This Is the Expectation that Ruins Relationships

by | Aug 2, 2020 | Anxiety, Open Your Heart, Relationships | 19 comments

We live in a culture predicated on one basic assumption: I deserve to have everything I want when I want it. It’s a “me, myself, and I” mindset with widespread ramifications, including the decimation of our planet. We take and take and take without giving back. We plunder and consume without reciprocity and gratitude. In order for our planet to survive and thrive (and before your eco-anxiety gets too spiked here I do believe that we will survive and thrive ;)), we have to learn how to shift from a mindset of taking and self-centeredness to one of giving, gratitude, and reciprocity.

It’s this mindset – of taking and expecting – that filters into your relationship and leads you to believe that your partner exists for your pleasure and to make you feel alive and in love.

Your partner does not exist to make you feel alive. They don’t exist to make you feel worthy, filled up, or loved. Hopefully you do feel loved by your partner, but it’s not their job to make you feel loved. They’re not here for your consumption or to fulfill a culturally-conditioned fantasy of a “perfect partner.” They’re not here to lift you out of pain or heal you or relieve you of the existential loneliness of being human.

If you expect that it’s your partner’s job to make you feel alive, you’re setting yourself up for a miserable relationship. 

Alongside this “my, myself, and I” mindset is the expectation that relationships should be easy. We expect to flow along the euphoric rivers of infatuation until death do us part. We expect to be served, to be turned on, to be instantly and effortlessly attracted. We expect not to work at love. We expect love to be as easy as pressing a few buttons on a microwave oven or ordering a book on Amazon and PRESTO! – it arrives the next day.

Love is not a microwaved meal. It’s a slow-cooked recipe that draws on ancestral wisdom and wounds.

Love is not 1-day delivery. It’s old-time mail that travels across vast distances to deliver a hand-written letter while the sender patiently awaits a response.

Love is not an instant fix to life’s struggles. It’s a place where we can struggle through life together, learning to hold hands and become a safe harbor for each other.

Love is not what you get. It’s what you give.

What we learn from the world of commerce, which is predicated on scarcity and greed, we dangerously apply to love.

As Paul Gilbert writes in The Compassionate Mind (thank you to the course member who sent this excerpt):

“Modern business life wants us to focus on the half empty, so that we will be dissatisfied and want more and better. However, if we apply this orientation to our relationships, we’ll want to get more and more out of our partners. If we’re not careful, we’ll focus on the way they can make us unhappy and we’ll miss the happiness that comes from appreciating people as they are, building friendships and learning together how difficult thoughts and emotions can be, upsetting and forgiving, liking and disliking – all in the tumble dryer of real relationships.” (p. 177)

I find it interesting that Gilbert italicized the word “building”, as this speaks to the heart of what long-term, intimate relationships are about: we learn and grow over time. We build a friendship and a life together over decades. The culture says that it must all be there from day one, that we must know how to love, to feel passionate, to know how to navigate rupture and repair from the get-go, but the truth is that these are skills that grow when we hold hands through years and decades together with the headlight of learning strapped to our foreheads. Just like it takes decades to reach expertise in any field, so we cannot know how to love in the early stages of a relationship. We’re all babies when it comes to love, no matter how old we are when we meet, for the only way to learn is on-the-job.

But it helps if we learn in the right way with direct tools that will help us grow love on a healthy foundation. And because most of us – especially the more sensitive among us – are taught and wired to focus on what’s not working and what we perceive to be missing, we have to orient consciously in the direction of what’s working and what’s wonderful – essentially creating active and specific practices to counteract the physiological and cultural tendency to focus on scarcity and the faulty expectations around love.

This is what I teach in Open Your Heart: A 30-day course to feel more love and attraction to your partner. It’s a full-heart immersion in the practices that will help you rewrite your stories and rewire your heart pathways so that you more naturally and easily fall in love with your partner on a daily basis.

To love is to give.

To love is to honor.

To love is to bless.

To love is to learn how to love well, which, for many of us, isn’t obvious since it wasn’t role-modeled in our home growing up.

If you would like to receive the roadmap I’ve shared with thousands of people that contains the Love Laws and Loving Actions that will help you grow love and attraction – and learn how to shift into a mindset of giving and abundance – please join me for the seventeenth round of Open Your Heart, which will  begin on Saturday, August 8th, 2020. You can learn more and sign up here. I look forward to meeting you there.

