NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Expectations in Relationships: Are You Dating or Are You in a Relationship? How to Avoid Misunderstandings

Are you on the same wavelength as the person that you're seeing?

Here are a couple of fictionalized scenarios that are all too common:

Mary and Jim
Mary and Jim are both in their late 20s. They've been seeing each other for about three months. They both enjoy each other's company, they have similar values, and the sex is great. They see each other a few times a week, talk at least once a day on the phone, and text each other frequently throughout the day. When Mary is not with Jim, she is often thinking about him. She daydreams about the next time that they'll see each other and her thoughts often go far into the future, picturing a beautiful wedding, three children, and a big house in the country. She thinks he would be the perfect husband and father.

Are You Dating or in a Relationship?

When Mary's friend invites her to a birthday party and tells her that she can bring a guest, Mary invites Jim. Mary has been telling her friends about Jim for a few months now, and she is looking forward to their finally meeting Jim. 

When Mary and Jim arrive at the party, she introduces Jim to her friends as her boyfriend. Her friends like Jim immediately and they seem happy for Mary. But Jim seems unusually quiet to Mary. On the drive home, Mary asks Jim if something is bothering him. Jim hesitates at first, and then he pulls the car over and faces Mary with a pained look on his face. He tells her that he was surprised to hear Mary introduce him to her friends as her "boyfriend" because they've never talked about being in a relationship or that they were even exclusive with one another.

Mary is shocked to hear Jim say this, but allows him to continue, fighting back tears. Jim hesitates for a moment and then tells Mary that he ran into his ex a few days ago and they talked about getting back together again. He would like to give it a chance, and he was waiting for the right moment to tell Mary that he can't see her any more because he wants to return to his former relationship. He didn't want to tell her before the party because he thought it would ruin things for her, but now he realizes that he should have brought it up right away. He apologizes for any misunderstanding and tells her that he never meant to hurt her. In his mind, he tells her, he thought they were dating--not in a relationship. Mary is very disappointed, hurt, upset, and humiliated. She can't understand how this could have happened.

Belinda and Martin
Belinda and Martin are both in their 50s, and divorced from their former spouses for a few years. They met online originally and have been seeing each other for six months. Each of them has a successfully career, grown children, and own their own homes. They enjoy each other's company and spend time together during the week and on the weekends. 

Are You Dating or in a Relationship?

While they're away on a much-anticipated romantic vacation in the Caribbean, Martin makes reservations at one of his favorite restaurants. He calls ahead to make sure that everything is going to be "just right." Just as he anticipated, Belinda loves the restaurant. The food is great. The wine is perfect. And they're having a great time. All through dinner, Martin is fingering the small black box in his jacket pocket, waiting for just the right moment.

When Belinda leans over to kiss him, he decides that this is the moment. He takes out the box, opens it and shows Belinda a beautiful diamond engagement ring. He misses being married and, even though his prior marriage did not work out, he has always known that he wanted to get married again. Martin is about to propose to Belinda when, to his dismay, he sees that she looks bewildered and very uncomfortable. 

All the words that he planned to say go out of his head, his face turns red, and he is speechless. Belinda takes his hand and stammers out an apology, saying that she cares about him very much, she hopes she has not hurt him, but she doesn't want to ever get married again, and all along she considered them to be dating and not in a serious relationship. Jim's mind is reeling, and all he can think is, "How can this be?"

What Are Your Expectations and Are They the Same as the Person You're Seeing?
It's not unusual for two people who are seeing each other to have different expectations of what they want and how they see themselves together. Everyone has different experiences, needs, hopes and wishes. 

Hopefully, if you're seeing someone, you and that person have a common understanding about each of your expectations and perceptions of what you are to each other. But if the two of you have not communicated this to each other, there could be misunderstandings as there were in the two fictionalized scenarios presented above.

It takes a while for two people to get to know each other. During the early romantic phase of seeing each other (before the first year or so), your own hopes, needs, wants, and expectations can cloud your understanding in terms of really getting to know the other person, whether he or she is right for you, what the other person wants and if it's the same as what you think you want from him or her. 

Communicating with each other after the first few months or so is very important. It doesn't have to be such a serious, weighty conversation, but you do need to talk. You'll want to know if the other person sees the two of you as being compatible, is he or she seeing anyone else, how the other person feels about relationships in general, and if you're both on the same page as to where you each think things might be headed for the two of you. 

If you find out, for instance, that the person you're seeing would only consider being in a serious relationship with someone from his or her own faith and you're not of that faith, you have some decisions to make. 

Or, if you find out that the person you're seeing wants to date other people as well and you're not in agreement with this, you have decisions to make. And if you know that you want to get married eventually (and maybe you don't know yet if this means marrying this particular person) and the other person has ruled out marriage completely, once again, you have decisions to make. And if it's clear that you're not compatible, for whatever reason, don't hang on hoping that you're going to change the person that you're seeing. This is a big mistake and the source of much confusion and disappointment.

Dating is Very Different From Being in a Relationship:
It doesn't matter if you're heterosexual, gay, or bisexual--dating is very different from being in a relationship, even if the two of you have a mutual understanding that you are dating each other exclusively. 

It takes time to get to know each other in all different situations and circumstances. If you define what you have together as being "a relationship" with all the expectations that go with being in a relationship, even if you both agree that this is how you see things, you might find yourself disappointed when he or she does not live up to your expectations. 

Dating, even if you're exclusive with each other, provides an understanding that you're still getting to know each other without some of the pressures that defining yourselves as being in a relationship will bring. When you're dating, it's understood that you're getting to know each other over time. After you get to know each other, then you can evaluate whether you're compatible and if you want to take it to the next step of calling it "a relationship." There's time and room for the "getting to know you" phase if you date for a year or so (this is an approximation--there is no hard and fast rule about the amount of time) rather than rushing into calling it a relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, and Somatic Experiencing therapist.  

I work with individual adults and couples.  I have helped many people, both individually and in couples, to overcome problems in their relationships.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.