If you’ve already read The Couples Rulebook, then you might remember the story of Rita and Larry. They were the couple who had a miscommunication that led to a lousy vacation. If you haven’t read the book yet, then here’s the gist of the story: Larry wanted to fish so he booked a cabin while Rita was expecting a swanky urban hotel so she could relieve her youthful party days.
Expectations are often unspoken. We just naturally kind of feel that our partner wants the same thing we do. After all, we live in the same house, share the same bed, and survive the day-to-day challenges together, right? Surely, our partner is as tired as we are or as excited to explore as we are right now. Yet, we all recharge in different ways. Extroverts often want social activities and introverts need quiet spaces. People who are more sensitive may want to limit input while intuitive people may need stimulating experiences. These tiny differences build our own internal expectations and we assume that the other person in our relationship is experiencing things the same way.
And then it happens - we are both disappointed. One person makes a decision and the other person is disappointed. Cue the fight. In this corner, Rita, the disappointed wife who feels trapped in a remote mountain cabin unable to enjoy the beauty of nature around her. In the other corner, Larry who is now unable to enjoy his retreat because his wife is miserable and he believed she would be happy. Well, that sucks. And we’ve all been there. Maybe it isn’t a vacation. Maybe we’ve missed on picking a restaurant. Maybe we got them a gift we were sure they would love. Unmet expectations are the source of so many troubles.
The easy way to avoid those unmet expectations… is to follow Rule 5 and “Communicate Expectations.” If we tell the person what we expect, they’re generally going to attempt to meet the expectation. Even if they disagree and it leads to conflict, the conflict is always better in advance than after the fact when the damage is already done. Unfortunately, couples will often seek to avoid conflict and merely hope that things will work out. It’s okay to argue about the upcoming vacation so that you can reach an adult compromise. Hell, Rita and Larry could have easily split their week between urban and rural or found another solution.
It isn’t just about telling your partner what you need. It’s also about asking what they need. If you’re a great partner, you’re aware of this potential trouble and you’re able to headed it off by asking for their expectations. Avoid the fight by asking, “what do you expect from (vacation)(dinner)(day off)(visit with parents)(etc.).
An unspoken expectation is rarely fully met. Couples have to constantly be focused on making sure that the other partner is clear on the expectations. Ask the simple question: “What does that look like for you? Find the land mines early. It doesn’t guarantee perfect lives, but it keeps both partners focused on the same goal.