Happy Valentine’s Day! Today is that day. It’s the day that people exchange gifts, cards, flowers, candies, and cute and cuddly teddy bears. Today is the day that third grade boy buys his first Valentine’s Day gift for his sweetheart. He mulls over the aisles at the local Target looking for the perfect way to tell his first crush that he thinks she is special. It is the day that he gets butterflies in his stomach, hoping that he makes the right decision. It is the day that she waits for his call and lights up when she hears his voice on the other end.
It is also a day of cynics. It is a day where the jaded remind us that we are crazy and they are single. It is the day that eyes roll and people scoff. But why? I understand if you are displeased with the commercialization of the Holiday, but the same can be said for many Holidays today. So why so much hate for VD? I mean, it’s a day to celebrate Love. The cynical and jaded make the single assumption that not having a romantic interest on this Day of Hearts makes it a painful reminder that we are single. But what does being single have to do with it? This day is about Love. That love is also shared amongst family members and friends. We share in love with our children and remind them that they are special. When I was little my father used to get my sisters and I all chocolates. Maybe my outlook on this adorable day is a direct product of the idea that it was about family and not romance. Love has everything to do with it.
The history of Valentine’s Day has to do with a Christian Martyr that got into trouble for marrying couples. That background is probably responsible for making Valentine’s Day associated with love and romance. In a time when lovers couldn’t marry, they were fighting the ability to do so. Appears we are always fighting against something. So you cynical singles fight the good fight, only 16 more hours left to go. As for the rest of us, smile, cuddle, and tell them you love them.
Let’s talk about relationship expectations. The expectations you have of your partner may lead to disappointment and brokenness when it comes to your romantic relationships. But don’t worry, I am not just going to sit here and tell you that your expectations are bullshit and that you are ridiculous for wanting your partner to call, to help with the dishes, or to split the bill. I am going to assist you in understanding how to alleviate the communication barriers of expectations. How are we ever going to find a resolution if we can not communicate effectively about the problem?
Couples should discuss the expectation that they have. They need to be able to communicate this early on in the relationship. Some expectations are derived from each individual. They may have come from pressures our parents put on us or from past dating experiences. However, some expectations are created within the relationship. When a couple first gets together they are excited to be sharing in one another. They might talk on the phone every day and this expectation is one that is created by the couple in the process of engaging in the relationship. If this stops suddenly, there may be some discrepancies in how both parties feel about it. It is important to know and understand which expectations were mutually created and which are individually brought into the relationship. This way you can get a better idea of how to properly handle each expectation.
I will utilize an example so we can process the helpful responses we will discuss later. Sally wants Harry to text her on Tuesday because he is out of town for work. Harry called her when he arrived to his hotel on Monday night; they chatted, said goodnight, and went to bed. On Tuesday, Harry got busy with work and had dinner with colleagues, so he called Sally late in the evening around ten p.m. Harry did not text or call during the day. Now they are on the phone and at this point Sally is already irritated because she was hoping to hear from him during the day since he is away on a business trip. Harry is unable to understand why if he spoke with Sally on Monday night and again tonight why it is such a big deal? So Sally goes on about how Harry doesn’t care and Harry tries to explain that he does. He gets defensive and she came into the conversation angry. Inside he feels like he failed and inside she feels like she isn’t cared about.
It becomes a dance that we see all too often; and honestly, it is normal in the context of a relationship. Especially in the beginning when we are learning about one another’s needs. If this type of behavior continues as the length of the relationship progresses and the parties are unable to communicate about it, we have to ask ourselves, why? We have to consciously make the decision to do something about it and not just blow off the other person.
Not to make it a battle of the sexes, but woman often verbalize and hold onto their expectations more. Men are like, Meh. They can passively get through the small expectations. The woman handles it with anger or sadness which makes the man feel like he let her down. There is nothing worse for a man than the feeling of failure or disappointment. It is ingrained in the man to be able to care for the needs of others in specific ways. If he feels like he failed, withdrawing is often the easiest response to an angry woman. The easiest response for the woman is anger when hurt is what she really feels.
