Standards Vs. Expectations In Relationships: The Key To Avoiding Disappointments and Toxicity14 min read

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When I played the video, I saw a trashed room: TV on the floor face flat, mirror shattered and littered everywhere; and even the curtains had been thrown down. It was a complete mess. At first, I thought he had just been robbed. But when I called, he informed me his girlfriend had done that. It was crazy.

After explaining what triggered her to trash his apartment, I asked him if such a thing happened before. He paused, then replied that she sometimes breaks plates and throws tantrums when upset. 

Ah, I see. It’s a pattern – he had seen the shadow of this but had ignored it (which indicates low standards), and had rather held hopes (i.e. high expectations) for a happy relationship.

In truth, many of the disappointments and toxicity experienced in relationships are often the result of high expectations and low standards. 

That is why, in this post, we will take a deeper look into standards and expectations and how managing them helps reduce problems in relationships.

What Are High Standards

Standards are the things you consider critical for your own well-being and happiness within a relationship. They emanate from your values, likes and dislikes, and overall sense of worth (or what you think you deserve). When people fall short of your standards, you generally reject them, but if you happen to get into a relationship with them, it can become a source of frustration, shame, suffering, and regret; and if not addressed could boil over and lead to the end of the relationship.

A good example of a standard is Fidelity. Many people can deal with someone who is slothful, prideful, and gluttonous but can’t stand being with someone who is lustful (i.e. who cheats on them). Studies even show that people generally get seriously distressed when their partner doesn’t meet (or falls short of) their standards.

Having high standards in a relationship is actually a good thing. High standards (not unreasonable standards) act like filters that ensure the wrong/incompatible people stay out of your life. In other words, the higher your standards, the higher quality people you’ll attract into your life. 

But there’s a catch; what constitutes a high standard is subjective to you, and you need to make sure you’re living up to those same high standards yourself, as most people who meet those high standards have standards of their own (and it ain’t low). 

Some examples of common, reasonable high standards are:

Needless to say, saying NO is a huge part of having high standards. Your ability to see something bad or even mediocre and reject it for something better demonstrates high standards. For instance, would you have, or keep having sex with someone who breaks your plates, cheats on you, or ignores your emotional needs, or would you firmly draw the line and tell them it can’t work?! That’s what having high standards is all about.

What Are High Expectations

Expectations in a relationship are all about what you desire your partner to do or anticipate to get out of a relationship. It encompasses all you think will happen (or start happening) because of the relationship. Most times, people can have a healthy, working relationship for years with many of their expectations unmet.

For instance, one can expect their partner to enjoy going out to events with them, to help them do the dishes or laundry, to like and leave comments on their social media posts, or to plan surprises and buy them flowers. But their partner might prefer to just stay at home, do some other equally important chores, avoid social media altogether, and express their love in steady, less dramatic ways.

While these unmet expectations can cause you to feel disappointment, unhappiness, and in some cases resentment, it is generally not a big deal – unless, of course, you want to make a mountain out of it.

But don’t get me wrong, there is really nothing wrong with having and communicating reasonable expectations from your partner and the relationship. Many partners will actually go out of their way to meet even silly expectations. 

But when expectations get high, that’s where things start getting tricky. Since expectations are entirely out of your control, sky-high expectations usually lead to friction, stress, and (consistent) disappointment. And, when this stress and disappointment accumulate, it can destroy otherwise healthy relationships.

Some examples of unrealistic,  high expectations are:

  • Expecting complete devotion – controlling who they interact with.
  • Demanding absolute agreement on all beliefs – stifling individuality.
  • Feeling abandoned if they don’t call/text/chat/talk every minute.
  • Pressuring immediate resolution when there are misunderstandings – not allowing space to cool down.
  • Expecting them to know or figure out everything – mocking them for being ignorant about some things.
  • Expecting your partner to be the sole financial provider, and limiting your own contribution.
  • Not putting in effort to know more about your partner – treating the relationship like you were roommates.
  • Expecting constant affection/sex, disregarding partner’s needs.
  • Pressuring a partner to achieve unrealistic fitness or dietary extremes.
  • Enabling bad habits, and neglecting your own goals to prioritise theirs.

