4 Steps to Overcome Harmful, Unhealthy Expectations in Relationships

Higher Self Yoga Editors
February 20, 2024
playful couple in healthy relationship

Whether you are looking to grow spiritually or in your personal life, you’ll likely need to take an honest look at how expectations influence your relationships.

To establish a closer connection with your Higher Self, your heart cannot be clouded by desires or expectations. In the same way, relationships cannot thrive under these conditions either.

In a 2017 study conducted on expectations in dating relationships, psychologists Sarah Vannier and Lucia O'Sullivan found that “unmet ideal expectations were inversely associated with all aspects of relationship health—satisfaction, investment, perception of quality alternatives, and commitment.”

All in all, unhealthy expectations were directly correlated with lower levels of satisfaction in realtionships and indirectly correlated with commitment.

Avoidance, dejection, resentment, these are all byproducts of unhealthy expectations in any kind of relationship. And while your intentions may be good—you just want the best for or from those you love—you might have begun to sense these kinds of changes in your loved one’s energy.

But, if you’re reading this, you’ve likely taken the first step towards awareness of self. A step that you should take a moment to appreciate. Self-awareness isn’t easy but it is a sign you’re on the right path.

Here are some tips to guide you on your journey.

1. Start by Identifying Your Unhealthy Expectations

Expectations are a normal and necessary part of functioning in society.

They become problematic when you have unrealistic expectations; when you have too many expectations towards one person; when you have too many expectations for too many people; when you don’t express gratitude regularly when someone fulfills an expectation; when you don’t communicate your expectations; when you don’t respect boundaries; when you impose your standards on another person; when you react harshly when someone fails to meet your expectations.

The first step to identifying any unhealthy behavior is training your attention. Look for patterns in your behavior and in your thinking, changes in those around you, and environmental energy. With time, noticing the subtleties around unhealthy expectations will become second nature.


2. Learn to Neutralize Your High Expectations

The goal is to not repress unhealthy expectations, but to neutralize them. This is a subtle but important difference.

A feeling or belief does not go away just because you bury it or deny its existence. It still remains, taking up space and weighing down the body and the spirit.

To neutralize an unhealthy presence, you have to face it. You have to be open to change and do the work in order to truly unburden yourself.

This work starts by 1) soliciting hard truths and then 2) using those truths to make tangible changes in your everyday life.

3. Seek Truth and Clarity from Your Higher Self

The insight you need to break these unhealthy patterns and move forward lies within your Higher Self.

Here's one effective way to access this knowledge.

Name the person that bears the most weight of your expectations. Make a list of all of the unhealthy expectations you have of them. Starting with the most problematic one first, connect with your Higher Self and ask:

- How long have I had this expectation?

- What is its origin?

- Do I want to let it go? If the answer is yes, ask the Higher Self to give you a process and a first step to do this. If the answer is no, ask the Higher Self why you need to hold on to it, and then ask for help in order to overcome this.

- When I am feeling this expectation, how can I immediately recognize the feeling?

- What is the best way for me to release the feeling?

- In general, if I am meeting someone with whom I have this expectation, how can I best prepare myself before this meeting?

Repeat this exercise for every item on your list. Once that is complete, consider another person that holds many of your expectations and start this process again. This may be a task that takes weeks, months, or even years. Take as much time as you need to process the information and feelings that surface as you move forward. Acknowledge that slow but steady progress is still just that—progress.

harmful unhealthy expectation relationship higher self

Once you've identified the harmful expectations, it's time to have an open, honest conversation.

4. Take Action

After taking the time to commune with your Higher Self, you’ll have a little more insight into the heart of these expectations and then the motivation you need to take action.

Here are some practical steps you can take to improve your relationship with expectations.

- Make sure you’re on the same page

The problem may be that the person doesn’t know what your expectations are. Or you may be of the opinion that they should know what they are without having to tell them. Consider that everyone has different backgrounds, communication styles, and perceptions. It is your responsibility to communicate clearly what you want and what you expect.

- Examine how you’re asking

If the bulk of your expectations center around the expectation of assistance, question if you are truly asking for help? Or are you demanding help in the form of a question?

Practice reframing these demands as hope. Instead, if you simply hope that someone will follow through on something, or you hope that ask will be completed, or you hope for help to be offered, the energy is different. Learn to accept “nos” gracefully.

- Lean on others in your life

If you have realized that your expectations for emotional or practical support (favors, errands, etc.) are directed primarily towards one person, make a conscious effort to lean on others in your life and/or determine if it something you could handle yourself. Do you have the means to hire a professional? Is there someone else in your friend group you can reach out to? If not, this may be a sign that you should invest energy into expanding your social network.

- Acknowledge the autonomy of others

When you have standards around the accomplishments of someone else, consider that the reason they may not be living up to your expectations is that their goals for themselves may be different than yours.

If someone else’s path is different than the one you would like to see them on, acknowledge the fact that their path is theirs to set. If their path is the same, acknowledge that their success is theirs to manage.

- Give more

The resentment and negativity you may feel from others around expectations may be due to an imbalance in the relationship. Be mindful of the amount you are asking versus the amount you are receiving. There, of course, will be times when you don’t have much to give, and that’s okay. Just be sure to look for opportunities to give as much as you can, when you can, honestly, and without the expectation of reciprocity.

- Examine your reactions

Reflect on your reactions to different scenarios where expectations are commonly involved. Do you express gratitude when someone agrees to help you? Do you get angry if they can’t? Are you congratulatory or appreciative when someone lives up to your expectations? What if they don’t?

If someone doesn’t meet your expectations, take the time to really try to examine why. If it’s a practical reason, could there be a solution to prevent the same issue from happening in the future? Either way, try to practice compassion; acknowledge that everyone has had moments where they have dropped the ball. Think about the times where someone has shown you grace when you might not have deserved it. Think about your attitude and relationship with that person versus one that reacted with harshness when you made a mistake. Strive to be the person you need in moments where you fall short.

- Consult a professional

Patterns of behavior are built over years and they may take time and work to understand and correct. These patterns may have carved a groove so deep that they require the guidance of a professional. If you’re struggling to make the practical changes that your heart wants, consult a therapist or spiritual mentor for help.


Next Steps

Those that have incredibly high expectations of others often have incredibly high expectations of themselves.

It is important to examine the expectations we hold for ourselves. Name them. Honestly evaluate whether or not they are reasonable and healthy. And start the process all over again.

This is a difficult journey, but an impactful one. You’ll be surprised by how many challenges around your relationships and self-esteem stem from unhealthy expectations—and, as a result, how much peace will emerge from doing the work.

For a deeper dive into the process of letting go of unhealthy expectations, check out Chapter 22 of Higher Self Yoga, Book I.