Do You Expect Too Much From A Potential Partner?

woman expecting too much from her partner

I’ve written about Eli Finkel before. He’s a researcher at Northwestern and a man after my own heart. He looks for the signal behind the noise – and when it comes to dating and relationship advice, there sure is a lot of noise. His latest study suggests something you could probably have guessed yourself:

“The earth is not going to move every time a couple has sex; not every interaction is going to be a Hallmark moment.”

“Americans today are increasingly – and perhaps unrealistically – asking their marriages to fulfill higher-level psychological needs, such as those related to personal growth and self-realization. So, it’s not so much that we’re asking too much of our spouses, we may just be asking for the wrong things.”

Another of my favorite relationship researchers, Stephanie Coontz, echoed the point, saying, “Higher expectations can lead to greater disappointments, and they require people to keep their relationship fresh in ways that people didn’t used to feel required to do. The earth is not going to move every time a couple has sex; not every interaction is going to be a Hallmark moment.”

You should look for things in your relationship that you can’t get anywhere else.

This is why I’m critical of the “Eat, Pray, Love” model of finding one man who is your divine soulmate, heaven sent to inspire you, be your champion and fulfill your every need. It’s not realistic, when you both have jobs, kids, friends, families and outside interests.

In my opinion, you should look for things in your relationship that you can’t get anywhere else. If I like football and I have friends who like football, I don’t need my wife to like football, you see? If I like discussing liberal politics and I have friends who like discussing liberal politics, I don’t need my wife to be liberal. If I’m intellectually challenged by my work, I don’t need my wife to intellectually challenge me at home. (That doesn’t mean she’s not smart – I’m talking about how little time you have for intellectual debate when you’re raising two kids). What we all need from our partners is support, sex, understanding, patience, compassion, loyalty, and unconditional love.

Everything else is a bonus.

Your thoughts, below, are appreciated.

Join our conversation (28 Comments).
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  1. 1

    Agree on all points. Keeping expectations reasonable, and settling in general, has made me happy. A good question everyone should ask themselves is: “If my potential partner had the same expectations of a marriage that I have, could I meet those expectations?”

  2. 2

    Could not agree more. I am guilty of this – as charged. I have to do reality check with myself every now and then, to stop and appreciate the qualities my boyfriend has to offer. It’s soooo easy to get seduced by the idea that one guy WILL be “all that ” (smart, tall, successful, kind, sexy, etc… Insert your list of everything you’ve ever dreamed of). Even wrote numerous articles on this – but the subject itself does not get old.

  3. 3
    Karmic Equation

    I agree with you Chance.

    Except I hate the word “settling”. I don’t think you settled. You traded off.

    I like hot-blooded, so that means I’m going to get hot-headed too, more often than not. I’m laid back, so hot headed is ok. I remain calm in the line of fire. Other women who’re hot headed might not do so well with another hot head. So they need to trade off for laid back, which may (or may not) mean a little less hot blooded in bed, but perhaps more calculated (not a bad thing, btw 😉 )

    I like very handsome guys, that means girls, waitresses, women waiting in the check out lines are going to flirt with him. If I can’t handle that, then I shouldn’t date “very handsome”, I need to date “sorta plain”. So what is more important to me, a man who doesn’t inspire other women to flirt with him or a man who does? Which can my temperament handle? If I get jealous or feel insecure, then I’d better not be dating very handsome. But if I’m not attracted to “sorta plain” then maybe I need to learn to manage my jealousy and insecurity.

    If we think about what we makes us happy in the context of tradeoffs, it is so much easier to find someone, because you’re NOT settling. You’re proactively deciding which qualities are MORE important to you than other qualities. Thinking in terms of “settling” engages your emotional mindset. Thinking in terms of “tradeoffs” engages your logical mindset and thus helping ensure reasonableness, imo.

    1. 3.1
      Karl S

      Do hot blooded, very handsome men make for good long term and committed partners? Evan’s usual advice involves going for less chemistry, and more character. You kind of sound like you’re doing the opposite. Very handsome (chemistry) and hot blooded (chemistry). I mean, Hugh Jackman is a very handsome and a committed man, but he’s a human Labrador and as laid back as they get.

    2. 3.2

      Good points, KE. You are right – trade offs is the more accurate term. I’ve just never had a problem using the term “settling” in a way that many people have a problem with it because I don’t believe that I’m automatically entitled to, or deserve, anything. I think we could all help ourselves by changing the “settling” narrative around and look at it from the standpoint of how much do other people have to settle for us. That way of thinking has inspired me to work more on myself in order to attract better partners. As a result, I haven’t really had to worry if I “settled” anyway because I’m happy with who I am with, so it’s easy for me to use the term liberally to describe trade-offs or keeping expectations reasonable. Know what I mean?