When it comes to managing expectations, communication and empathy are key. This is because your partner can’t read your mind, so you need to avoid assuming they know, and you must be able to put yourself in their shoes to avoid coming off as insensitive. In fact, the feedback you get from constant communication can actively help you readjust your expectations and even boost your gratitude as you learn more about the ways they are trying for you despite their own challenges. Bonus: You also get to learn about their own little, sometimes silly expectations.

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10 Differences Between Standards and Expectations In Relationships

While both standards and expectations are subjective, they do have some striking differences. Below are 10 differences between them;

1The minimum acceptable behaviours or conditions.Desired behaviours or outcomes.
2Fundamental and rooted in core values (e.g. loyalty, integrity, etc.)Specific and granular (e.g. help with chores, constant affection, etc.)
3Subjective and personal, often based on one’s sense of self-worth.Shaped by external influences and prone to being unrealistic.
4Based on experience – whether personal or vicarious.Based on fantasy – whether conscious or unconscious.
5Unmet standards often lead to frustration, suffering, and in some cases regret.Unmet expectations often lead to disappointment, unhappiness, and in some cases resentment.
6You enforce them by saying “no” to unacceptable behaviour or conditions.They are outside of your control, though you can complain/communicate.
7Emanate from your values and likes/dislikesNot necessarily tied to your values and are often whimsical
8More fundamental and less likely to changeMore subject to change over time
9Requires direct, clear, and firm boundaries.Requires open and ongoing communication
10The relationship will most likely end if they remain unmet.The relationship will most likely keep sailing without them.

Now that that is clarified, the next question is…

Should You Lower Standards?

You can be advised or tempted to lower your standards to fit in or avoid being alone. However, lowering your standards is usually a less fulfilling choice in the long run, as your standards represent your core values, boundaries, and needs. Compromising on what’s fundamentally important to you is the definition of “Settling for less”. Besides, upholding reasonable standards is instrumental to finding a truly compatible partner.

While the line between “high standards” and “unrealistic expectations,” can easily get blurry, self-awareness about your wants and needs, and the ability to communicate them clearly (while staying open-minded), is key. What matters most is that your criteria are realistic, without holding a partner to rigid, impossible ideals.

Hence, it is wise to periodically reevaluate your standards to ensure they are reasonable and grounded in reality, not fantasy or insecurities.

For instance, insisting to only date or marry someone who is a millionaire, as hot as Michael B. Jordan or Zendaya Coleman, or is as smart as you are (I know, I know, you’re a genius) is not really a standard, but an outrageously high expectation that you might want to bring down a notch.

Getting Clear On Your Standards and Expectations To Avoid Disappointments and Toxicity.

Well-defined and reasonable standards and expectations create the foundation for a relationship aligned with your authentic needs and vision.

Here is how to get clear on them so you avoid disappointment and toxicity in your relationship;

Schedule a Self-Exploration Session

Actually, put 30-60 minutes on your calendar for introspective self-inquiry. Treat it as an important appointment with yourself that deserves your full presence.

Seriously, rather than scrolling on social media and hearing endless hot takes and debates from angry fake feminists and butt-hurt Bros, disconnect and sit in the middle of your own thoughts.

It’s not going to be easy. You may not gain epiphany on your first go – you may have to do it multiple times. But, what is important is that you do it.

Brain Dump Everything on Paper

Find a quiet, comfortable space. Grab a pen and notebook. Then start writing freely – list out all the qualities, behaviours, and relationship dynamics that feel significant to you, whether positive or negative. 

Don’t filter yourself. Don’t worry about sensibility or structure. Just focus on transferring your stream of thoughts to paper. For example, you could write “shared spiritual beliefs”, “regular hot steamy sex”, “emotional unavailability is hurtful”, “I want flowers”, “a car and a house will be nice”, etc.

