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How much should you expect from someone?

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I'm not normally one to ask questions here, but this has been on my mind for so long, and seems so difficult to solve on my own, that I would welcome an independent opinion.


The problem, in a nutshell, is this: how much should one realistically expect from a partner in a relationship? I know the nice answer would to expect nothing, but realistically if one partner did nothing, I doubt the relationship would last long at all. On the other hand, excessive expectations inevitably lead to disappointment, conflict and breakup.


A little history: previously I lived with someone for seven years, and on the whole it was a happy time, and the expectations question never really arose. I didn't doubt that she loved me, and I loved her (and I think she knew it also), although eventually we found ourselves growing apart, and the need for us to be separate due to work reasons eventually led to an amicable ending of the relationship (and we remain friends).


A couple of short relationships/flings later, and I find myself in a more serious one now, but with a big problem: I am struggling to feel loved or wanted for much of the time. The question in my mind is simple: who is responsible for this and/or who can do something about it (if that isn't the same question)?


I regularly try to think of things to do to make the other person feel happy and loved in a relationship, although I now find myself questioning my motivation for doing so (I *think* it is to make them happy, and certainly that must be the major component, but am I also trying to lead by example? Hint at what I might like? Perhaps.). I could list the various things I've done this week, for example, but I don't really want to go on an ego-trip here. But the point is, I have, while she has really done nothing except respond to the odd e-mail while at work.


Now she is extremely busy with work at the moment, and yesterday when I phoned her late at night (and she was just finishing working), she told me that in order to focus on work, she has to pretend I don't exist, and this is why she will never say (or feel) that she misses me, or offer any sort of positive feedback. That is understandable, but what about a renewal of things at other times, a simple gesture that takes perhaps a few minutes? Am I wrong to want this?


I am deeply confused. On the one hand, I am quite sure I have a tendency, at least in this relationship, to require demonstration of feelings/affection, that is not entirely healthy. On the other hand, I can't rationally see why such a thing would not be demonstrated anyway by someone that loves me (and I think she does; she certainly says that she does). And the inability to answer the second one prevents me from fighting my own requirements.


All comments/questions welcome.

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Hey karvala - I don't know why you're not one to ask questions here. You sound like a very bright guy! You ask some very good questions....


I guess my personal opinion is that you can and should be able to get your needs met. If that means demanding it, asking for it, begging, whatever - i guess that's what it is.


Is there such a thing as being too demanding? Sure, but there is absolutley no way that you asking for attention from your gf is begging or being too demanding.


I do have just a couple questions for you tho -

How long have you been seeing this particular girl. You said you find yourself in a more serious realtionship now - but how long have you been seeing her and for how long have things been this way??

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The problem, in a nutshell, is this: how much should one realistically expect from a partner in a relationship? I know the nice answer would to expect nothing, but realistically if one partner did nothing, I doubt the relationship would last long at all. On the other hand, excessive expectations inevitably lead to disappointment, conflict and breakup.


You're absolutely right! It's somewhere in the middle. You never expect a partner to be always perfect and to never let you down, because humans aren't infallible, and at times they will let you down. What you should always expect is a consistent effort to treat you with consideration, and your partner should expect likewise. In other words, exactly what you say here:


I regularly try to think of things to do to make the other person feel happy and loved in a relationship


Which leads me to your current girlfriend's comments...


she told me that in order to focus on work, she has to pretend I don't exist, and this is why she will never say (or feel) that she misses me, or offer any sort of positive feedback.


Ok, it seems you two operate in your relationships in a starkly different way. If someone said this to me, I would be extremely taken aback. Then I would think to myself, "Is this something I could handle in the future, because they are basically telling me this is what I can expect?" For me, the answer would be a decided no.


No two people will ever be exactly alike, but there's not much point in being in a relationship with someone who views it in a completely different way than I do. I won't get my needs met, and they won't get their's met.


On a final note, I have to say your girlfriend's comments are indicative of someone who does not have a realistic or healthy approach to relationships. I do not predict that she will find herself in something happy and good if she continues along this path. Unfortunately, that will have to be her decision, not yours.


However, you do have control over your own decisions. Starting with deciding if you want to stay in what appears to be an already unsatisfactory arrangement for you.