In the story of Sally and Harry here are some helpful examples of alternative responses:
1. Sally could have sent a text to Harry and said “Hey sweetie, How is your day going?” If we have an expectation for someone else to do something, the easiest solution is to do it ourselves. (Starting with a pet name always creates positive energy.)
2. Sally could call and leave a message or verbalize to Harry that it was her fault that she is upset since she had the expectation for him to call. But maybe in the future he can make sure to have some form of contact during the day when away? (This is formed as a question because it is important that our partner have a say in the resolution and that we are not just demanding something.) Sally is openly communicating a need and placing the burden on herself rather than her partner. This can help the partner to feel empathetic rather than defensive.
3. Sally can self-reflect. Understanding why we need a certain behavior out of our partner is important. Sally may have had a negative past dating experience with a previous partner while away on a trip. It is important to discuss this with our partner, but also to take additional time to ourselves to reflect on how we might be able to change this expectation since it was not created in the current relationship.
If these don’t work because there is still defensiveness and anger even when just trying to communicate a problem, it might be time to look into couple’s therapy and have a third-party reflect with you on some good solutions and tools. We get our cars serviced. Relationships are no different. If you want it to “run well” you have to take care of it.
When is an expectation reasonable or unreasonable? How is this even decided? This type of reflection and answer is a process. I believe that I personally didn’t understand the expectations that I had for partners until I had personal therapy combined with experiences in dating. There has to be some self-reflection and self-awareness that takes place if we are going to change patterns that sabotage our relationships. Expectations can disrupt a relationship if not handled correctly.
If you are the type of person that doesn’t take constructive criticism well, you might find it difficult to self-reflect. You will be more defensive at the thought of changing something about yourself instead of being humbled by the opportunity. I urge you to do the same type of reflection and allow yourself to let that self-critic go. It is beneficial to be able to change difficult or unwelcoming patterns so you can have successful romantic relationships. Ultimately in successful relationships, partners need to be able to meet one another’s needs or expectations to a reasonable level. The environment of the relationship should feel like teamwork. When it doesn’t feel like teamwork bitterness and frustration come in. It is only fair that we partner for the long-haul with someone who is similar in nature. Specifically when this nature has to do with work-ethic which directly correlates with some expectations. I have yet to see anyone do a relationship perfectly, so we are all in this together. Relationships are hard work, but they yield the most rewarding happiness.
How many hours have you gone without texting your significant other? I assume that most of us will answer something less than 2 hours to this question. Most of us will never answer anything over 12 hours unless we are working, sleeping or lost our cell phone in the debauchery of our weekend shenanigans. For the purposes of this article- sleeping and working do not count for giving you high fives on being away from your smart phone.
How many minutes or hours do you go without texting your significant other or a friend back? Or how many times have you taken awhile to respond to someone and minutes later they send you a ?
How many of us have our phones by our sides when we sleep and eat? How many of us get anxious at the thought of leaving the phone at home for a whole day? The answer to these questions: Most of us. When did we become a society that had to respond immediately or had to be told not to text and drive. I recognize that we are a society of now and fast, but when it comes to our relationships the notion of right away is destroying the wonders that make relationships special in the first place.
Recall being in high school and waiting for your crush to call. Your mom or dad would answer the phone and yell into the other room, “It’s for you!” You would get really excited, your face would get red, your heart would beat and your ridiculous smile would make your cheeks hurt. You would drag the phone cord as far as you could to get a little privacy. After a conversation in which minutes felt like hours you would say goodbye. After getting off the phone you would sit, smile and dream. You would repeat this for years, but then something happen. That same boy or girl you were interested in didn’t call, they sent you a text. Something along the lines of Hi;) It was enjoyable in the beginning but still not as exciting as getting a call and hanging up. You didn’t know that someone was into you instantly by way of emoticon. The excitement lingered for weeks and months not hours or days.