Feel free to daydream.

Whenever you feel you’ve dumped all that is in your head, then…

Highlight Your Deal-Breaker Standards  

Put the pen down, close your eyes, and tune into your body’s subtle signals. How does each item on that list make you feel? Which of them can’t you imagine being absent?

Perhaps they don’t need to be that tall, or be a millionaire, or be as pretty as that celebrity crush. Perhaps, if you really like them, they have a stable source of income, and they make you feel happy, maybe that is all you really need.

Breathe deeply and calmly. Then review your list more critically. 

Highlight or star anything that feels absolutely vital based on your innermost values and needs. Consider things like your religion, your mental health, your ambitions, and so on. These foundational requirements are likely your non-negotiable standards.

Circle Your Hoped-For Expectations

Next, go through and encircle any items that feel highly preferable but maybe not 100% essential – for example, “partner who plans fun surprises”, “physically fit/active lifestyle”, or “always posts me on their IG page”.

These could be strong expectations but ones you may be willing to compromise on somewhat.

You don’t have to hide your expectations now. Even if you wish they sucked your toes every night before bed, put it down. Knowing all your little weird expectations will help you stay in touch with yourself.

Try to be exhaustive. 

It is very likely that you may come to realise that some of the expectations are not really your idea. Maybe you just saw it somewhere and thought it might be nice. 

There is also nothing wrong with asking your partner that you should both experiment with something as long as it doesn’t endanger or harm anyone.

Clearly Define Key Terms/Phrases

For the standards and expectations you’ve identified, take the extra step to clearly define any ambiguous words or phrases. For example, if you wrote “frequent date nights”, get specific on what “frequent” means (e.g. 2x per month). If you want more “quality time”, define what constitutes quality time for you (e.g. seeing a movie together, longer foreplay and sex, or going sightseeing). 

This upfront, clear definitions practice avoids miscommunications down the line.

Plan a Vulnerability-Based Conversation  

If currently in a relationship, schedule a dedicated “relationship talk” soon. 

Approach it as an opportunity to share your self-discoveries vulnerably yet directly using the clear definitions you’ve outlined. 

Be open to evolution but firmly uphold your core standards. It can even help to go for a couple-therapy or counselling.

If single, keep refining this self-awareness so you can communicate your needs confidently when a prospective partner arrives.

Conclusion: Optimise Your Choice for The Long Haul.

Amazing relationships don’t fall from the skies nor are they stumbled upon; they’re cultivated when two imperfect people choose to understand, accept and grow together over time – through life’s inevitable ups and downs.

If your standards and expectations are shallow and transient you are setting yourself up for heartaches and misery. It’s how you end up with a pretty lady who is also an energy vampire who won’t take responsibility for her actions, or a rich husband who has a harem and doesn’t mind giving you a black eye or two. 

I once saw a meme that said, “Having a boyfriend is like having a stupid son”. Yeah, it’s natural to feel that way sometimes. But the question is, can you raise that kid well?

Imperfections and mistakes are inevitable. But like good parents, the answer isn’t alienation – it’s patience, compassion and an outlook towards shaping a better future together through love.

Expect challenges. Know when to overlook, and when to speak up. With the right mindset and effort, you both can turn a mundane relationship into an exceptional one full of intimacy, joy and mutual respect

Don’t think a partner who meets your immediate needs and fantasies is the one who has attained your high standards and will make you happy forever. 

The key is optimising your choice not just for present desires, but long-term compatibility. Once the initial fireworks fade, a life partner must be someone with whom you can evolve together through life’s journeys. 

Choose someone you can grow alongside on the long road ahead, not just a temporary fix for current voids – be it money, sex, kids, or [insert your desire]. 


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I enjoy writing long-form SEO content for self-help and personal development blogs. I can also do simple graphics design and copywriting. I’m an author, coach, logician, introvert, and storyteller. I love simplicity.

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