“But I Wanted…” The Five B’s of Managing Relationship Expectations

Man and woman looking into each others eys with arms around each other.Let’s say it’s your anniversary, your birthday, Father’s Day, or another special date. What are you expecting from your partner? Gifts, flowers, wine, a special night out? Maybe you just want to sleep in!

But…are you sure you’re going to get what you want? And will you be frustrated or disappointed if it doesn’t materialize?

How To Get What We Expect… And Give Our Partners the Same

When we talk about these moments and how we feel about them, what we’re discussing is managing expectations. Gifts and special days are certainly an area where we often have expectations, but as people in relationships, we have expectations of our partner in all kinds of areas!

However, we often don’t make these expectations clear. Or they might be unrealistic, outdated, or hard for our partner to fulfill. Yet we may get mad at our partners for not meeting them!

So, how can we effectively manage the expectations we have for each other in our relationships? How do we make sure that we get our needs met, and meet our partner’s needs too, while not going crazy in the process?

If you’re having trouble with this in your partnership, check out these simple, but important principles: the “5 Bs” of managing relationship expectations. They should help!

  1. Be aware.

Have you ever sat down to consider what it is that you are really expecting from your partner and relationship, and why? You may be surprised by your answers, which are probably influenced by your own upbringing, past relationships, and maybe even romantic ideas of what marriage or love “should be” like. On the other hand, you may also find that your expectations are simpler or more unconventional than you thought.

  1. Be realistic.

Do you ever expect your partner to read your mind? Do you feel like you should never find her annoying? Did you expect him to love and adore your family, including strange Uncle Phil, as much as you do? You may be suffering from unrealistic expectations.

Of course, one person’s “unrealistic” is another’s person’s “completely realistic.” However, if your expectations include phrases like “He should always...” “I don’t think we should ever…” it’s probably safe to say that they’re unrealistic.

  1. Be clear and candid.

It’s awfully hard for your partner to meet your expectations if they don’t even know what they are—and not fair for you to be annoyed that they didn’t get met, either. If you want, or don’t want, a big fuss to be made for your birthday, let the other person know! If you always imagined marriage would involve weekend date nights, make that clear.

However, remember principle 2 here, too. Your expectations need to be reasonable if you want your partner to try to meet them!

  1. Be willing to negotiate.

That brings us to principle #4! After all, there are two people in this relationship, and what you expect may not mesh well with what your partner expects. (Maybe he expects to stay here for the holidays and you expect to travel to see your family.) Since you’ve been clear and realistic, and you know why you hold these expectations, you should be able to negotiate a solution, right?

  1. Be available and responsive.

Part of the “bargain” of relationships is that we have to be willing to give to our partners. So, if your loved one has some expectations around keeping the house clean, or spending time together, or gift giving, open your heart to the possibility of meeting those expectations. Of course, there may be some expectations that you don’t feel able to meet. Back to principle #4 again! But the point of this B” is that due to our love for our partner, we want to be able to make those expectations happen when we can.

The great thing about helping your spouse or partner get his her or expectations met is that in most cases, this means he or she is likely to want to help you get your own needs met, too. Two people who feel heard and responded to are more likely to be happy, fulfilled, and satisfied…and that can only mean good things for your relationship.

By Carol Church, lead writer, SMART Couples, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, University of Florida


Harris, V. W. (2010). Marriage Tips and Traps: 10 Secrets for Nurturing Your Marital Friendship. Plymouth, MI: Hayden McNeil.

Courtesy of University of Florida UF/IFAS Extension.  For more relationship articles, visit www.smmartcouples.org