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19 Comments

  1. I’m in a relationship where, alot of the time, I feel that my love isn’t reciprocated… And that he doesn’t care about me as much as I care about him. Are u saying I shouldnt expect anything in return.? That’s not the reason I care about him…to have it given back…but it makes me feel unloved when he doesn’t.
    I understand what u say about consumerist cultures,…and that some people r that superficial,materialistic…that it affects their relationship. But I’m trying to relate it to what I’m going through,…and maybe it’s not the same thing. I mean it made me question whether I am expecting too much from him. I know that u can’t depend on another person to make u happy, but on the other hand, what is the point of a relationship if it doesn’t bring u any happiness.I agree with u that a relationship, is partly, about growing together..thru the good times and bad. I don’t know, I’m a bit lost at the moment.

    Reply
    • Hi Claudia, I have two thoughts for you.

      One is that it might be helpful to better understand how your partner expresses love. More often than not, we communicate in different “love languages.” I say “I love you” as if I’m pouring water on a thirsty plant. My partner wants to “do” for me – get the door, carry bags, fix things so that I don’t have to lift a finger. It’s important not to expect to be shown love in your language, and to give your partner the space to be loving in his way. If you can understand how your partner says “I love you,” you can recognize that you are loved when it happens, and be grateful for the love you are receiving at that moment. It’s also important to show your partner that you are grateful in a way that he can absorb.

      The other is that you may not feel that you are being heard when you say “I love you” in your language. This requires the same conversation with your partner in reverse. Additionally, it might be helpful to tell him how he could acknowledge your love in a way that would be meaningful to you. Maybe a loving touch, a smile, or a hug would be something he could give you in that moment.

      Ultimately, at least in part, love is about giving and doing for your partner, and being able to recognize and be grateful/absorb when your partner is doing and giving to you.

      All of this is predicated on the idea that you and your partner are interested in and ready for a relationship, that you and he are not currently engaged in an addiction, and you are not in any way abusive toward each other. For obvious reasons, any of these issues would prevent you from developing a strong, long-term relationship until they are resolved.

      I hope that helps. 🙂

      Reply
  2. I always look forward to your weekly emails Sheryl, and during the pandemic they’ve been even more valuable. I am finding things very hard at the moment – I feel like I’m in a constant state of alert and like I’ve regressed to a beginner’s mind that sees nothing but fault and negativity. My partner has no work due to the coronavirus and has dealt with it admirably but he’s starting to get frustrated and has his own down days and moments of stress which my anxious mind will latch onto like a fly to ointment. I keep telling myself that it’s more than me and it’s going to be ok; I’m journalling a lot and compiling a daily gratitude list; I’m doing daily yoga and endeavouring to get out into nature as best I can.; and I’m seeing my wonderful counsellor as often as I can via Zoom and those sessions always seem to perk me up, even if only momentarily. And yet I still feel angry – with my situation, my partner’s situation, the state of the world. It’s exhausting. But I have to hold on to hope.

    Reply
    • To say that this is an incredibly challenge time is an understatement. I’m very glad to hear that you’re accessing so many wonderful tools and reaching out for support, and beyond that the best we can do is keep bringing compassion to ourselves and the situation we’re in and trust that this too shall pass.

      Reply
  3. Wow, Sheryl! This is exactly the wisdom I needed to hear today. Thank you so, so much for sharing this insight.

    I do have a follow-up question: how can you tell the difference between having unrealistic expectations/demands for your partner, versus possibly not being well-matched in terms of needs, expressions of love, etc.?

    I find that in my relationship with my long-distance partner, I really struggle to feel loved. When we are together and in person, things feel much easier, especially because my partner’s primary love language is quality time and he treats me so well when I go see him or when he comes to see me. He always wants to go on adventures, he wants to try new foods and experiences with me, and even though he isn’t much of a planner in his own life, he will plan some really lovely trips for us when we spend time together. When I get to experience all of this with him in person, it’s a lot easier for me to feel loved.

    But when we are apart and living in our home states (I’m in California, he’s in Washington), I find it much harder to feel loved and that spikes my anxiety through the roof. My primary love language is words of affirmation: I need a lot of kind words and compliments, a lot of deep conversations, phone calls, etc. Unfortunately, my partner is not a very chatty person. He does his best and will call me when he can, and if I call him he is always willing to answer the phone and chat with me, which is lovely! But for some reason, I never feel like it’s enough. I want more talks, more time, more of everything. And I worry that’s not possible.

    What I can’t tell is: is this a series of unrealistic expectations to keep the romance going (e.g. to hear “I love you” more, to call more, to spend more time with each other, to exchange gifts more frequently, etc.), or is this just a bad match of needs? I sometimes just think I’m too needy for my partner and that I can’t be satisfied—which sucks, because whenever I ask my partner what I can do to love him more, he just says he’s happy that I am here loving and supporting him, and I feel guilty that I struggle to feel like that is enough for me.

