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Modern dating is hard!
We’re fed so many different messages from the media, Netflix, Instagram—and that’s before our friends start weighing in on the group chat and offering up their opinions.
It can be hard to know what’s “normal,” and a lot of us end up second-guessing how we’re feeling or what we want.
We see “perfect” relationships on social media and can often develop overly high standards or unrealistic expectations of what being with someone actually looks like.
Equally, a lot of us have been hurt in the past and have been told we’re needy—simply for having needs.
So, how do you find a midpoint where your needs are being met, you’re happy, and things feel mutually beneficial and healthy? Read on to find out what’s realistic to expect in a relationship.
1. Regular, consistent communication.
If you’re someone who’s used to dating a lot, this can be a tricky one to get your head around!
Wanting the person you’re with to start conversations, text back within a reasonable amount of time, and text first, is totally normal and reasonable.
This is a realistic expectation to have, but it’s something that a lot of us feel guilty about when we’re dating. We don’t want to seem needy or clingy, and we want to make it clear we have our own life going on and that we’re not just waiting around for the person we like to get in touch.
Whether it’s texting, calls, FaceTime, or just chatting during the day, it’s totally normal to want your partner to check in with you regularly. One of the best parts of a great relationship is being able to talk to each other about your life, things you are excited about, mutual interests, and anything else you want to share!
Being able to really communicate, be honest, and share things with each other is a realistic expectation to have from the person you’re in a relationship with.
Regular communication with your partner is a basic level of respect and shows that they’re thinking of you and care enough to want to talk to you and see how you’re doing. They value how you’re feeling and take it into consideration—they know you’d feel pretty upset if they just ignored you or didn’t actively participate in conversations, and they want to avoid making you feel that way.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you can demand instant replies or excessive calls and attention. In order for this to be a reasonable expectation of a relationship, you also need to accept that they’re a human being with a job, friends, family, and personal issues—they aren’t simply at your beck and call.
2. Quality time together.
Being with someone means really being with them, and spending time together just enjoying each other’s company is one of the loveliest parts of being in a relationship.
In the past, you might have been told by ex-partners that your standards were too high because you were regularly wanting to do nice things together—this isn’t the case!
It’s totally normal to want to be around the person you like or love. This doesn’t need to be anything extreme or expensive, it can be something as simple as sitting on the sofa watching a movie, going for walks, or cooking together.
If you’re long distance, this might be FaceTimes where you eat dinner at the same time or it could be starting a Netflix show together and messaging your thoughts on the plot line as you both watch it.
3. Mutual trust.
Being able to trust your partner, and them being able to trust you, is so important to the longevity and health of a relationship. Without trust, small things can start to become huge problems, and you both end up feeling unhappy—either because you’re paranoid or because you’re being falsely accused of something.
If you’ve been with controlling or narcissistic partners in the past, you might not be used to being trusted. This is okay, it just means it’s something for you to work on together. You might find yourself covering up small things because you’re worried about your partner’s reaction, or you might feel like you need to ask permission for things like seeing friends or spending your own money. Learning to let someone trust you can feel like a big step, but it’s key to a healthy relationship that you can both enjoy.
Equally, you are well within your rights to expect to be able to trust your partner. While your feelings are largely within your control, things like trust need to be earned and respected. That means it’s normal for you to expect your partner to tell you the truth and value your feelings. It’s healthy to want your partner to be open with you, and it’s realistic to have standards regarding how you’re treated.
4. Independence and time alone.
Independence in relationships works both ways, meaning you can each have your own separate lives, interests, and friends.
It’s healthy to want, and have, time to yourself to pursue your own interests—it will probably strengthen your relationship, actually. The more fulfilled and satisfied you both are in your personal lives, the more positive energy you’re bringing to the relationship.
This might mean having separate hobbies, joining different clubs, having some friends that you keep for yourself rather than always hanging out with mutual friends, or going away for weekends without them.
This is a balance you can figure out between the two of you, as we all have different visions of what independence looks like. For some people, going abroad for a week without their partner would be fine; for others, even a few nights apart is triggering.
Communication is key here, and it will help you both navigate this realistic expectation and find a midpoint that works for you both.
Equally, your partner is completely valid in wanting to have some aspects of their life for themselves, too. It can sometimes feel like they’re avoiding you, especially if you’ve experienced codependent relationships in the past.
Remember that it’s not necessarily that you don’t want to spend time together, but that you do want to spend time apart. It’s a subtle difference in wording, but it’s a great way to reframe this if you’re feeling a bit insecure or worried about it.
