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10 Ways Unrealistic Expectations Destroy Your Relationships

  • Jen Ferguson
10 Ways Unrealistic Expectations Destroy Your Relationships

“Expectations kill relationships,” writes Ann Voskamp. As I ponder her words, I remember how my marriage has died a thousand little deaths. While my outlandish expectations have harmed many relationships, my poor husband has born the brunt of my affliction.

Affliction? you ask.

Yes, affliction. Because harboring unrealistic expectations is like a disease. One that chokes the life out of a relationship. It stifles the people around you, sometimes paralyzing them because they are afraid of disappointing you, failing you, angering you.

And maybe you have these unrealistic expectations of yourself, too? Do you feel the life draining from you? Are you afraid of not measuring up? Failing?

All those thoughts you have about yourself have a way of seeping into your friendships, your partnerships, and your marriage. Satan, the Father of Lies, will wedge them into as many areas as he possibly can because he is death incarnate.

We must identify and unravel the insidious ways unrealistic expectations have manifested themselves in our lives. Then, one by one, we can uproot them and make room for new life - for joy.

Here are 10 ways that unrealistic expectations can destroy relationships.

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1. Unrealistic expectations are a form of self-protection.

If you set the bar so high that no one can possibly reach it, you get to live in a perpetual state of disappointment. You can hide behind this attitude, giving yourself reasons to distrust, disengage, and refuse to communicate healthy needs. This is a breeding ground for isolation. In a sense, you may feel like you’ve insulated yourself from future hurt, but you’ve actually robbed yourself of the thing you truly need and desire—to be loved.

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2. Unrealistic expectations set your partner up for failure.

The thing with unrealistic expectations is that they’re often changing, ratcheting up level by level as people rise to meet them. Just as soon as one thing is met, there is another hurdle to overcome. Often unrealistic expectations are the result of the condition of our hearts when we don’t have a firm foundation from which to receive and give love. It’s like we are buckets with tiny holes, and what our spouse pours into us quickly leaks out, and we are constantly in need of a refill. We think, “Oh, yes, he did that. But if he really loved me, he would…” Our spouses will end up feeling defeated and depleted.

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3. Unrealistic expectations are easily exploited by the enemy.

We are all different, and we love in a variety of ways. Social media often shows us the highlight reels of everyone loving well, and we sit there in our despondency thinking, “Well, my spouse must not love me because s/he didn’t do _________.

Those unrealistic expectations are set from a moment in time in someone else’s life. The enemy loves to lure us into the comparison trap and delude us into thinking everyone’s life is loads better than our own.

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4. Unrealistic expectations keep you from enjoying reality.

When you think, “I’ll only be happy if ________,” you’re training your eyes to watch for only that thing, blinded to other potential blessings. God works in an abundance of ways. He is creative in meeting our needs, often in ways that we least expect it. The same can be true of the people in our lives. If we gauge their love for us through the narrow lens of our expectations, we are crushing their creativity and natural love styles. Then we miss out on the reality of their love.

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5. Unrealistic expectations keep you from seeing the good in others.

It's natural to grow up thinking our way is the right way, our gifts are the best gifts, and the ways in which we show love are the ways everyone should. But humanity is more complex and diverse that the way we do things. There is so much room to celebrate and be surprised by the unique ways people operate. 

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6. Unrealistic expectations are a form of perfectionism.

You will never get it perfect. You will mess up. You will sin, fall down, neglect something, and overdo other things. So will everyone else. To expect perfection is to reject your need or another’s need for a savior (Jesus!). The striving and unrelenting pursuit for perfection will only breed negative thoughts about yourself and negative thoughts about others. 

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7. Unrealistic expectations fuel bitterness and resentment.

It’s our childish nature at play here. When we don’t get what we want, we pout. Maybe we give dirty looks, or stomp our feet, or dole out the silent treatment. We resent the person who failed us or whom we feel withheld the thing we thought we needed or wanted. The bitterness in our heart overtakes our vision of anything good about the person or the situation.

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8. Unrealistic expectations can impede healthy communication.

It’s really hard to pursue authenticity and vulnerability with someone you think will most likely shut you down or tell you that you’re coming up short. If your spouse can’t be real with you, it might mean they can’t trust you. Trust is the cornerstone of healthy communication.

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9. Unrealistic expectations can be a tool of manipulation.

Training people to jump on our command and ask us, "How high?" might feel self-empowering. However, it’s really a tool of manipulation. They’re not pleasing you out of love, but rather because they fear you will withhold your love if they don’t measure up. This isn’t a relationship with healthy hallmarks because love isn't about control; it comes from a choice.

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10. Unrealistic expectations keep us rigid.

When our unrealistic expectations aren’t met, and we are intent on standing our ground in every little thing; we become unable to extend grace. When we cannot give grace, it often makes it harder to receive it. But it is grace that makes the relationship go ‘round. God is all about new mercies every morning and if we are striving to live like Jesus, forgiveness is key—both forgiving those around us and ourselves.

Jen Ferguson is a wife, author, and speaker who is passionate about helping couples thrive in their marriages. She and her husband, Craig, have shared their own hard story in their book, Pure Eyes, Clean Heart: A Couple’s Journey to Freedom from Pornography and are also creators of the Marriage Matters Prayer Cards. They continue to help couples along in their journeys to freedom and intimacy at The {K}not Project. Jen is also a mama to two girls and two high-maintenance dogs, which is probably why she runs. A lot. Even in the Texas heat.

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