  4. 4

    I agree with all points. its really nice and valuable. excellent article and great suggestion too.

  5. 5
    Karmic Equation

    @Karl S

    “Do hot blooded, very handsome men make for good long term and committed partners?”

    That’s what you call a loaded question, Karl S. lol.

    In my youth and through my marriage and even after, I had long-term committed partners. Those relationships ended. I ended them (after 4 years, after 11 years, after 6 years — all past the “honeymoon” period btw). I would say my first relationship was with a 6 and the other two were with 8/9’s in looks. Compatibility was probably 7,7,9, respectively. My ex-husband was the only “cold” blooded guy of the bunch. And even though I had the longest (and most compatible; we fought probably 7 times in the 11 years) relationship with him, I was the least happy with him. Character-wise, I would say they were 9,7,8 — and this rating is based on what I “didn’t like” but accepted. The higher the number the fewer the qualities/behaviors/character-issues I would have loved to change, if I were the kind that required her man to change, which I’m not.

    So what do all those numbers mean? Good character is not mutually exclusive with good looks or chemistry. Good looking men are capable of committing, if they find the right woman, who can accept their flaws (or “quirks” as another poster on another thread had stated). My 9 was totally car-crazy. Ate, lived, and talked cars. I spent a night watching him swap engines from two Cordobas. The 7 was too money-centric, hated to have convos about the abstract or conceptual ideas, was a very ungracious gift-receiver. The 8 liked to drink too much and had a tendency to think with his heart instead of his head. Perhaps what I consider “quirks” other women would consider deal-breakers. And therein lies the rub, doesn’t it?

    But notice that none of those quirks had to do with how he treated me. They all treated me well…until they lapsed and started taking me for granted…and assuming that I was too vested in the relationship to leave them if they fell off the “treating me well” wagon. They were all wrong. I would say I stayed in my 11-year relationship much longer past its due date because I was married. Had I not been married to him, I probably would have ended the relationship around year 8.


    Yes, I do. I agree that people need to take inventory of their own flaws so they understand what their partner has to deal with. And if it’s a flaw they wouldn’t accept in a partner, then they need to do as you and I have done, change for the better.

    1. 5.1

      Karmic equation, if they started treating you badly or lapsed as you put it, I would argue their character is not as high as you see fit to rate it…

      1. 5.1.1
        Karmic Equation

        The “not treating me well” was taking me for granted. They didn’t cheat or beat me up or anything remotely close to that. I can’t even say they neglected me. They stopped caring about doing the little things that mattered in a relationship and took both me AND the relationship for granted. They stopped putting in the effort to maintain a strong relationship.

        They stopped loving me the way I wanted to be loved. Maybe I was guilty of the same.

        I don’t think it was bad character on my part, so I can’t say it was bad character on their part. Both my exhusband and my bf of 6yrs wanted me to reconsider, so they weren’t purposely neglectful so that I’d end the relationship. And I did give them both chances to fix things, but they would try for a few months and then stop. They got complacent or lazy or both or neither. It didn’t matter why. I didn’t like how I felt as a result. So I ended things.

        1. Jessica

          Evan, will you weigh in on this? How can anyone be sure this doesn’t happen to time? Karmic, it seems like you had all these ideal relationships that just somehow the guys stopped putting in effort and maybe or maybe not you did too. Three times? I dunno it’s just if you had all these great guys why didn’t it work out?

        2. Karmic Equation

          I had *good* relationships with *good* guys who loved me. I never expected *great* relationships with *great* guys. I would never have characterized any of my relationships as “ideal”. Good is good enough. I guess I’m a satisficer not a maximizer 🙂

          I was and am happy with good relationships with good guys who love me.

          The point I was trying to make was that “good looking” does not necessarily exclude a man from being a “good guy” with whom you can have a good loving relationship. Complacency and drifting happens in LTRs whether the guy is good looking or plain, so why “settle” for plain, right?

          My opinion on the drifting apart and being taken for granted is that when marriage was first invented, “till death do us part” lasted only 10-15 years from marriage to death. It was only with the advent of modern medicine that people live beyond 50. So, in my opinion, marriage was NOT meant to span 50 years. People are not designed to be with ONLY one person for that long. If people can find someone with whom they won’t grow bored or drift apart after 10-20 years, then they are very lucky.

          In my opinion, most modern-day people are better off to have 3-6 LTRs in their lifetime, not just one. YMMV

      2. 5.1.2


        Three failed relationships is hardly all that many, and as SparklingEmerald says, taking each other and the relationship for granted is all too common.