You see, we never hang up with text messaging, it is this ongoing conversation that literally never has an ending. When you are in a relationship you never get the “absence makes the heart grow fonder” because you are all up in each others messaging all the time. Or if you are dating and one party decides to make it have an ending (i.e not texting back) we get confused and wonder if we did something wrong. Maybe he thought I was mad. Maybe she doesn’t think I’m funny. Maybe he doesn’t want me anymore. We make all these guesses because we actually have no idea how anyone honestly feels anymore because you can only try to interpret through messaging. The bottom line is our cell phones are ruining our relationship satisfaction because there is no excitement in it anymore. All the maybe thoughts or the anxiety that you have should only lead to one thought, I am too available which is boring. This isn’t people wanting what they can’t have, this is a genuine human response to want excitement and wonder.
Your boyfriend, girlfriend, or dating partner has access to you anytime- all the time. But it goes both ways. We can not have the expectation that people have to get back to us this second. That people have to text us no matter what they are doing. Maybe someone is busy. Or maybe they just don’t want to talk to you right now. And honestly, why is that second one not okay? Am I really obligated to talk to everyone who texts me every second that they do it? There are times when I don’t feel like it. If we were all honest, we would understand that we all feel like that at some point. Maybe they had a long day. Maybe they don’t like you. Maybe they don’t have their phone on them. Maybe they are in a meeting. Whatever the reason is, if you want to get to the point of someone sticking around and being in awe of you- you have to be a little mysterious. You have to stop being boring and available. You also have to remind yourself that even if the other person is going to be offended by not hearing back from you right away, that is on them, not you. It speaks volumes of the assumptions that they will make throughout the relationship.
I honestly hear this time and time again, “He hasn’t texted me back.” I then ask, “Well how long has it been?” Reply, “Well ten minutes.” My response is always the same. It has only been ten minutes. I am not sure what the etiquette is for response time in texting, but there needs to not even be a window. Whoever the person is, they will see the text, and they will respond to it when they damn well please. In the end, the person texts back if they want to continue to engage with you. If this is someone who you are starting to date and they don’t text back- that’s called rejection. I get it and I am not afraid to admit that it has happened to me many times. Brush it off and move on. The point is, we need to remind ourselves to talk instead of text. To be patient instead of anxious. We need to put the excitement back into our dating lives and relationships by giving someone something to miss and by us missing them.
If you are reading this article you might be curious about what it says or you might be in a relationship that seems to be going downhill. Have you ever thought that you could change something to make the relationship better? Or are you constantly blaming the other person?
Here are some ideas that you can do yourself or pass on to a friend who might be in a “relationship slump.”
1. Stop your expectations. We often expect more and more as the relationship goes forward. But try to look at it as if you just met. It is much like when you get a new job. When you first begin the job you are wide-eyed and happy to help in any way that you can. Heck, you might have even grabbed all the Starbucks on your way to the office. You were willing to take on any tasks at the beginning of the job. Then the longer you work at the job, the more entitled you feel. You don’t get coffee anymore because there are “better” ways to be spending your time. The reality is that you should never be “too good” for any task. If you can continue this type of motivation in a job, it will be easy to use the same concept in your relationship. Continue to do what made you a good partner in the first place. Look back at what you did in the past to make the relationship great.
2. The grass is not greener. The grass is not greener on the other side. The grass looks greener on the other side because you are spending more time staring at it rather than watering your own grass. Stop being concerned about what could be or what you could have or what your life would look like only if….. Start paying attention to what makes the grass green on your side. It takes work to keep up a yard, and it takes even more work to keep up a relationship.
3. Get your head out of your ass. Sorry but there is just no better way to say this. You might be thinking, “My partner is so stubborn.” I get it, you can do all these things and no matter what you do that other person will not change. Well then, you are not doing it good enough. Blaming other people and their responses will not help change happen in the relationship. Stubborn might happen for the other person, but it will not stick if you give 100 percent to change yourself in the relationship. With enough time, it is inevitable that the other person will take notice of what you are doing and how happy you are, and they will want nothing more than to join in.
4. Change your routine. Maybe as a wife you do the laundry twice a week. You are too predictable. So maybe you can change things up; leave the laundry. Your husband will take notice that things are different and it will make you happy to change it up and take a break. He will be curious to know what’s gotten into you.
You might not be able to change anyone else. So change what you do. If you order wings and a pizza and sit and enjoy eating it, your husband or partner is bound to want a piece. The same goes with change. Use actions to entice your partner to want to do it with you.
