Couples Therapy: Managing Expectations in a Relationship

A couple hugging each other and a therapist taking notes with the phrase "Couples Therapy: Managing Expectations in a Relationship"
Couples Therapy: Managing Expectations in a Relationship

Often long before we begin a romantic relationship, we form ideas and expectations about what love is.  These ideas about love not only define the way we relate to others in a relationship, they also in many ways dictate to us how we expect to be loved by the other person. In short, the way we were taught about love in our youth has a massive influence on how we both express love in a romantic relationship and how we expect love to be expressed back to us.

What is Love? Well, that depends …

In some couples, love is defined in a similar way by both members of the relationship.  This generally reduces conflict because when both partners show and expect to receive love in a way that feels natural to them both, there is an enduring feeling among both members of the couple that they are “in love”. 

However, in many couples, love is defined differently in the hearts and minds of each partner.  The partners may be in love with each other, however, they instinctively express that love and expect it to be expressed back to them in different ways to each other.  Because the partners aren’t receiving the form of love that they are expecting from each other, they may feel ignored or unloved.  This feeling may persist even as their partner is trying hard to express love in the way they understand it.

Case Study

Sarah and Marcus both work busy jobs during the week and spend a lot of time away from each other Monday through Friday.  Sarah is in love with Marcus and thinks about him a lot.  So during the day she sends little “love” messages to his phone and expects that he will express his love in a similar way by initiating these love messages and responding back to each one warmly.  He almost never initiates the message though and he often waits hours to respond back.

At the same time, Marcus loves Sarah and thinks about her all the time.  As he travels for work a lot, often buys her well-thought-out gifts from his travels.  On other occasions, he’ll send flowers or simply show up on the weekend with both a gift and a bouquet.  When his birthday comes around he expects Sarah to show how much she knows about him by giving a well-thought-out gift. She almost never gives him any gift though, opting instead for a nice card with a heartfelt message.

“… in many couples, love is defined differently in the hearts and minds of each partner.” 

Sarah spends much of her day wondering if she loves Marcus more than he loves her. She asks herself, “Why does he never send me messages first?  Why does it take so long for him to respond back?”. She is adamant that her love can’t be bought and often tells him that he doesn’t need to shower her with gifts and roses. She feels obligated to buy him gifts too and feels very superficial when she does this.

Marcus spends much of his day wondering if Sarah really cares about him as deeply as he cares about her.  He asks himself, “I know her well enough to get her things that I know she would like.  How can it be that she doesn’t take the time to get me a thoughtful gift when my birthday or the holidays comes around?”  He feels that her peppering him with messages is superficial and not very practical given how busy they are. He feels obligated to respond back quickly and initiate similar messages to her.

Sarah and Marcus are both in love with each other but are expressing it in ways that are not mutually appreciated.  As individuals, they are beginning to doubt the other person loves them as much and they interpret the efforts made by the other person as being not as profound as their own efforts.

Understanding Yourself and Understanding Each Other

The first step to understanding how love works in your relationship is to pause and look at the way love works within you as an individual.  When we know how we most naturally give and receive love, we can use that knowledge to better express our expectations and give deeper meaning to ways we choose to express love.

By articulating to your partner how you prefer to give and receive love you open the door to them sharing their preferences.  This conversation, when done with an open heart and open mind can work wonders for a relationship.  By talking it through, as would be the case in couples therapy, we heal the misunderstandings that come from having different ways to give and receive love.

Couples Therapy Helps

Oftentimes, we find it difficult to make the conversion from intending to have a profound conversation about our relationships to actually sitting down and beginning to discuss. It is far easier sometimes to accept the status quo and simply say “I think I love her more than she loves me”.  When we do that though, we miss out on the perspective of the other person and therefore do not have a complete picture of the situation. Couples therapy can change this.

Working with a licensed psychotherapist to start a series of couple therapy sessions can be a great way to begin this conversation.  The sessions can begin individually or as a couple, with the first goal being to understand the way you love and expect to be loved as individuals.  Once that is established, as a secondary step, as a couple you can explore the intersections between your different expressions of love.  The psychotherapist acts as a coach to guide the conversation and help foster the communication, understanding and healing that makes romantic relationships stronger.

Alina Sosa-Perez, Psychotherapist

Alina Sosa-Perez has many years of experience providing psychotherapy, including couples therapy, services for people of all ages, ranging from young adults in their 20s to older adults. She has been trained in several therapeutic techniques, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, solution-focused therapy, positive psychology, mind/body, and more.

She can work with you on an individual level to identify family dynamics or other factors that have contributed to conflict in your personal and work relationships. She also offers couples therapy to help you and your partner work together toward having a more harmonious relationship. With her help, you can gain meaningful insight and the ability to experience real intimacy with those you love.

She provides a safe and supportive environment to work through difficult issues. She focuses on helping you heal your relationships and achieve more satisfaction with all aspects of your life. She understands your desire to resolve the problems expeditiously and will help you achieve your therapy goals as quickly as possible. Contact her with a brief message, or book a free 15-minute consultation.