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A Handy Guide To Setting Realistic Expectations In Relationships

Relationships are a part of life. Almost everyone dates, hooks up, and meets new people. There is an entire industry devoted to this, and it is wildly successful for obvious reasons. After all, everyone wants love, right? However, love can also be really difficult. Relationships take time, commitment, and a whole lot of work. Further, they rarely meet the fairy tale standards that many of us have in our heads. Therefore, we're going to help you out, and give you a little guide to how to make sure you are setting realistic expectations in all of your relationships. 

Set Realistic Deal Breakers

We all have deal breakers. You know, those no go zones when you find something out about someone and you are automatically like, "nope, can't deal with that." However, sometimes when you are single for a long time and relatively content, you might become too rigid in your requirements. So, here are a few areas in which deal breakers that are absolute should definitely remain:

  • Children. This should be a no brainer, but here it is. Some people want children, some people don't. If you meet the perfect person, but you don't want children and they do, it's probably not going to work out. One or both of you will wind up giving up your dream life, and both of you will wind up miserable.
  • Money. Let's face it, money makes the world go 'round. If you are content living as the cliche "starving artist," but the partner of your dream is a high-rolling corporate executive, things might not work out. For the most part, people are not interested in huge income disparities. In fact, money is one of the number one reasons for failed marriages. 
  • Religion. This is a tricky one. Now, there are plenty of interfaith marriage that are beautiful, happy, and healthy. However, when people are seriously religious, their faith often informs their values. If someone who is agnostic or atheist gets with a seriously religious person, that will definitely be a challenge. Have that conversation right away, to avoid wasted time and heartbreak.
  • General lifestyle. Are you a globe-trotter who loves to travel and move around? Do you want to live in a booming city and go out on the town several times a week? It's probably not a great idea to get with someone who is looking to settle down in a nice quiet life in the suburbs. The same thing goes for things like vegetarians/vegans vs. meat eaters, or fitness nuts vs. fast food-loving couch potatoes.

In other words, assess your values and be honest with yourself. When it comes to the big things in life it really is okay to say, "These are my standards, and I deserve to have them met." However, you might wind up single for life if, say, every nitpicky little thing becomes an absolute deal breaker.

Remember That Nothing Is Perfect

When you first start seeing someone new, everything seems perfect and exciting. You have romantic dates and you introduce them to your friends. Everyone - including you - thinks you might be in it for the long haul. During this phase - often referred to as the honeymoon phase - you cannot imagine ever not being with your new sweetie. There is a word for this: It's called "new relationship energy," or NRE. 

NRE is an actual chemical reaction that happens as we are falling in love. That euphoric feeling is most certainly real, and it feels fantastic. But, it does not last forever, and as you get into the logistics of a new relationship, you might start noticing little irritating things that make you think twice about the future with your new partner. So, here are a few things that might help you survive the end of that all-consuming phase of euphoria. 

  • Remember that no person is perfect. Really try and think, with a clear head, about whether something is simply a small annoyance, or something you truly cannot live with. After all, there is a huge difference between someone who leaves the cap off the toothpaste or does not make the bed every morning and a total slob who doesn't take the trash out for weeks on end.
  • Get the help of your friends. Often, when we get into a new relationship, we neglect the rest of our lives - especially our friends. They are more important than ever now. They will tell the truth. Your friends have been there before this new person, and they will be there after, should it come to that. Ask them, point blank: What do they think of this new person, and of your relationship with them? They will tell you the truth, and if they say he isn't the one, listen to what they have to say. But, in the end, the decision is yours.
  • Create a relationship journal. Make entries and lists. Revisit them. List off the things you enjoy about your partner. Also make a list of what you dislike. Attack it from an intellectual perspective, and be honest with yourself. Is this a "right now" relationship, or is this person "the one?" Then, be honest with yourself, and think about your own future. Is that person in it? Is what they want lining up with what you want five, ten, or fifteen years from now? By the way, there's nothing wrong with "right now" relationships. It really is okay if you come to the conclusion that it is.

At the end of the day, every relationship is unique and special. The experience alone teaches you things about yourself and what you want in life, and about what you can and cannot tolerate.

