When it comes to getting married, we set the bar very high. People talk about "soulmates" and how their lives finally began when they get married—like nothing before really counted. Modern relationships often have an undercurrent of Prince Charming and the damsel in distress running through them. And now, some experts are starting to wonder if our high standards are actually damaging our relationships—and our marriages.
This idea of "the one" or of someone "completing you" and completely changing your life sets the bar so high that it’s almost impossible to meet. It’s normal to feel swept away, especially when you fall in love, but you need to come back down to earth, too. “Falling in love feels wonderful, but that rush of hormones and hope can also make you fall for false expectations,” licensed clinical psychotherapist Dr. LeslieBeth Wish says. “Being in love doesn't make it easy to be totally realistic. After all, you feel you found that one special person who makes you feel special, too. But that one person cannot cure all your past hurts, disappointments, and missteps. And although a wise choice of partner can soothe you and help you be your best, it can't fix everything.”
So what should you be hoping for? Because it’s normal to have expectations, even high expectations, in a relationship—and you should never let yourself be bulldozed. But how do you make sure that your expectations are realistic and, crucially, that they’re not doing damage to your marriage? Here’s what the experts had to say.
Remember That Making Yourself Happy Is Your Job
A strong partner or a marriage can be a huge, amazing shift in your life—but they can’t change everything. Ultimately, you need to take responsibility for your own happiness. Someone else can add to it, of course, but they can’t be the sole source of it. “I think that it’s always a good idea not to expect our partners to fulfill all our needs, period,” relationship therapist Aimee Hartstein, LCSW says. “The more we focus on filling our own needs, and maybe helping our friends and family out a little bit, the better off we will be. It’s not a great precedent to be too focused on what our partner can do for us. They are bound to feel pressured and we are bound to be disappointed.” Instead, make sure you're nurturing yourself and also the other relationships in your life. That means you’ll have fulfillment coming from a lot of different places.
Be Wary Of Social Media
As if our own pressures weren’t enough, we have our expectations totally warped by what we see on social media. “I see a lot of people have unrealistic expectations as a result of social media (Instagram in particular),” Dr. Erika Martinez, licensed psychologist, says. “They're looking at the best 2% of curated content of other's lives and comparing it to 100% of their own. It's an impossible feat and a recipe for disappointment. I'd say it's better to have be on the lookout for the small moments of connection and intimacy in your own life, than spend time comparing your relationship to other people. After all, what you see is never the full picture.” Remember that those relationships you see on Facebook or Instagram don’t look like that all the time. If you compare yourself to them, you'll just make yourself miserable. We can all put a photo portraying a certain type of relationship on Instagram, but that doesn’t make it real.
Be Open About What You Want
You will naturally have needs and expectations in your relationship. And you should, but you need to be open and make them clear to your partner. Not in a demanding way, just to give them a chance to meet those expectations—and for you to meet theirs. “If you want more romance, first, ask for it and, second, take it upon yourself to romance your partner,” Martinez says. “Figure out what is meaningful to him or her and go make it happen. And remember that it doesn't have to be this grand gesture. In fact, it's the small moments the build the most trust and connection between people, and that they remember later on. Too often the burden of 'romancing' falls on one partner.” You can’t expect them to read your mind—and you can’t read theirs. Opening up the conversation about what you both want and need out of the relationship can keep resentment from brewing and make sure that nobody is being taken for granted.
It’s easy to be swept away in the rhetoric of marriage—in the idea soulmates and "the one." But expecting somebody else to do all the work for you just isn’t realistic. So make sure that you take responsibility for your own happiness and let your partner know what you need from them. And please, please don’t compare yourself to Facebook. I promise, those couples are arguing about taking the trash out just as much as you are—really.