    What do I do? I love my partner, but I also feel so needy and demanding and unsatisfied, and I also feel so horribly guilty for feeling so needy and unsatisfied. I don’t think I want to leave him, but I feel so frustrated and sad that I never can find peace or feel content. How can I tell if this is just work I need to do on myself, or if our needs are mismatched?

    Reply
    • Thank you for sharing this. It made me think of my own relationship. I believe my husband and I are very well matched, but I never feel like I get enough time with him–and we live together! I am always wanting to be with him more, but he needs and deserves alone time and space. Now I am wondering, what part of me needs more attention? I find time and time again (thanks to Sheryl) that my issues with my partner start with me. I don’t have answers for you, but thank you for sharing so that I can ask myself these questions too.

      Reply
  4. Hello Sheryl! As always a incredible post! It was exactly what I needed to hear after a very triggering weekend…I was recalling a therapy appointment I had pre-covid and when my anxiety began and remembered my therapist telling me that if I was not “feeling it” then I should probably leave the relationship. This was so triggering as I had this weekend felt a little tired of partner and irritated with him, both being emotions that I still struggle to accept as normal even though I’ve been reassured and taught that they absolutely are! Recalling this really got to me and made me question if my negative feelings and “not feeling it” where my gut telling me something. However, I’m holding onto hope and diving back into the break free work to try to remind myself that I am okay and hopefully rediscover if what I’m dealing with is normal….

    Reply
    • I truly wish therapists were better trained in relationship anxiety so they wouldn’t say things like that to clients. Those kinds of statements are useless at best and dangerous at worst! Yes, dive back into the course material and re-commit to any regular practices that may have fallen by the wayside.

      Reply
  5. I love this, Sheryl!! Last week the concept of reciprocity and responsibility in my actions was really on my mind so your blog post is very timely for me! 🙂 Lots of great examples and analogies in here for me to think about more and chew on! Thank you!! It’s funny the closest people in my life are the ones who drive me craziest the most, but they are also what make me who I am and what my life is. So from that perspective my intrusive thoughts and anxiety fade (a bit!).

    Reply
    • We’re always most triggered by those closest to us!

      Reply
  6. Hello Sheryl! As a long time lurker and reader of your blog I appreciate your posts so much! However, I honestly feel that the unattracted, boredom, tired of our relationship, and irritation are too much to be anxiety and keep me from exploring the healing that would allow me to find peace with the most wonderful man I know…I feel hopeless and stuck and am not sure what to do next….appreciate your guidance always!

    Reply
    • I strongly recommend taking the Break Free From Relationship Anxiety course as it will help you get unstuck and help you see that the belief that your triggers are too much to be anxiety is entirely false :).

      Reply
  7. I have been feeling extremely anxious about my relationship with my girlfriend. I have voices saying, “You don’t really like her” and “You’re not excited to see her anymore.” I’m really worried that’s true because I’m not necessarily anxious anymore about it. I was in the beginning but now it’s changed to almost just a constant down feeling and I don’t feel anything towards her anymore. Is this just fear or is it actually meaning something. Please help Sheryl!!

    Reply
  8. Hello Sheryl,
    I have been with my boyfriend for a year and a bit. He, to me, is the best person to ever exist. I love him, and he loves me more than I could ever imagine anyone to. Recently we’ve started to use the word “forever” and it has started to freak me out and creep on me a little. I think to myself, “do I see us together forever?”, “what if I lose interest?”, “we’re only in our early 20s, the chances of use being together for that long are low”, and “are our lives compatible enough forever?”. I have been struggling with ROCD for 2 months now, and whilst it has its highs and lows I think I’m always carrying a baseline level of anxiety. How would you suggest dealing with these ‘forever’ thoughts?

    Reply
    • Keep reading through my site so that you can learn to work with the thoughts at the root, and when you’re ready, consider the course.

      Reply
      • Hi, Sheryl!

        Reading your post makes me think about giving friendship to someone I was expecting to receive romantic love from. We talked and agreed a change of contract was needed, as the expectations were one-sided (my side). I still need to heal and let go of these fantasies of what I wanted it to be, but is it loving to myself to remain friends after that? I feel this resonates with your post as I feel I sent the message “If you’re not giving me what I want, then you’re getting nothing at all”. How to make sense of that and act lovingly towards myself and him?

        Thanks!!!

        Reply
  9. I don’t know if anyone will see this but I wanted to talk about this in a safe space.

    I feel like I have chosen a partner because of what he offers me and how he behaves as a partner rather than who he is as a person. I know myself and I know I would not be with someone this long if I didn’t like them, but this eats away at me, especially as someone who is very hard on themselves all the time.

    I just want to see if anyone else has felt like this and if it’s something that can be worked through.

    Reply
    • Hey Is!

      I can definitely relate to this. How are things going now?

      Reply

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