5. Commitment, respect, and loyalty.
This one’s a no-brainer, but it’s something that a lot of people can feel uncomfortable asking for. If this is you, don’t worry—you’re not being demanding or needy, you’re not asking for more than you deserve, and you don’t have standards that are too high! It’s realistic to expect someone you’re with to respect the exclusivity of your relationship.
What that means is up to you both to figure out together. Is staying friends with an ex okay? What does liking an Instagram photo actually mean? What counts as flirting? These are questions that most people will have pretty clear-cut answers to, but it’s reasonable to communicate your expectations around this and have those needs met.
You must respect each other in order to have a healthy, functioning relationship. That means setting—and honoring—boundaries, and understanding the importance of them.
The more compassionate you can be toward each other’s needs, and the more you can also advocate for your own needs, the better your relationship will be overall.
It’s healthy to assume a level of respect with your partner, and to call it out if you feel as though this is slipping or being neglected. Equally, you can expect your partner to bring it up with you if they feel as though you’re not respecting their needs.
This one kind of links to all the aspects of a healthy relationship, but it’s worth considering as a separate point because it’s such a biggie!
Again, if you’ve been in unhealthy relationships in the past, it might feel like you’re asking for a lot by wanting honest communication. Spoiler alert: you’re definitely not.
Life wouldn’t really work if we all lied to each other or kept secrets—no relationship, whether familial, friendly, or romantic, would survive that for very long. Remind yourself of this if you start feeling like you’ve got high standards—this is the bare minimum and is 100% something you can expect and ask for.
You’re choosing to spend your time and energy with someone that you care about, and honesty is the least you deserve in return. Remember that this works both ways, and you also need to check in with yourself and ensure you’re being as open as possible.
If things feel like they’re starting to slide or you can feel yourself starting to hide things, it’s worth delving into why that might be. Equally, if you feel like your partner is starting to lie to you or keep things from you, you’re allowed to question this.
Of course, don’t attack them and start accusing them of things, but bring it up in a neutral way that gives them space to explain—there’s likely a simple, innocent reason behind it. Either way, you’re still within your rights to expect honesty within your partnership.
7. Mutual sexual interest (or mutual lack of).
Sex can be a tricky topic, but it’s something that a lot of us would really benefit from being more honest about! If you or your partner, or both of you, are openly asexual or abstaining from sex, this section is still relevant.
If you both have a sex drive, it’s reasonable to think that you’ll have sex with each other. The regularity of it is something that will hugely vary between both individuals and couples, and it is something that you can work out as you get to know each other.
You may have both realized your sex drives matched when you first met, in which case this will be a lot easier to navigate and, as such, your expectations of regular sex are likely pretty realistic.
If you have mismatched sex drives, you can work on this together and ensure you’re both comfortable with your sex lives. A lot of relationships involve a level of sexual activity—although, this will fluctuate over the years for a huge range of reasons. So, if you’re expecting to have sex with your partner, this is reasonable.
Remember that you both need to figure out boundaries and remain respectful at all times. That means you don’t need to feel guilty or embarrassed if you don’t want to have sex when your partner does, and it also means you can’t pressure or guilt-trip your partner into sleeping with you if they don’t want to.
If you’re asexual or choosing not to have sex, it’s 100% reasonable to want this to be respected. This may be something you bring up once you get to know your partner better, or it might be something you’ve been open about from the beginning. Either way, it deserves to be respected and is something you can navigate as a couple.
8. Friendship and kindness.
A lot of people talk about their partner being their best friend—if this isn’t something you’ve experienced before, it can seem pretty obscure or foreign. You might be wondering if it’s just something people say or is simply the Instagram version of their relationship rather than reality!
However, a level of friendship is crucial to a healthy partnership, and it is something pretty much everyone will expect, so your standards aren’t high if you’re looking for this.
It’s very normal to want to be with a partner who you enjoy spending time with—someone who you can share things with, have fun with, confide in, and go to for support. Relationships are essentially friendships with some extra bits added in, so this foundation is really important, and you’re not expecting too much by wanting it.
You might not be best friends, and there’s always going to be a difference between your “friendship” with your boyfriend versus with the girls (or vice versa), but it’s a great starting point either way, and definitely something you should aim for and expect!
9. Disagreeing on some things.
So, we’ve run through a number of things that you can realistically want in your relationship—but what about the bits that you should expect that might not necessarily be what you want?
Well, you can definitely expect to disagree on some things! It’s unrealistic to expect that you and your partner will agree on everything or have the exact same opinion about things all the time. You’re both individual human beings—just because you’re attracted to each other, doesn’t mean you need to have the same viewpoint on literally everything!
