Every relationship is going to have some degree of conflict. Keep perspective on things by thinking about what it is you want from your partner and whether that matches who you fell in love with. Dr. Bernard Golden, Ph.D. shares his thoughts on "How Realistic Are Your Expectations of your Partner? And, to what extent are they fueling anger in your relationship?"
As an anger management specialist it’s not at all unusual for me to hear clients exclaim, “I never get so angry in other situations–not at work, with my friends, or anywhere else. It seems I only get like this in my relationships.”
For many people, this makes perfect sense. An intimate relationship is difficult. It presents many challenges that shine a light on our vulnerabilities. The day-to-day interactions with a loved one forces us to reveal who we are, including our fears, self-doubt, shame, inconsistencies, and flaws that are common to being human. And, we may feel especially vulnerable in a close intimate relationship when we’ve not fully accepted ourselves and are not quite ready to reveal them. A close intimate relationship reminds us of these aspects of ourselves, while we may be able to elude them in other situations. As such, closeness may bring anxiety and tension, leading us to create distance sometimes by withdrawal and sometimes through anger.
These challenges are especially exacerbated when we cling to unrealistic expectations in our most loving relationships. Doing so invariably gives rise to anguish in the form of sadness, hurt, anxiety and anger. Additionally, rigidly holding on to these expectations often fosters an adversarial posture that undermines a greater commitment to the relationship.
Buddhist psychology emphasizes that pain associated with being human is inevitable–and suffering is not. Rather, suffering arises from our inflexible attachment, whether to relationships, money, ideas, or things that can lead to overwhelming suffering beyond the inherent pain that comes from being human.
Clinging to unrealistic expectations, with and without full awareness, reflects one form of such attachment. For example, one of my clients, Brian, reported ongoing resentment because his wife was always thirty to forty minutes late, whether going to a restaurant or attending a friend’s wedding. And yet, he was always expecting her to be on time.
I drew his attention to the fact that he retained this expectation even though she behaved this way throughout their fifteen years of marriage. He immediately chuckled. At that moment Brian recognized how his logical thinking had been hijacked by emotion, fueling his wish and hope that she be on time. He realized that emotion had overly influenced his holding on to his unrealistic expectation. This shift in his awareness made all the difference in better understanding how he contributed to his suffering and related anger. Additionally, we then explored other strategies that might help satisfy his desire.
Another client. Keith, shared anger about an ex who challenged every request he made for better communication regarding shared custody of their five-year-old. He maintained expectations of her consideration and cooperation in spite of the fact that the absence of these same qualities very strongly contributed to his seeking the divorce in the first place. Keith had expected that his ex would rise to the occasion, as their interaction would now be limited to focusing solely on their child.
And yet another client, Sharon, endured suffering due to expectations she had of herself with regard to her partner. Her husband periodically experienced episodes of depression. Sharon, who was deeply compassionate, strived to help him as best she could. At the same time, her expectations that she should be able to “fix” him, led her to feel powerless, inadequate, and angry with herself. This was at times directed toward her husband when she felt he was not doing enough to help himself.
It was extremely difficult for her to accept that she was powerless in certain ways. She recognized that while she may be able to help by listening and even providing suggestions when he invited them, she could not fix his depression.
Without full awareness, each of these individuals held on to expectations that might understandably seem reasonable, but were unrealistic when faced with the facts of the situation. Each had to engage in self-reflection in order to recognize the influences that informed their expectations that operated below their everyday awareness.
And each experienced that “chuckle”. It is an awakening moment to recognize a part of oneself that has gone unnoticed, kind of parallel universe existing within ourself. When put into words, it has often been stated as “Silly me!” “Who am I kidding–that is true!” and “Of course–that makes sense”.
How realistic are the expectations you have regarding your intimate relationship? Below is a description of facts regarding intimate relationships. I encourage you to take time to reflect on each one. How do your expectations align with them?
1. Differences are to be expected in a loving relationship
This makes perfect sense. You each have a unique history that informs your unique personality and your expectations. So you may from time to time have differences in perspective, especially surrounding issues such as finances, how much time to spend together, alone, with friends and family, physical intimacy, parenting, and the tasks of maintaining a home.
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