NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, February 12, 2022

Are You Clinging to Unrealistic Expectations in Your Relationship?

In my previous article, Moving Beyond Blaming Your Parents, I discussed how remaining stuck in a blaming attitude towards your parents about your childhood is counterproductive in the long run to resolving your problems as an adult because it keeps you clinging to your past and, in many circumstances, unrealistic expectations.  In much the same way, clinging to unrealistic expectations in a relationship can keep you stuck and continually disappointed (see my article: Unrealistic Expectations Can Lead to Great Disappointment).

Clinging to Unrealistic Expectations in a Relationship

How Do You Know If Your Expectations of Your Partner Are Unrealistic?
People often tell you, either directly or indirectly, what you can expect of them. Usually the problem is that your wish for things to be different overrides the information you're getting from your partner. If your wish is so strong that you overlook the reality of your situation, you can remain stuck trying to change them even though they can't or won't change (see my article: 10 Reasons Why Trying to Change Your Partner Doesn't Work).

If you're not listening or observing what your partner is communicating, you're doing yourself and your partner a big disservice (see my article: How Do You Know If You're in an Unhealthy Relationship?).

Clinical Vignette: Clinging to Unrealistic Expectations in Your Relationship
The following clinical vignette is a composite of many different cases without any identifying information about any particular clients:

Ella and Jim were both in their mid-30s.  Two months into dating Jim, Ella felt frustrated that he called and texted her once every few days.  She expected him to contact her at least once a day so she felt neglected by him.

When she spoke to Jim about this, he told her that he wanted to keep things between them casual, which disappointed Ella even more.  In addition, he mentioned that he didn't consider them to be in a relationship, and even when he was in a relationship, he didn't like feeling  obligated to contact his partner every day because he was busy and focused primarily on his career and hobbies.  He told her that his partners have never been his priority.

After their talk, Ella felt disappointed.  She talked about this at her next therapy session.  In response, her therapist reminded her that she tended to choose narcissistic men who were self absorbed and that she and Jim wanted different things from each other.  She asked Ella why she remained with Jim if he continually disappointed her.  

Ella responded that she wanted to be in a relationship with Jim, and she was sure she could convince him eventually to spend more time with her.

Knowing Ella's family history and her prior history in other relationships, Ella's therapist pointed out that she was continuing to repeat the same pattern she had with her father.

She reminded Ella that when she was a child, she had the same feeling--if only she could make her father see that she was "good enough," he would pay more attention to her, but that dynamic with her father never changed.  

Two weeks later, Ella came in to therapy looking miserable.  She told her therapist that Jim told her he didn't want to see her anymore because she was "too needy."  She said she tried to convince him that they could work things out, but Jim wasn't interested.

Ella began ruminating about how to get Jim back, but her therapist interrupted her rumination by pointing out to her that even though it was clear that Jim didn't want to see her, Ella felt compelled to change his mind. Her therapist asked Ella to get curious about this.

When Ella calmed down, she conceded that she was obsessing about Jim.  She said that on an intellectual level, she knew he wasn't right for her but, on an emotional level, she felt compelled to get him back--even though he wasn't willing to give her what she wanted. She also conceded that her expectations of Jim were unrealistic.

Prior to her breakup with Jim, Ella refused to work on the childhood issues related to her father's emotional neglect of her.  She only wanted to talk about the present, but two weeks after the breakup, Ella felt ready to work on her traumatic childhood experiences and to integrate what she knew intellectually with what she felt emotionally.  

She realized that, unless she worked on the unresolved trauma, she would continue to be susceptible to falling for other narcissistic men like Jim.  She also knew that, even if she was in a healthy relationship, she might still get triggered whenever she feared her partner might lose interest in her.

Her therapist used Parts Work, which is also known as Ego States work, Internal Family Systems (IFS) and other names.  Parts Work helped Ella to access the child part of her, which contained the unresolved childhood trauma, as well as the adult part, which could serve as a protective, compassionate figure to the child part (see my article: How Parts Work Helps to Empower You). 

Over time, through Parts Work, Ella developed a more psychologically integrated experience with an integration of what she knew intellectually and what she felt emotionally so there was no longer a split.  The adult part of herself was able to soothe the child part so that, gradually, she healed from her childhood trauma.

Getting Help in Therapy
Although clinging to unrealistic expectations in familial or romantic relationships can be painful, many people don't know how to stop because this dynamic is usually a repetition of an unresolved trauma.  

A skilled trauma therapist can help you to work through the unresolved trauma that's impacting you in the present (see my article: What is a Trauma Therapist?).

Once you're free from your traumatic history, you can lead a more fulfilling life.

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

As a trauma therapist, I help clients overcome trauma.

I work with individual adults and couples.

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 or email me.