The Difference Between Expectations and Standards in a Relationship

When most people hear the words expectations and standards, they believe they are interchangeable. For the longest time, until about a month ago in therapy, I did too. It wasn’t until it became a topic of discussion in group that I realized that expectations and standards are two different things entirely.

For me, expectations and standards play a huge role in the relationship spectrum. But the lines separating these two were very blurred. Like I said, I believed they were interchangeable. Though very similar for the most part, these two are more different than you might think.

I’ll start off with pretty general definitions and examples of the two.

Expectations entertain certain ideas about how we would like situations to turn out, or how we would like other people to behave. An example of an expectation could be that I expect the person I’m dating to communicate with me every day, throughout the day.

Standards are a set of guidelines or ideas of how you will conduct yourself. For example, I set the standard that I always let a friend know where a first date is taking place so that I have a way home in case the date got uncomfortable. That is a standard I’ve set for myself.

If you and your partner’s expectations and standards match up, then I see nothing but smooth sailing for the two of you. However, if they don’t align, here’s where trouble comes to play.

So far we’ve discussed the differences between expectations and standards. Let’s move onto another important component.

Communication. Communication. Communication.

I can’t stress it enough, communication with your partner is so important. If your expectations aren’t being met and you’re not abiding by your standards, there’s something not going right in your relationship.

Here’s one example of how this could play out: I expect communication throughout the day from my significant other. I’m not saying I need my cellphone going off every five minutes (that can be overwhelming). But I do appreciate the small things like ‘have a great day’ or a simple “I just saw _____, it made me think of you” text. The little things. It takes five seconds and puts the biggest smile on my face. But when I don’t receive those texts like I expect to, I hold it against my significant other, and refuse to reply to their text until I’m good and ready (could possibly be a day later!). But instead of reacting in such a way, I could communicate with my boyfriend and tell him “I really like it when you randomly text me about your day. It shows me that you’re thinking of me.” And just by telling him that, I could find out he wasn’t texting me like I expected him to because he didn’t want to be too overbearing and wanted to give me my space. Problem solved.

However, not every resolution of conflict will be that easy. Here’s another issue with expectations: projecting your expectations onto your other half. Which isn’t always a bad situation, but can easily become one if your expectations are not realistic in any way. Of course, in our mind, our expectations are realistic, because why wouldn’t they be? But expectations are based on how we want others to behave. And as much as we’d like to be, we are not in control of anyone but ourselves. For example, expecting healthy behaviors from an unhealthy person is pointless. Take responsibility for your expectations and be honest with your significant other.

Bring your expectations to their attention. Talk about them. Find out if they have similar expectations of you. Maybe they see nothing wrong with the way they behave. Or what if they’ve noticed their behavior, but don’t have any idea on how to change without help? That is where you come in, and talk about what both of your expectations and standards are. When it comes to standards and expectations in the relationship, communication is the biggest component.

Now, if you’re struggling to adjust your expectations to be more realistic and less demanding of your partner, here are a few tips based on my experience.

Make sure you’re being reasonable

Make sure you are calm when setting standards or expectations. What may seem like a great idea when you’re angry or upset can later seem ridiculous.

Stop using the word ‘should’

In the words of my therapist, “Stop ‘should-ing’ yourself”. This is one of my biggest problems. I always think how someone ‘should’ have handled that situation or how I ‘should’ have done something differently. Stop it. You’re not in control of others, remember. And beating yourself up over something in the past that you think you should’ve done differently is doing NOTHING FOR YOU.

Be aware of other’s perspectives

We all don’t view the world with the same pair of eyes. Realizing this can be a breakthrough for a lot of us allowing us to understand why someone doesn’t have the same expectations as we do.

Open the communication lines

If you’re feeling like your basic needs and wants aren’t being met it’s definitely time for a conversation with your other half. Let them know how you feel, what your expectations are, and ask them what theirs are as well. This can only help you grow into your relationship.

I am a huge supporter of expectations and standards (I’m slowly learning what I want out of life and relationships). Just make sure they are healthy and realistic ones. Expectations are clues as to what we truly want, hope and need in our lives. As human beings we all have the right to want good things and appropriate behavior. We just always have to remind ourselves that they are just expectations, and that we do not/can not control anyone but ourselves.

Have your standards and expectations, just don’t let them spoil the good times.


What is a standard that you have for yourself? Let’s chat in the comments!

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