        After you’ve done what you can to remedy and heal the situation, and still it’s not working, it is each person’s prerogative to leave. It does not make anyone bad, or of shady character. This is quite black or white thinking, and makes me wonder if you are quite young.

        I don’t think it’s necessarily a character flaw to take your partner for granted… I think it’s more like lacking in the possession or the practice of basic relationship skills. These can be learnt, if someone cares and is motivated enough. If someone does not care enough, personally I don’t hold it against anyone if they leave such a relationship.

    2. 5.2
      Karl S

      I asked a loaded question because you also equated hot blooded with “hot headed and that you would sometimes be “in the line of fire”. I interpreted that to mean these men were prone to moods and tempers they would sometimes direct at you. That sounded like a character flaw to me.

      1. 5.2.1
        Karmic Equation

        Fair enough. But even the best of people lose their tempers. I rarely do, but I do, when provoked; I rarely shoot the messenger. “Hot headed” folks feel provoked more easily and often do shoot the messenger. That’s more a default setting than being able to NOT shoot the messenger, an ability which takes time to develop.

        But most hot headed people “spew” and don’t have any malice. I would say it’s more a behavioral flaw than a character flaw. Spewing WITH malice though, that would be a character flaw, imo.

        I don’t expect people to never lose their tempers. That would be expecting the impossible.

    3. 5.3

      Hey, not-hot men also can take their partner for granted, and relationships with not-hot men often fail too.

  6. 6

    Happen to them*

  7. 7

    Jessica @ . . .

    There are numerous article on the internet (and other mediums) about couples drifting apart, taking each other for granted, etc. etc. Very common thing (and unfortunate thing) that happens to many, many couples in very long term relationships.

    Most every newly wed hears about this happening and thinks “No never, that will NOT happen to us” but over time that complacency creeps in, two people under one roof living separate lives . . . very sad, very sad and all to common.

    EMK could probably write 3 blog articles about complaceny in LTRs, but he’s more into the dating coach thing than marriage counseling thing.

    1. 7.1

      I would still like to hear evan’s thoughs on this. Paints a pretty bleak picture for those of us hoping for something lasting. Eva a has a pretty great marriage from the sounds of it so I think his thoughts would be helpful.

      1. 7.1.1

        I’m not evan but many of my friends have been clebrating their 25 year wedding anniversaries. They seem happy to me. One of them piped up “It feels like forever and it feels like five minutes!” Friend of mine married her first boyfriend thirty years ago. He said wonderingly, “we have experienced so much together”. Another lost her husband of fifty years, “i miss him so much!”Another couple got married nearly 20 years ago after meeting at university. It’s kind of a standing joke among our group of friends how much he dotes on her.
        I used to think it was improbable but nowadays a good marriage seems almost commonplace! I wish I had known earlier how very possible and achievable it is.
        Oh, and after ten plus years my brother and his wife are almost disgustingly happy. He adores her.

  8. 8

    We can all say we’re compassionate, supportive, understanding, loyal, and love unconditionally. But I’d like to see exactly what these mean within a relationship. Within reason, perhaps?

    I am far from perfect, but I am supportive of my boyfriend’s career–up to a certain point. He is ambitious and hard-working, but those qualities can have some in appealing characteristics. For instance, he often works after he comes home (on his computer) and sometimes works on the weekends. I am also compassionate, but can’t help mentally covering my ears when he complains about working so much and doesn’t want to help me move my furniture out of my apartment. He is understanding and compassionate, but sometimes criticizes me when I tell him about a problem I am facing at work/school.

    1. 8.1


      I think you raise a good point.   We can all fancy ourselves to have certain qualities such as being understanding, supportive and compassionate, and may even have no difficulty demonstrating that we are these things in our work relationships and friendships. But what does this mean within a relationship?

      I think the standard is higher and more exacting, some might even say unreasonable, depending on your partner.   The bar is higher, and so are the stakes, in my opinion.   So many people look to their relationships for so much and have such significant expectations, as your examples demonstrate, which they don’t have of their other relationships.

      This is neither good or bad, in my opinion, but it does mean, in my experience, a constant juggling and examining of those expectations and what your partner is bringing to the table. Often it means going away and weighing things and sitting with them before you bring them up with your partner.   Sometimes it means quietly reflecting on how you feel with that person over time.

      But unfortunately I don’t think it’s ever as simple as: I have a need or expectation and my partner must fulfill it. Or, my partner has a need or expectation and I must fulfill it. And if these things do not align, we end the relationship. No. It’s more complex than that, sometimes you have to weigh a person’s many good qualities against where they fall short and on a balance, decide if the relationship is worth letting go of or sticking with.

      And often this appraisal of the relationship takes time.

