We have expectations of what a partner should be and do for us. We also come (somewhat indignantly) to realize that they have expectations of us. The unfortunate pieces of our learning are:
-we need to do what they want so that they’ll keep loving us (or we act out by getting reactive and doing the opposite)
-we’d better avoid acknowledging that we have a conflict with that
-we’ll act as if it’s all ok, until it just isn’t anymore (creating and exacerbating a lingering problem)
Notably, we learned these attitudes and behaviors long ago and, as such, we’re not necessarily aware that they’re driving us. The more we’re not aware of it, the more it has an effect on how we negotiate all kinds of interactions. That is, we’ll continue to replicate the same patterns.
The New York Times piece, “Why You’ll Marry the Wrong Person” by Alain de Botton essentially addresses this very topic. And although it’s an immaculately written piece and makes insightful points about why relationships end up as they do, the upshot of the story – that you’ll make the wrong choice and that it helps to develop some pessimism – is somewhat off the mark. The reality is that we’ll engage in these expectancy politics with anyone with whom we partner. And yes, we will disappoint each other, we should indeed initially ask how we are each crazy (in fact, it should probably be a standard question on all dating apps), and yes, we unwittingly seek – and find – what’s familiar, i.e., literally ‘from family’. Because our needs emerge from what we did and didn’t get or from what we felt we had to do within our families, we pin that need-fulfillment onto the person with whom we pair. Without realizing it we learn: 1) we’re going to have to keep functioning as we did but, simultaneously 2) we develop an attitude of ‘you’d-better-fix-what-was-wrong-with-how-my-father-and/or-mother- treated-me-and-each-other’. There’s an inherent schism which will necessarily create tension. But these are our learning histories and they are powerful in how we operate in relationships..
What’s fascinating – and what obviates people’s insight into themselves and their behavior – is that they hold onto the more quixotic view of what the familial patterns were and concomitantly ignore both their own (and their partners’) complexities and their ability to alter the problematic demands.
Ultimately, rather than honing pessimism per se, we need to learn to reality-check, reduce our anxiety about taking risk and changing roles and behaviors, and start using some tools to alter how we manage these conflicts.
EXAMPLES OF INAPPROPRIATE EXPECTATIONS AND DEMANDS
“I see how insecure she gets around other people and it makes her drink too much and then I feel embarrassed. I know I do the same thing, but I want her to be stronger – expecting her to be the one to help me stop. I know that’s messed up, but I’m stuck there”.
“He wants me to wear sexy, tight clothes, but I’ll never have that kind of body – so I see that I just keep overeating in rebellion. I don’t even want the food half the time. I’m furious with him for making me feel so bad about myself”.
“I can’t stand how tense things are when my partner is in a bad mood; we’re all walking on eggshells. But if I bring it up, she’ll get furious, so I lay low and tell the kids that we should just stay out of her way until it’s over. I hate her for commandeering the house but I get too passive to do anything about it”.
“She’s annoyed that we don’t have ‘enough sex’, and keeps complaining that I never want her anymore. But every time she complains I feel increasingly less attracted. I can’t talk to her about it either because she gets even more insecure and expects me to reassure her by having sex. She’s treating it as if it’s all my problem, and for a while I was believing that. But I’m realizing that because I’d had the role of buoying my mother’s depressed mood, I always end up trying to do what my girlfriend wants. I’m just so tired of it, but I’m having trouble acting on it.
“He expects me to stay home with the kids, and yet I want other things too. But when I question him on that, he says his job pays more and so it’s up to me to take that role. How can I argue with that; he gives us so much? I’m just always annoyed with him now and want to pull further away”.
“She gave birth two years ago but still doesn’t want sex. I try to bring it up but she’ll think I’m being insensitive, so I keep it inside. But I’m pissed and I’m drinking and spending more time away from home in reaction”.
TOOLS AND SKILLS
The following are a few critical tools and skills that truly change the way people relate. But you’ve got to first recognize that it’s your anxiety about alienating the other that keeps you from trying anything new. I remind people that you stop being attracted to your partners not because you don’t love them but because you love/need them too much and thus become risk-averse and avoid addressing conflict.
SO TAKE RISK.
Recognize When You’re Shadow Boxing, and Change it: https://wordpress.com/post/glennmarron.com/293
You’ve Avoided Conflict for Too Long; Find a Way to Address It: https://wordpress.com/post/glennmarron.com/273
Consider Treating Your Partner as if it’s an Affair: https://wordpress.com/post/glennmarron.com/422
Start Having More Meta-Conversations. That is, address difficult things by recognizing and changing how you talk. https://wordpress.com/post/glennmarron.com/262
Avoid Hogging the Wanting: The Other needs to be able to want you too: wordpress.com/post/glennmarron.com/160
Respond Vs React. Recognize you’re on the same team and it behooves you to become less defensive: https://wordpress.com/post/glennmarron.com/333
Change the Ways You Perceive Flaws in the Other: wordpress.com/post/glennmarron.com/136
We Unwittingly Teach People How to Treat Us: Use it to Your Advantage vs. Your Detriment.
Keeping It Sexual: https://wordpress.com/post/glennmarron.com/257
It’s Not Your Partner’s Job to Reassure You: It creates unhealthy dependencies and puts all the work on the other.https://wordpress.com/post/glennmarron.com/130 and https://glennmarron.com/2015/03/08/381/