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I'm not sure how to respond to this...my last relationship ended with fairly similar circumstances. I spent a lot of my time doing things to make him happy. From sending him little gifts while I was away, to texting him and ringing him when I knew he couldn't respond, just to try and make him smile. I didn't do it so I would get something back, I genuinely just wanted to know that he was happy. But after a while it became soul destroying. He never rang back or sent me a text. The most he ever bought me was a coke at the beginning of the relationship, and money for a taxi right near the end. I fought to convince myself that it was all in my head - but it wasn't, and ignoring the problem just made it worse when it ended.


So that's what makes it difficult to know how to respond. I don't want to say 'She sounds just like my ex, it's headed for disaster" because I don't know that. I also don't want to say everything is ok. I know that in my situation talking about it would have solved the problem only for a little while, and I'd probably be in the exact place I am in now. But something in your post makes me think that talking to her would help and things would turn out ok. I don't know what...but there's something there. Don't let yourself be taken advantage of.

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This is a highly debated concept.


It is reccomended, in general, to have no expectations at all.

I used to think this was unrealistic - in fact, I was raised this way.


But through time and lots of expectations, I have come to believe it's true. No expectations is the way to go.


Having no expectations puts a lot of responsibilty on oneself - something that seems odd when it's about BOTH of you making an effort and SUPPORTING each other.


However, that is, and always will be, an option. To free someone of pressure and obligation, is the definition of unconditional love.

The real anxiety may be that we are petrified of being completely alone and responsible for everything we feel, do, say and want.

When I came to this realization, I cried for a long time. I had high hopes and a tireless belief that true love meant I should be treated by others on my terms only - that there are just some things my partner must do if he really cared for me.


It is still a challenge. I take a lot more time now - thinking about what is supposedly so important that I become a victim if it's not met. Perhaps it is me who needs to become stronger, to bend, to let go of longtime beliefs.


To go through this challenge hurts - but it also makes me feel powerful - something I used to think my boyfriend was responsible for.

"Why else would I be in a relationship?" I would ask myself.


I know now - after 5 break-ups with my ex, just for us to come together again - that it is me who needs to change. He is not responsible for my happiness or how deeply loved I feel. I need to do those things and simply love him, appreciate him and leave him to his temper and disrespect, instead of fuel it with tears, pouting and isolating myself from him.


For 32 years I have had expectation - and it is only in the last year that I have realized the truth. So it will be a long journey learning this new outlook and attitude towards others.


I hope this helps a little - I think you have the opportunity to become a whole new person - and I'm here to say the effort is worth it.

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I think boundaries are important, it is still a choice to abide by someone's rules. Not feeling loved by someone is a choice also.

When we realize it's more important that we be treated a certain way - we must go after it and treat ourselves that way - so the one treating us badly can learn. The only way to truly learn is to watch others and practice. Simply telling someone how to treat you can go in one ear and out the other. Taking the expectation away and being fully responsible at all times forces them to watch - instead of possibly turning away because they are faced with confrontation.

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Firstly, let me say many thanks for all of the replies, which are all wonderfully helpful and informative (even when they contradict each other(!), which shows if nothing else that it's not a clearcut area).


@AwdreeHpburn: The notion of being have needs met seems an important one, and it's useful for you to point that out, and say that it's legitimate to ask for this, without being too demanding. In answer to your questions, I've been together with her for four months, which doesn't seem like a long time when I put it like that, but things have been moving pretty fast (which was fine for both of us). She has only very recently been excessively busy so this hasn't been such an issue before, although she said she heard these comments from her ex as well when she became busy.


@Scout: Looks like I might be visiting the breakup forum before too long! But thank you (and I'm half joking with that comment); that was eye-opening and really has given me something to think about. I've been trying to convince myself (not very successfully, I might add) that we are compatible in some fundamental sense, but you are right, I think the way we operate in our relationships are starkly different, and I'm beginning to wonder if this really does mean the whole thing is doomed. I think when she and I discuss the situation or argue (as we do on a weekly basis), it looks like we are really trying to change some fundamental behaviour in each other. I'm not entirely sure what she's trying to change in me, to be honest, except some specific things that I don't understand (a recent example included at the bottom of the post), and I guess I am trying to change her from someone who describes herself as a tough-love type of individual, someone who says she wants to challenge me to improve rather than feel better, into someone who will, when the chips are down, be on my side, be supportive or loving in some way. I guess if all weeks in the future will be like the last week, then my answer would also be no; now it becomes a question of whether they really will, or something fundamental in her, or me, or both, can change so that it won't always be the case.


