“When the gates are all down and the signals are flashin’
The whistle is screamin’ in vain
And you stay on the tracks, ignoring the facts
Well, you can’t blame the wreck on the train
No, you can’t blame the wreck on the train” — Don McLean
The root of a lot of pain across relationships and partnerships of all kinds and hues, is what I’m calling “the toxicity of unnegotiated expectations”. When two people get together to accomplish something, anything, they each bring their own habits, routines, world views, insecurities and obsessions into the relationship.
Over the course of transactions, frictions can, and do, develop because of a mismatch in standards. Each person in the relationship expects their standards to be the standards of the relationship. More often than not, neither of them speaks about what they hold dear and why.
With time, both parties in the relationship find that their partner falls short of their standards, while believing all along that they themselves are scoring centuries. As time goes by, these ‘delivery vs expectation deficits’ end up creating ill will and resentment that shows up in a variety of ways.
It is near impossible to sit and negotiate each expectation before you commit to a relationship, but it is both possible and important, to address them as they appear. State clearly where you stand on an issue and how you have navigated your life with this belief. Make a comparison between your standard and your partner’s standard on the issue at hand. Figure out how important the issue and the standard is for both of you. See how much you are willing to give without the possibility of festering ill willI in the future. It is very unlikely that the two of you will have the same weightage and standard for every issue. The success of your relationship, by which I mean the happiness you generate for each other, not the longevity of your association, depends on the collective negotiation of weightages and standards on each of these issues.
Start with the axiom “there are no absolutes”. No absolute standards, only negotiated ones. This axiom helps in a number of ways. The relationship is, or should be, a non-starter unless you and your partner accept that there are no absolutes. Lay down everything that you are unwilling to compromise on beyond a point. Lay down the tolerance limits and ranges that you think you can handle without undue stress. Listen to your partner do the exact same thing with the things that matter to them. Figure out what and to what extent you are willing to compromise on. Put it all together and see if this is what you want.
Your emotions, especially in romantic situations, will lie to you through this whole process with statements like “I love her/him/them and love means putting their needs over mine”. These statements are nothing but your own fear of loneliness, failure or abandonment. Acting on them will lead you to a position where you compromise till you have nothing left to compromise. Make sure that you are convinced by an argument, and not by some emotional manipulation, before you agree to any compromise.
If you find yourself succumbing to every standard that your partner sets, seek counselling and build your self worth before you enter a relationship. Healthy relationships are based on belonging, not on ownership. Every compromise is a win for ownership and though every stance you take reduces the chance of the relationship lasting, they ensure that you aren’t owned.
It is possible to illustrate this with examples of issues, standards and expectations, but these are better left to each of us to interpret and apply as we choose.
PS: This is advice for those who have agency but do not act on it.