. 05.11.24

photo of a couple staring at one another expecting a lot

The Importance Of Keeping Expectations In Check

It's not as easy as it sounds. It takes time, practice, and repetition to learn to keep your expectations in check. We as humans are habitual creatures by default. It doesn't take much to form a bad habit. It's important to practice mindfulness when placed in a position where expectations are in play. Maybe you got nominated for an award in your industry, or maybe you recently had a job interview and you're waiting to hear back. Whether you win the award or get the job, it shouldn't have that much of an affect on your feelings.

If you know that regardless of winning the award or getting the job, that you will continue to strive to do better and continue to push on, then the outcome shouldn't matter. Despite how things turn out, you already know this is not the end all be all. Great if things do go in your favor, but being prepared is the key to maintaining a healthy mind.

Setting very high expectations is like disappointment marrying your best friend. All of the sudden, they're around all the time. And noone wants to be disappointed all the time.

Not to say you shouldn't be optimistic, but protecting yourself is important. Keeping your expectations in check is important. Constant high expectations can be toxic to our mental health. We feel let down and sad because they weren't met. If this starts to become repetitive over time, it can have a significant impact on our overall well being.

According to Merriam-Webster "expect" by definition is "to consider probable or certain". In relationships whether it's coworkers or friends or even family members, we set our expectations according to the love and attention we give. We think because we did this or would have done that, everyone else would do the same. But everyone is in fact different. And if no two people are identical, how can it be possible that they would do the exact same thing in the same situation?

Real Life Scenarios

Maybe you are more thoughtful and expect that same thoughtfulness to be reciprocated. Maybe by default you over-achieve at your job, and then expect everyone else to perform in the same fashion. Maybe you bought your sister an amazing birthday present and when the time came for her to get you one, she forgot.

How you managed your expecations through all of these scenarios will have defined how you feel at the end. If not properly managed, all of these situations will have end with feelings of despondency. Nobody works as hard at you at your job and your sister didn't plan an exotic cruise for your birthday like you did for her.


Things rarely just go our way.

Measuring Happiness

What are we expecting from these situations? Are we happy with the outcomes? Happiness can be measured by three factors: the presence of positive emotions, the absence of negative emotions, and life satisfaction (Ryan & Deci, 2001). If are expectations are set too high, it will be nearly impossible to ever feel satisfied.

We should expect problems. Expect failures. Expect expectations. Manage Them. How can we put the proper practices into place? Communication is the answer.

photo of married couple after wedding, wife expected husband to not be drunk but he is actually very drunk instead

Communication To Manage Expectations

Most times when expectations aren't met it's because they were not properly communicated prior. Our understanding of what will actually happen and what "should" happen in our head are not aligned.

Our partners can't read our minds. It's true. And honestly even if they could I'm not sure anyone would want that anyways. We all have our own thoughts and opinions. And without knowing it, we don't always express them properly too. For instance, my wife doesn't know what I'm thinking every waking minute of the day. She doesn't know what I want to do on my birthday. My birthday means a lot to me (actually it doesn't but let's be hypothetical). It just so happens my favorite bands in town, and I want to go see them. She already bought tickets for something else though. Now she's upset that her idea got squashed because she put a lot of thought into it. And you're upset that she's upset because you didn't tell her what you thought the plans would be. Hard to believe she didn't know that right? We need to tell others how we are feeling. We need to tell them what we're expecting or what we want. This is allowing us to now manage those expecations and not allow frustration.

Constantly I'm reminded by my wife, that she can't read my mind.

High Expectations Stifle Growth

High Expectations can stifle creativity and growth. If you get discouraged to quickly, because you thought the outcome was going to be better than it actually was, you may just give up too soon. This can limit your willingness to experiment and try something new. You might be more reluctant to take the risk and try something new for fear of failure or not meeting expectations. This can stunt your potential for growth in the future. I found a quote a while back that has always stuck with me,

"Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky." - Rainer Maria Rilke


Low expectations will breathe space into our everyday lives.

You don't have to necessarily lower them but rather make sure they are aligned with reality. What is realistic in this situation? Identify the bare-minimum. Start from there.
Expectations Photo Give yourself the chance to feel like you can succeed. Don't set the bar too high, give space for growth. By lowering one's expectations we are allowing ourselves to attain that nirvana state. Total Zen. These days I'm always impressed. Why? Because I expect nothing. Okay that's only half true.

You expect your coworker to pick up the slack and get their half of the job done. Instead they don't do a damn thing and you are left holding the bag. Had you expected them to do absolutely nothing you would have been pleasantly surprised to know they did a fraction of a fraction of the work they were assigned. Also half kidding.

It's the forever dilemna. Do you set them unreasonably high? Invoke some type of inferiority complex? Or bottom of the barrell low? Bottom of the barrell low and you may find yourself never being disappointed.

Key Takeaways


We can avoid frustration, disappointment, and resentment by managing our expectations. This ultimately will increase our chances at finding happiness. The world we live in has set our expectations for us a lot of times with television and movies. Be sure to stay realistic and keep them in check, and you will find your nirvana.