Do you always say the perfect thing?
Do you never make mistakes?
Having high expectations is fine — but having impossible expectations is problematic.
See if you can find where the line is.
Related: How Hollywood Gets Love Wrong
2. Separate what you’ve been told “should” matter from what actually does matter, to you.
Take another look at your list of expectations. For every item, ask yourself: Is this actually something that matters to me? For example, does it really matter if your partner wears certain clothes, says certain things, or eats certain foods? Maybe you really love trying new restaurants, so it really matters to you that you regularly go out to eat.
No need to judge yourself — everybody is different. Just identify your truth, and cross out the rest.
When I did this exercise, I realized that I don’t actually like getting cut flowers (because they just die). I’m not really into being serenaded (because I’m shy), and I don’t like material gifts (because I prefer that money be spent on experiences). That helped me let go of a few items on my list.
3. Separate your wants from your needs.
Now look at whatever items are still left on your list. Circle the items that are needs (versus wants). A need is something that fulfills you at a deep level.
A need, if unmet, fundamentally affects the quality of your life. For example, maybe you don’t need your partner to buy you flowers, but you do need to feel surprised every now and then.
Or maybe you don’t need your partner to guess what you want, but you need to feel heard when you say what you want. It can be hard to figure out the underlying need behind many of our expectations, so take some time here. Once you’re done, use this shortlist of core needs to guide what you pursue and expect from life.
Once I started disentangling my needs from the expectations that media had created for me, I slowly but surely started pulling myself out of the romantic comedy trap.
By figuring out what generates happiness for me and letting the rest go, I was able to focus on and get a lot more of what actually makes me happy in my relationship — things like seeing love in his eyes when he looks at me, getting extra hugs when I’m sad, and creating experiences that I can remember for a lifetime.
No relationship is perfect, but resisting the influence of romantic comedies enabled me to create happier moments and appreciate my relationship a lot more.
It worked, because happiness comes from pursuing what makes you happy, not pursuing what media or anyone else says should make you happy.
Haferkamp, C. J. (1999). Beliefs about relationships in relation to television viewing, soap opera viewing, and self-monitoring. Current Psychology, 18(2), 193-204. Shapiro, J., & Kroeger, L. (1991). Is life just a romantic novel? The relationship between attitudes about intimate relationships and the popular media. American Journal of Family Therapy, 19(3), 226-236. Holmes, B. M. (2007). In search of my “one and only”: Romance-oriented media and beliefs in romantic relationship destiny. Electronic Journal of Communication, 17(3), 1-23. Johnson, K. R., & Holmes, B. M. (2009). Contradictory messages: A content analysis of Hollywood-produced romantic comedy feature films. Communication Quarterly, 57(3), 352-373.
Written by Tchiki Davis, Ph.D. Originally published by The Greater Good Science Center.