Expect Your Partner To Maintain Independence (And You Should, Too)

One of the biggest problems that tends to crop up in relationships is that people drop their whole lives during the aforementioned honeymoon phase in favor of spending every waking moment with their new squeeze. This is a mistake. If this sort of behavior lasts longer than a month or so, you can expect the rest of your life to suffer. In turn, when the honeymoon phase is over and the new relationship energy has worn off, this clingy behavior can lead to issues with feeling smothered or controlled, and it could even be the beginning of the end of a relationship before you even get started.

Your new partner should be able to spend time with family, friends, co-workers, or engaging in hobbies that may not interest you. You should do the same. Say, you're into rock climbing, knitting, or yoga. Your partner might be afraid of heights, and the idea of a knitting circle might bore them to tears. That's okay. You are a unit, but you are also your own people. Retain that independence, and you won't feel such a shock when the honeymoon phase is no more. 

Define What The Relationship Is Right Out Of The Gate

Not everyone who dates is looking for happily ever after. Perhaps you are just looking for companionship with someone whose company you enjoy. This is perfectly okay. Maybe you are in graduate school and have no intention of staying in the area once you obtain that all-important degree. Maybe you are not happy in your current career or location, and are just saving money until you can move across the country - or even out of the country! Chances are, if this is your situation, you are not going to be looking for the person you are going to walk down the aisle with in the future. To that end, communicating what you are looking for right out of the gate is very important. So, how to broach such a conversation? Here are a few tips:

  • Listen to your new partner or potential partner. Ask this person what it is they are looking for. This might seem like a very basic question, but it is not. Probe a bit, and listen carefully. If they are looking for someone to marry, you should tell them, point blank, that this is not what you are looking for. It is important to come to the same conclusion and to be on the same page, because you don't want to reach a time when it's time to leave and follow your dreams, only to find that your partner feels led on and betrayed.
  • Be upfront about your plans. This is honestly a first-third date conversation. If you met the person online, you could even tell them before you meet them in person.
  • This is one time when you can relax your deal breakers. If you are not planning to make a life with this person, you have no reason to have qualms about how they keep their home, whether they want children or not, or what their faith is. Just enjoy the relationship for what it is.

Our dating preferences and what we are looking for in relationships are often informed about where we are in life. Just because you are not looking for "forever," doesn't mean you cannot have fun with "right now." Just make sure everyone involved is on the same page, and you're good to go.

Expect Honesty And Communication - And Give It In Return

For many people, this is the hard part. We often let many little things slide in relationships, because we as human beings are pretty conflict averse. We don't want to rock the boat, so we say nothing. Now, as someone who is happily single, I am not afraid to speak up. No relationship is work putting up with things that simply make me unhappy. However, many people are different. You might sincerely want your new relationship to work out, and that might make you inclined to ignore things that really bother you. Again, it is important to know the difference between something you simply cannot put up with versus something that is simply a mild annoyance. Regardless of the issue, though, you need to say so when something truly bothers you. Here are a few tips to have hard conversations that can end amicably:

Try not to make your partner feel attacked. This is really, really hard, because often people have been sitting on an issue for days or even weeks before finally getting up the nerve to say something.

Remember that it is okay to have standards. Often, with these conversations, a partner might think that everything is fine. It is important to remember that whatever issue you are raising might come as a complete surprise. However, stand your ground. If it was important enough for you to bring up, it is important enough to be addressed. Don't apologize for your concerns.

Think about whether or not it is something you can bend on. If it isn't you have to be ready to consider that bringing it up might mean the end. Compromise is a key part of relationships, but some things are simply non-negotiable, and that really is okay.

The Bottom Line

Relationships are not easy. You might wind up marrying your high school or college sweetheart, or you might remain single well into your thirties. Either way is just fine - it is up to you! Live your life as you see fit, and do it for no one else. Just make sure that the relationships you get into - no matter what shape they might take - are happy and healthy. Practicing good relationship help, all while keeping your relationship expectations realistic, can really play a role in having the best years of your life be the very best that they can be. Happy dating!

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