Have you ever grappled with feelings of anger, disappointment, or diminished trust in your partner when they fail to honor a relationship expectation? The foundation of our sense of safety and security often lies in the promises we keep. As relationships evolve, so do our expectations about each partner’s behavior and contribution. In this article, we’ll delve into three prevalent issues surrounding the way couples establish agreements and why relationship expectations sometimes go unmet. By recognizing these pitfalls, you can ensure your expectations are not only healthy and realistic but also more likely to be met. These ideas are based on the work of Talal Alsaleem.

Is it okay to have expectations in a relationship

Maybe your spouse consistently struggles to stick to a family budget despite promising to do so. Perhaps it was understood that after marriage, vacations with friends would no longer be a priority for you both. Or, maybe you have concerns about their interactions with an appealing coworker. And what about instances when someone continually breaks their promise to give up habits, like smoking. As relationships develop, some expectations are clearly communicated, while others are understood as the unspoken rules in relationships. But what does it mean when these agreements aren’t honored? Is it an indicator of dishonesty, unrealistic expectations, or something else altogether?

When someone doesn’t keep their word

It’s natural to find ourselves caught in a cycle of striving to make our partner align with a relationship expectation. However, this approach often leads to frustration and rarely yields the desired outcome. To address this challenge, it is essential to gain a deeper understanding of the underlying dynamics at play. There are three broad reasons why people may fail to follow through on a relationship agreement. First is assuming an agreement existed when it didn’t. The second is failing to adapt expectations when circumstances change. And the third is neglecting to communicate when an agreement becomes unworkable. By identifying which of these reasons applies to the unmet expectations in your relationship, you are more likely to discover solutions and foster a better connection. Let us now look at each of these in more detail.

Reason 1: Assuming a Relationship Expectation was agreed upon when it wasn’t

One common reason for an unmet expectations in a partnership is the lack of communication regarding the relationship expectation. This can occur due to two main factors: 1) not asking for support, and 2) a failure to effectively communicate and agree on how the need will be addressed. Let’s explore each of these factors further.

i) Not Asking for Support

Each individual varies in their awareness of and comfort level in expressing their emotional needs. Upbringing and personal experiences greatly influence how comfortable we are when seeking emotional support from others. Some may have a self-sufficient mindset, unaccustomed to relying on others for support. It can be challenging to ask for help when needed, and there may be preconceived notions about our partner’s ability to meet those needs. Over time, circumstances and personal growth can affect our needs, making it essential to understand ourselves and be willing to seek support when necessary.

ii) Failure to communicate and agree on how needs should be met

Once we identify our needs, the next crucial step is to communicate them respectfully and engage in negotiation on how they can be met. This stage often becomes a stumbling block for many couples as compromise becomes challenging. Conflicting values and goals are inherent in any relationship, requiring active resolution. Compromise involves shifting from individual preferences without losing our core identity. However, when core identities diverge significantly, compromise may prove difficult, leading to questions about the overall compatibility of the couple. In some instances, needs may be clearly defined and communicated but the actions required to meet those needs may be unrealistic or fall outside the interest, ability, or worldview of our partner.

Reason 2 – Failing to Adapt When Circumstances Change

Life is a complex journey filled with growth and ever-changing circumstances. In a healthy relationship, both partners must embrace flexibility to navigate the challenges that arise. Problems can occur when either party expects an agreement in marriage or relationship to remain unchanged despite three common events: i) life stresses, ii) feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities, and iii) neglecting to evaluate and address changes.

i) Life Stresses

Life stresses can impact individuals differently, and even when both partners are affected, their reactions and coping styles may vary. Events such as relocating for work or the arrival of a baby can significantly impact the time spent together and require adaptation. It is crucial for the couple to openly discuss and create new agreements that align with the changing circumstances. Whenever possible, it is beneficial for both partners to thoroughly explore and understand the potential impact of such changes before introducing them. Unilateral decisions impacting the home can have detrimental consequences, often resulting in issues, resentments, and misunderstandings that can strain the relationship.

ii) Feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities

As responsibilities increase and stress builds up, relationships often become less of a priority. This is particularly true of households focused on careers and raising children. In these situations, one partner may expect the other to adapt effortlessly. However, the partner with more responsibilities may find it challenging to allocate enough time and resources to meet the previously set relationship expectation. It’s essential to recognize such changing dynamics and have open communication to discover new ways of meeting expectations amidst the additional responsibilities.

iii) neglecting to evaluate and address changes

As we age, our needs evolve and change. Flexibility becomes essential to adapt to these shifting needs, as old needs may fade or disappear entirely. In many relationships, complacency sets in, and both partners fail to discuss how changing circumstances impact them personally. Consequently, instead of taking the time to understand their partner’s needs, each person tries to meet those needs based on what they would want in the same situation. Engaging in open discussions about upcoming changes and actively listening to each other’s perspectives can help foster a deeper understanding and ensure that relationship expectations align with the evolving reality.

Reason 3 – Neglecting to Communicate that the Relationship Expectation is Unworkable

In this particular scenario, a relationship expectation remains unmet for one of two reasons: i) the person never had any intention of honoring the agreement, or ii) the person genuinely intended to fulfill the agreement but encountered obstacles. This can be an incredibly frustrating situation to navigate due to the underlying complexities involved.

Lack of intention to keep the agreement

Encountering a situation where someone fails to keep their word despite seemingly consenting or not expressing opposition can be deeply troubling. Cooperation and compromise form the foundation of relationships. When one person remains silent about their disagreement despite having no intention to honor an agreement, it can feel like an attempt to manipulate the situation. Subsequently, the undesired behavior, whether concealed or exhibited openly, violates expectations and may indicate underlying issues such as entitlement, power struggles, unrealistic demands, fear of voicing objections, or other toxic dynamics within the relationship. Such behavior signals significant problems that need addressing within the individual, the partnership, or both.

Lack of ability to keep the agreement

In certain circumstances, individuals may genuinely desire to uphold an agreement but find themself unable to do so. Despite their best intentions, they encounter obstacles that hinder their ability to fulfill their commitment. These obstacles can manifest in various forms, such as being ill-prepared, lacking the necessary skills or knowledge, or experiencing a lack of self-control. Whether due to limited resources, unforeseen personal circumstances, or internal struggles, their inability to meet the agreement stems from genuine limitations that impede their ability to carry out their intentions.

Developing a Pattern of Healthy Relationship Expectation

In conclusion, understanding and addressing the underlying reasons for any unmet expectation in a relationship, such as miscommunication, inflexibility, and intentional or unintentional inability, can foster healthier and more fulfilling connections. By communicating effectively, adapting to changing circumstances, and differentiating between deliberate disregard and genuine limitations, couples can navigate challenges and cultivate stronger bonds. Remember, relationships require continuous effort, understanding, and meeting evolving needs.

When Someone Doesn’t Keep Their Word – Questions to ask yourself

  • Precisely what am I expecting from my partner?
  • Have I communicated this need and reached a compromise on how to meet it?
  • Have we both discussed the impact of new stress or circumstances on the agreement impacted?
  • Have we taken on new responsibilities and expected the other person to adjust?
  • Have we discussed how changes in our life impact old agreements?
  • Have we looked honestly at how we may contribute to a toxic pattern in our relationship? Have we sought professional help?
  • Does my partner have the necessary skills or resources to meet the expectation?

Final Word

We all have our unique qualities and imperfections, and it’s natural for conflicts to arise when our expectations are unmet. If you could benefit from some friendly support in navigating these situations within your relationship, please feel free to reach out to me or consider seeking the assistance of a professional therapist in your local area. We’re here to help!