      Certain things shouldn’t be put up with in any relationship (such as cheating or abuse) and certain things are dealbreakers. But there are many shades of grey in between.

  9. 9

    I’m bookmarking this article & the passion or comfort article. Such amazing insight that will help in my future marriage.

  10. 10

    I think if you find someone who has about 75% of the qualities you’re looking for, then you’re doing pretty good. You just have to have a firm (but SHORT) list of deal-breakers. And they can’t be anything superficial (like physical attributes). That said, if you can find someone to whom you’re very attracted, and you have similar life goals and good compatibility, it shouldn’t matter that they’re not able to be your everything. I think that’s a nice concept, but it doesn’t work in reality. I’ve seen couples before who have done absolutely everything together and are inseparable, and I’ve seen ones who are less dependent upon each other for total fulfillment. It depends on what both of you want out of the relationship.

  11. 11

    If i need him to stand up for me (this is asking for too much according to your list), then I need to hire a bodyguard.

    it all makes sense!  

  12. 12
    Ana habibi

    I agree with this. My husband is like a character out of those romantic comedy movies. He has always been beyond romantic. But I think that he spoiled me. He no longer romances me like he used to. And I am not gonna lie, I still expect it. I still crave it. But if I bring it up to him, he says that I am selfish. This article has been an eye opener for me. Maybe to be happy I need to lower my expectations and accept the fact that maybe after a few years it’s unrealistic for my husband to still keep up the romance.

    1. 12.1

      Maybe u two could compromise and request that he occasionally do romantic things? And u could sometimes do romantic things for him too.

      I do know longtime couples in my family and extended family who still have the romantic touches in their lives–leaving love letters for each other, surprising the other partner with cruise tickets, a bouquet of red roses at the partner’s workplacve etc. I don’t understand why more couples don’t do it. Most of these things are not expensive, nor are they difficult to do.

  13. 13

    Fantastic post, this really resonated with me. Recently I keep seeing articles along the lines of’ ‘Why you should marry someone who inspires you’, or along those lines. What exactly does that even mean? That this ‘One’ needs to inspire you to start new hobbies? Become a Poet? Learn how to Knit? Etc…

    Why should one person have to do that? Surely if you are a well rounded individual and have a good level of self awareness, there is no need for an external force to have to ‘inspire’ you to do good things. Yes of course, if a partner brings new experiences with them, which in turn then encourages you do try new things as well – great! But if they don’t, does that mean you are doomed? No, surely not!

    Thank you, Evan. I needed to read this. I have been with my wonderful, supportive, loyal, patient and kind boyfriend for just over a year now however, does he inspire me to do/try/explore new things? Not necessarily, we have a fulfilled lifestyle, full of happiness and comfort however, he is not sitting there tempting me to try new things, or think in a different way.

    I had a moment of doubt a few months back when a friend of mine sparked the ‘does your partner inspire you’ conversation – to which my response was ‘ummm, well not really no, but we are really happy’, to which I got a look of pity, like I had just said ‘my boyfriend is serial cheat and a narcissistic perfectionist’. We   are happy and content how we are, we have an unbelievable sex life as well as a strong mental connection, though he doesn’t make me want to climb Everest or start leaning Italian, I’ve come to accept that fact that that is OK.

    Thanks Evan!



  14. 14

    When I think of EG’s book, I’m not seeing a promise that there is only one man who is your divine soulmate,  that women ‘need a champion who will fulfill your every need’. EG specifically ended up in a pickle because she’d spent her whole life expecting she would want things she didn’t, expected to meet her needs through a relationship and her lightbulb moment was that it didn’t work.

    What I got from her book was that she saw herself as a failure specifically because she had been looking  outside herself for happiness when she was married. That she left her marriage because  she wanted to be accountable for her own happiness and needs;  that her husband deserved someone who wanted him and the life he wanted, which wasn’t her and never would be. She didn’t leave because he failed her; she failed to keep the contract of their marriage, and finally recognized that it was outside what she was willing to offer.   She wanted to learn what it was not to need a man, but how to inspire herself and fill herself. As I understood it, EG saw Jose’s offer of a champion  as arguing for a cause on her behalf; as not someone who fulfills her need, but who  expects you to meet your own needs, and that when you fall (as all do) your champion is a supportive  advocate of that  ability until you are back on your feet. He might have been more accurate to have used the term cheerleader, but that’s the thought.

    Of course, not everyone needs to leave their marriage in order to be accountable for themselves. Leaving because you blame your spouse for your unhappiness is most often a glaring omission of the lack of personal accountability. While relationships of love are often inspiring, it is the inspiration of loving support in common commitment of giving our best effort without relation to outcome rather than  perfection.


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