How to set realistic expectations in our relationships

How to set realistic expectations in our relationships

Once upon a time, in a land where smartphones buzzed and social media reigned, Cinderella was stuck, scrolling through her feed, comparing her love life to the highlight reels of others. She was trapped—not by an evil stepmother but by unrealistic relationship expectations. 

Sound familiar?

Our minds create a narrative based on our dreams, weaving a tapestry of our desires and hopes. But often, these dreams are much, much different than the realistic expectations we should set for ourselves and our relationships.

When the clock strikes twelve and reality sets in, no charming prince will magically solve our problems. Nor will a fairy godmother wave away our worries with a sprinkle of pixie dust.

Instead, we often find ourselves wondering why our story isn’t as picture-perfect as we imagined. It’s as the saying goes: “The higher your expectations, the harder you’ll fall.”
The fact of the matter is, the concept of “realistic expectations” is a simple yet often misunderstood element of relationships. And it’s a topic that Kristina Mänd-Lakhiani and holistic coach Maria Sosa get into the nitty gritty of in an episode of Honest Conversations.

Maria Sosa is a bilingual therapist specializing in relationship therapy and intuitive eating counseling. With a focus on empowerment and resilience, Maria helps individuals and couples navigate life transitions, set boundaries, heal from relationship-related trauma, and redefine their relationship with food. Her narrative and solution-focused approach creates a safe space for clients to reclaim their lives, rewrite their stories, and embrace actionable steps towards personal growth.

What Are Realistic Expectations?

Expectations are essentially our inner hypotheses, or, as Maria puts it, “this way of how we expect things to be or how we hope things will look.” And when it comes to realistic ones, it takes into account the realities and constraints of our lives and relationships.

For instance, it’s about understanding that even Prince Charming might leave his socks on the floor or forget to put the toilet seat down. Or it’s about recognizing that you, yourself, might occasionally burn the dinner or forget to record the big game.

High expectations can indeed elevate relationship satisfaction when met, according to a 2016 study. However, they can lead to disappointment and a decrease in satisfaction when they aren’t. And oftentimes, this is the case.

So when you set realistic relationship expectations, you avoid creating an unattainable standard as well as perpetuating people-pleasing patterns that compromise your authenticity and personal well-being. And according to Maria, it helps you understand what you truly desire in a partnership, how it aligns with your partner’s desires, and how to strike a balance that works for both parties.

Expectations vs. standards vs. boundaries

Expectations are one thing that Maria brings up in her conversation with Kristina. But then there are standards as well as boundaries to consider.

While these three terms aren’t always used interchangeably, they do exist within the same realm. But what are the differences between the three?

Let’s take a look based on what Maria says about them:

  • Expectations. “These ideas, these envisionings, these stories that we tell ourselves about the world and how it should look [and] how we should look like.” An example with Cinderella would be her expecting Prince Charming to immediately recognize her in her everyday clothes.
  • Standards. “They are just levels of quality that we want to set for ourselves,” and that’s what we want to strive towards. For instance, Cinderella’s standard is to be treated kindly, leading her to choose the respectful prince over her mistreating family.
  • Boundaries. These are “the limits or the things that we are okay with and not okay with.” In Cinderella’s case, she actively sets a conscious boundary by asserting her refusal to be dominated and attending the ball against her stepmother’s wishes.

Understanding these concepts can be instrumental in creating healthier, more balanced relationships. As Maria’s insights suggest, being clear on these elements can lead to more fulfilling, less conflict-prone interactions with those we love.

Why Is It Important to Set Realistic Expectations?

It goes without saying (or it should anyway) that in today’s world, setting realistic expectations in a relationship is undeniably significant. 

With social media a part of our lives, we’re bombarded with seemingly perfect couples living fairytale lives. In fact, a 2013 study found that almost half of young adults (18-29 years old) said that their love lives are influenced by what they see on social media. And this can make it difficult to maintain our grip on reality. 

The thing is, Cinderella’s ball was just one night, not an everyday affair. To help avoid the hurt that can come from sky-high standards, it’s crucial to separate these staged moments from the reality of everyday relationships. And while these daily interactions might lack sparkle, they’re often filled with love and compromise.

“We don’t have to have these unrealistic expectations that are doing more harm to our mental health,” explains Maria. She adds that mistakes will happen, and learning from them is all part of our human experience.

How to Set Realistic Expectations

“If we’re thinking about this idea of perfectionism within ourselves and if that’s the expectation that we have for us,” says Maria, “more than likely that’s going to be the expectation that we have for our partner or for the relationships that we are in.”

That’s why knowing how to have realistic expectations in a relationship is major. It allows us to honor our unique code of happiness and success. And it helps pave the way for healthier dynamics by fostering a sense of worthiness.

And here are some ways you can start:

1. Reflect on your values and needs

Take time to understand your own values and needs in a relationship. What are the fundamental aspects that contribute to your happiness and sense of fulfillment? 

This self-reflection is crucial in determining realistic expectations that align with your core identity. And by understanding what truly matters to you, you create a roadmap for building connections that are authentic, fulfilling, and in harmony with your personal growth.

2. Communicate openly

Open and honest communication is the bridge that allows you and your partner to align your expectations and navigate the complexities of a relationship. 

By expressing curiosity and actively listening to each other’s needs and perspectives, you create a safe space for mutual understanding. This fosters an environment where realistic expectations can thrive and flourish, enhancing the quality and depth of your relationship.

This foundation of open communication strengthens the bond between you. Not only that, but it also cultivates a deeper sense of trust and connection.

3. Set your standards

As mentioned earlier, discerning between non-negotiables and preferences is essential—these are your standards. Finding the right balance allows for realistic expectations in a relationship while staying true to your needs.

The reality is, expectations are just a part of life. But depending on the rigidity you set, it’ll lead you either down the path of frustration and a sense of unfulfillment or down the path of feeling worthy and personal growth.

Nurturing Fulfilling Connections

As we make our way toward our “happily ever after,” it’s important to remember that building and maintaining fulfilling connections is a continuous adventure. It requires ongoing effort, self-reflection, and a willingness to adapt along the way. 

While the concept of “happily ever after” may evoke images of perfection and fairy tale endings, reality is far from it. As Kristina says in the interview, “Expectations are kind of the thing that ruins people’s happiness because it is usually the failed expectations or unmet expectations.”

So true relationship bliss lies in the imperfections, the shared growth, and the journey of navigating life’s ups and downs together. And setting realistic relationship expectations serves as the secret ingredient for building healthier and more satisfying connections. 

It’s about shifting our focus from striving for perfection to embracing authenticity and genuine connection. Moreover, they allow us to honor our individuality and unique needs while creating space for our partners to do the same. They encourage open and honest communication, fostering understanding and empathy within the relationship.

As you continue on this adventure of nurturing fulfilling connections, hold onto the belief that love is not about perfection; rather, it’s about the beautifully imperfect dance of two souls coming together.

And in the meantime, have a listen to the full interview on Kristina’s YouTube channel.

Episode resources:

Maria Sosa | Instagram⁠

Maria Sosa | Facebook⁠

Maria Sosa | Website

Tatiana Azman

Tatiana Azman is a content writer for Mindvalley and a Certified Life Coach. With a background in spa and wellness as well as being a cancer survivor, she's constantly on the lookout for natural, effective ways that help with one's overall well-being.

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