Remember when your relationship with the love of your life was fresh and new? It felt vibrant and promising. As you were getting to know each other, you were curious about everything that mattered to him or her and you gave your full attention with an open mind to every thought, aspiration and concern he or she shared. You wanted to help and give support. It was apparent s/he felt the same way about you, with the same curiosity and full attention toward learning about everything that mattered to you. You had so much in common and eventually trusted each other completely. You both wanted to reach your fullest potentials together and promised to support each other through thick and thin. Neither of you could imagine going through life without the other.
Over time the high energy that fueled your exuberance, vibrancy and curiosity subsided, and the relationship shifted gears from amazing and exhilarating more toward comfortable, predictable and routine. Challenges in life and other commitments took quality time away from the relationship, that time you used to spend talking freely together about whatever mattered most to each of you. How much the relationship itself was suffering wasn’t noticed at first.
Eventually, edginess crept in. Without expressing it, each expected the other to take up the slack, carry a little bit more of the load. Soon, each expected the other to fix the lack. Then, each blamed the other for creating that lack. And finally, each wondered what went wrong as both of you struggled to find a new equilibrium, a lower level comfort zone.
At some point in time and to some degree, the mind of one (or both) started to perceive the mind of the other as an extension of itself. Inappropriate expectations occur whenever one assumes the right to impose their expectations on the other. Inappropriate expectations forced on another wear relationships down. Presuming that imposing inappropriate expectations is justifiable and necessary may result in demands and ultimatums. The balance of the relationship is at a cross-road and could be lost.
Imposing realistic expectations on others can be appropriate in some situations, such as at work between a supervisor and worker for example, or in society between a citizen and law enforcement or between a parent and young child. But for personal relationships between adults, enforcement of inappropriate expectations by one demeans the other and devalues the relationship.
There is a silver lining in all of this. The timeline of going from fresh and vibrant to predictable and routine holds the key. Trace it back to its beginning. To find the silver lining, look back at the initial conditions of the relationship. Remember the energy, the vibrant curiosity and what it felt like to freely give your full attention, discovering everything you could about each other? Healthy relationships begin with the tools they need to succeed. But how do we rekindle vibrant curiosity about someone we have known for such a long time?
Here are 4 steps involved in keeping your relationship on a solid ground
Step 1: Take time to privately figure out your current status
Figure out your wants, needs, concerns and desires and write them down. Dig deeply and objectively to understand the root causes for your own emotions. Reflect on what matters to you now, get to know your current self, and let go of accumulated assumptions about who you should or should not be. Take at least a couple of days with this exercise to have time to sleep-on-it, reconsider, re-write and get it all straight. Release your emotions by discovering, observing, and embracing your personal truths and facts. Self-reflection for this is powerful.
Speak your facts and share your personal truths. Do not interrupt while the other shares, but rather listen completely and compassionately. Smiles and laughter will help keep stress at bay. Remain curious and give each other your full attention. Take notes. Write down your questions. Reflect and encourage. Find each other again.
Step 3: Identify common aspirations and dreams
Focus on what matters most. Talk about the common values, needs, concerns, aspirations, hopes and dreams just like you did in your early days. For those things you do not share in common, agree to let those be (within reason).
For adults, expectations are appropriate when they are your own. Chart new paths toward manifesting your shared desires and goals. Based on what you’ve learned through this process so far, and working together to reach your new potentials, each of you will naturally develop appropriate expectations for yourself to help reach your new goals together. Notice how your expectations compliment those of your partner. Appropriate expectations are now in place. Collaborate to build a healthier and more deeply rewarding relationship together.
Be yourself. Cherish each other. Marvel at each other’s uniqueness. Continue to reach for your highest potentials together, supporting each other in your renewed relationship. Relationship building is rewarding. You may want to repeat it often to maintain this beautiful balance in your dynamic relationship with the love of your life (and family members, friends, co-workers….). And as always, enjoy.