@Parsley: Sorry to hear about your bad previous experience. My situation is fortunately not nearly as bad as the one you've described (yet, at least), and I feel for you for having to go through that. Part of me wishes it were, then I could more easily convince myself that it was not all in my head, or me being needy, and that I wouldn't be throwing away something that might potentially still work. Don't let yourself be taken advantage of is certainly something I'm keenly aware of in this situation (being the one who helps her with her work at the expense of my own, gives her lifts everywhere, tries to think of ways to keep her happy; ouch, do I sound resentful? I try hard not to mind).


@honeyspur: Your response completely split me in two, and thank you very much for letting me know that there is this potential alternative. I really can't make up my mind if I believe it's possible, or worthwhile, or not. It seems almost a question of choosing not to feel things. Assuming that what looks to me to be the immense difficulty of achieving this can be overcome, the idea of not expected anything, and never being disappointed, never waiting for things to happen, never being afraid of how she will be, is enormously attractive. But the question that nags at my mind, even if I could achieve that state, is simply this: what's the point of the relationship? I'm certainly not suggesting that as something you should ask yourself; you seem to have come to terms with it and found something good in it. But if I effectively give her a licence to be as distant, lazy, whatever, as she likes, and make it so that it won't affect me, why would I still want to stay in that relationship? In other won't I also have to be unaffected by the good things as well, so that I'm not disappointed when they seem to disappear for a period? Still, it really gives me something to think about, and perhaps aspire to, and the "some things my partner must do if he really cared for me" comment certainly gave me pause.



Having thought more about the situation, I guess my principal worry is about her attitude to me, whether reflected in things that don't happen, or things that do happen, and whether it is this attitude that is at fault for making me feel bad, or my expectation that it should be different that is at fault, and I should just accept things the way they are and (as she's always telling me), don't them personally.


Finally, an example. Second one from this afternoon (since I first posted in fact), when I saw her. We walked back home from work together (her proposal to be fair). I tried to tempt her to go to the cinema yesterday evening, but she was too busy; fair enough. This evening she agreed to go, but I know she has a lot of work still to do, so I said, in what I promise was a genuine attempt at consideration and not an invite to a pity party, "that would be great, but only if you're absolutely sure that you don't need to work". At which point she became visibly annoyed and snapped "Can you just pick me up, and not make business out of it". Am I wrong to be hurt by that reply? I feel I should just be able to dismiss it (and the countless others I get similarly each week in response to attempts to be considerate), but then I wonder why I should. I really wish there was some benchmark that I could at least aim for, to know when I'm overreacting (as I'm sure I do), and when I have legitimate grounds to feel aggrieved.

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Well thank you for being open to my thoughts and the possibility of it.

All I can say is, I thought too, I could never accept the "no expectations" rule and was convinced otherwise through practice and analysis.

It required me to change a lot of my beliefs, which was good for me because I was tired of being hurt and unsure.

It didn't change the fact that I still disagree with my boyfriend - but it has taught me how to accept things and ideas on a level I never thought possible. How to accept two things at once, etc....

That is something I am very proud of - so I can't help but share it with you.

Good luck on whatever happens. You do know what's best for you, ultimately and I can tell with the level-head you have on your shoulders, things are going to work out for the best.

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Final update on this: last Friday, I tried to split up with her, without success (ended up in bed). On Wednesday I tried it again, without success (ended up in bed). Today, finally managed it, although she caught me out a bit by proposing the split herself this time. I guess it would be fair to call it mutual in that regard. Undoubtedly, we're not really suitable for each other; she calls me too demanding/needy (with some justification, I think), I call her too distant/cold (also with some justification, and which she admits to). Still, I'm very sorry to have lost the relationship at this time; we both said we were learning a lot (not least in terms of tolerance, how to be better in many ways etc.), and it seems a shame to bring that to an end.

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I am a believer of expectations.