With so much in our lives to keep us busy, it is difficult to get quality time to connect with your significant other. Maybe you are constantly rushing out the door for work or school; you might be picking up the kids for a quick second only to get them dressed and right out the door again for soccer practice. You might be in the middle of a big move or frustration may have kicked in about a big life change. Whatever the situation, it is important that we continue to develop and sustain rituals in our relationships.
Too often, couples are missing the quality connection because they are rushing off to the next event or hammering out the next big project.
Allowing time for your partner can help alleviate some of life’s stress, while at the same time creating quality romance and bonding.
Rituals can help you connect to your partner. Life can get busy and overwhelming, and before you know it disconnection has happened in your relationship.
Develop a ritual in your relationship to stay connected such as:
- Walks outside
- Romantic baths together
- Coffee and talk in the morning
- Watching a television show together
- Whatever you choose make sure you are connecting.
- You might not talk, but during the television show you can playfully sit on your partner’s lap or spoon on the couch.
- Make sure the rituals contain an intention physical and emotional connection, such as talk and touch.
- Remove any distractions such as smart phones or work emails.
Sit down together and think about what would be meaningful to you and your partner. It is important that you understand how each of you connects with one another. In an earlier article, we discussed the five love languages quiz: this can help show you how to romantically engage with your partner. Here is a link to the quiz: http://www.5lovelanguages.com/profile/
First, understand what makes your partner feel connected to you. Then, develop rituals around those languages that can connected you on a regular basis.
I figured that it is time to write some more articles about my personal journey; I mean what good is all the objective relationship advice and discussion if you don’t hear some of my subjective experiences. Self-realizations have to be a part of the process in order to implement change. You can have all the knowledge in the world, but it won’t do you any good if you can not put it to use.
This all began one day when I called my mom to let her know that I had some news. It went like this:
Me: “Mom, guess what?”
Me: “Jason and Jamie are getting married!” (Both good friends of mine).
Mom: “You are getting married! You and John are getting married!” (Screaming to my father). Honey, Laurie and John are getting married!”
Me: “MOM! MOM! MOM! I said Jamie and Jason are getting married.”
As I listened to my mom’s demeanor change and calm, I explained to her that John and I had broken up months ago.
I also told her that I was glad to know what excitement she would feel for a man to propose to me; even if it was a man she had yet to meet. Thank God my Dad wasn’t updating his Facebook status at the time! Why was it that every time I traveled the 2000 plus miles home, everyone wanted to know who the man in my life was? It was a typical question that made its way into conversation after conversation. I mean, maybe it was partially my fault for making my last relationship FBO (Facebook Official). Or maybe I felt uncomfortable about even being asked that question.
Whatever the reason was, it had a multitude of social and personal factors. What matters is how we react to it; it helps you discern where you are in the growing process. In the aftermath of my mom carrying on, I realized it was the first time that I acknowledged the ending of my last relationship. As I had to, once again, tell close family members and friends that I had ended yet another relationship; I began to feel the weight of what I thought would be their disappointment, but I realized it may have been my own.
So I looked back at the reasons why my other relationships had ended. I realized one common theme: that for whatever reason or another some aspect of each relationship was falling short of what I or the other person really wanted or needed in the relationship. That is the thing about dating and being in relationships with other people; we are trying to figure out what we want our best relationship to look like; the person we want to spend the rest of our life with. For some of us that happens in our 20’s, but for some of us it will be in our 30’s and on. As I get ready to turn 30 in less than a year, I welcome the idea that I have yet to find my best relationship.
During my 10 plus years of dating, if anything, I was getting much better at it. I was understanding the realities of what it takes to make a relationship healthy and long-lasting. In my mid-twenty dating, I thought I could harness change or mold the people who I was with. I now realize there is little you can do to change anyone.
The best you will get is the best that person is capable of giving you. Who they are today and the habits they have are what they will have tomorrow and forever. Everyone has faults, but if you can strengthen each other in personality and purpose in life you will find that happiness and love will thrive. So, Mom and everyone, I can not promise you wedding bells in my future, but I can promise you that I will strive to welcome it as I find true happiness and love in myself. Until then, I will be, Just one.