For a lot of people who are quite insecure or new to dating/relationships, it can feel really concerning when you first have a disagreement or argument with your partner. You might worry that it means you’re not a good match or that things are always going to be difficult. This is a common reaction to have, but it’s worth remembering that this is a totally normal thing to experience in a relationship.
Think about your close family and friends—you love and respect each other even though you have some differing opinions. The same goes for romantic relationships.
10. Having opposite-sex friends.
Again, this is something that’s common in relationships, but it can feel uncomfortable at first, especially if you’re not used to it or have had bad experiences in the past.
Remember that most people have friends that they’re not attracted to—otherwise, nobody would have friends, they’d all just have partners! This is something that you can talk about with your partner to ensure you both feel comfortable.
They might be nervous about you having friends of the opposite sex because they’ve had a bad experience in the past. You can work together to build up trust and respect, and prove over time that there’s nothing to worry about.
Either way, this is something that is helpful to bear in mind entering into any relationship, as it tends to be a common sticking point for a lot of people.
11. Having to make some compromises/sacrifices.
It’s perfectly reasonable to expect your partner to make some sacrifices in the relationship, and for them to want the same thing back.
You might not be used to this kind of dynamic, whether that’s because you’ve always been the one making all the sacrifices and there’s been a power imbalance, or because your partner has always been the one to do it in previous relationships. Either way, it can take a little while to adjust to, and you both need to actively participate in making it work.
That means having open, honest conversations about what you both need and want from the relationship and from each other. That might mean that you can’t always do what you want, but that it’s for the overall, longer-term benefits of the relationship. Equally, your partner should expect to have to make some adjustments to their lifestyle, too.
You can both stick to your principles and values, but you should be willing to make some lifestyle adjustments. Some changes may include drinking with other friends less in favor of actually spending time together, or both cutting back on luxuries in order to save money for a place you can live in together.
The compromises should be ones that bring you closer together and are an investment in the relationship, not a form of manipulation, control, or punishment. You’re both working toward the same thing, so it only makes sense that you make fair, reasonable contributions to building up a healthy, sustainable relationship together.
12. Finding other people attractive.
One of the things that panics a lot of people when they first get into a relationship is the fact that they still find other people attractive. Equally, it can be surprising if your partner looks at someone else, even if only for a second.
We’re taught that being in the perfect relationship means we only have eyes for each other; that we exist in our own bubble and any thoughts or feelings for anyone else will vanish and never resurface.
It’s reasonable to expect that you will find other people attractive—you might not be attracted to them in the sense that you want to act on it, but you can still appreciate that they’re good looking. Your partner deserves the same courtesy.
This doesn’t mean that it’s acceptable to be inappropriate or act on any attraction, but it does mean that you both allow each other to be human beings.
13. Things won’t be perfect.
This is a big one, so we’ve decided to end on it—it’s totally normal for things to not be 100% perfect all the time! You are both human beings with your own lives and experiences and emotions, so nothing is ever going to be the way it seems in the movies.
The more you get to know each other, the more you’ll realize that there are some things about them that annoy you—again, this is normal. No one person can fulfil all your needs or meet all your standards. What is realistic, however, is to expect the other person to continue making the effort and for you to do your best, too.
When two people want to be together, they both need to actively participate in the relationship in order for it to work. That means accepting that things won’t always be amazing and that you may disagree, argue, get annoyed with each other, and need space to cool off. It’s important to continue communicating honestly to make it through any tough spots, and it will be worth it in the end if you both stick at it!
Still not sure whether your expectations are healthy and realistic? It’s not an easy situation to be in, and it might be all the more difficult if you don’t have anyone to talk to about it. Talking to someone is a great way to get your thoughts and your worries out of your head so you can work through them.
Speak to an experienced relationship expert about it. Why? Because they are trained to help people in situations like yours. They can listen to you and offer tailored advice to help you figure out whether you are expecting too much or too little from your partner and your relationship.
Relationship Hero is a website where you can connect with a relationship counselor via phone, video, or instant message.
While you can try to work through any unrealistic expectations yourself, it may be a bigger issue than self-help can fix. And if it is affecting your relationship and mental well-being, it is a significant thing that needs to be resolved.
Too many people – both couples and individuals – try to muddle through and do their best to solve problems that they never really get to grips with. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, speaking to a relationship expert is 100% the best way forward.
Click here if you’d like to learn more about the service Relationship Hero provide and the process of getting started.
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