I expect the person that i am with to respect me with all my idiosyncrosies otherwise i would rather not be in the relationship.

Having no expectations allows people and partners to walk all over you and thus leave room for abuse.

When you say boundaries it is the same as expectations, basically reworded to expectation of respect.

As most people here say, it is a give and take thing. In the end it is a self respect thing. If you have enough self-respect your expectations are not going to be over whelming to yourself or others, if you don't, things can swing either way, you are going to be abused or you are going to be the abuser.

Knowing where to draw the line is key.

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Well said, but let's remember something...


When we say "expectations" - we are expecting to be treated a certain way. However, very rarely do we realize it is still the ultimate choice of the other person to respect that expectation. In other words, it is an inalienable right to decide not to abide by someone's boundaries. Perhaps our expectation differs with what others expect.

Maybe one person expects to be greeted with a "good morning" from their loved one every morning, because they feel it's respectful and courteous.

The loved one may have an expectation to not have to say a word when they wake up because they need time - maybe several hours. They may be crabby, short with you and quick to brush you off.


Like I said before - expectation and boundary are two different things.

They have two different meanings - literally.


Expecatation is "wishing with confidence of fulfilment" and Boundary is "a limit or cut off point."

Boundaries are necessary. Expectations are optional. You can have a boundary and still not have an expectation.

Boundaries are meant to let the person know where you stand and what you won't stand for. Not having expectations allows space and room for people to choose - to agree and disagree without conflict or fighting - maybe to practice something in order to meet a particular need (it's not fair to expect someone to treat you perfectly on the first few tries - everyone needs time to learn. Some need many months.)


As Skippy said above it's about knowing when to leave a relationship that pushes you too far. It's also about learning to live with difficulty and not letting it destroy our peace of mind. That also takes time and learning.


If you choose to let expectation go - you still hold onto boundaries - you just become more responsible for your own feelings - instead of putting the responsibility on others.


Again, this is different if it's an abusive relationship. If you are being hurt physically, threatened by constant screaming or constant name calling or being cheated on - then your ability to express and live by your boundaries is not the issue - you are in danger and need to get out.

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First, I'm sorry to hear about the split. Reading along, it does sound like a healthy choice for the long run. If you don't mind my thoughts on this.


There seemed to be very basic needs that you each have, looking to be met in an intimate relationship, that go directly in opposite directions.

Looking for different things.


Outside here, it seems to me that you were beginning to doubt your own right to have the desires you do for the type of relationship you want. And that isn't good.


Your requests aren't unreasonable. Oh man, you are the type of man I hope to meet at some point to spend my life with, actually! Someone who wants to spend time with me, show me affection all over the place, and can receive that back with sincere appreciation.

In simple terms, I kinda have a the 'country girl dream' of a solid guy who is hands on in my life and me in his, if that makes sense.


Hey, weird as this is, your ex reminded me a lot of my ex. He was absolutely great, but once it truly clicked with me that I wanted in the relationship longterm: Time, Affection, Someone to be my soft place to fall....he was not looking for that, he was not able to give that in the same way.


And, yes, I do see what honeyspur is saying about expectations. But, when something is important to you and you have faced it head on as "this is the path I choose", I do not think it is unreasonable to seek suitable companions. Some companions are just meant to be short term, or for certain aspects of the ride, and that is ok. Not all relationships need to be very long.


I started to doubt myself and that it was okay for me to be the way I am - sometimes we fought, though not often, more often I just 'made do' because he was so fantastic on so many other levels.

Him - he was looking for someone to be the spine, support his endeavors and work (huge priority for him), love him 'for who he is'.


I loved him for who he is, and part of that was walking away. Honest.

I would never feel happy down the road being the one to show up to his work to be his cheerleader, or having him missing essential moments in my life (to me) because of things that helt high importance to him.


Whew, I'm getting a lot off my chest here, I hope it's ok and it speaks to you in some way.


Through this last break-up, this is what I decided about expectations and relationships:

I will choose my expectations with care, and with awareness. My expectations will be grown from my deepest values and needs in life.


I will never again punish myself or another for having differing expectations - but I will be prepared to fight for the expectations that come from my core.


Unfortunately or fortunately, this means a much more selective process in choosing companions.


Great thread! thanks

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