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So there’s this idea that’s been going around for a while now on the internet that says that the silent killer of relationships is unmet expectationsUnmet expectations because they lead to many frustrations, and in the process affecting the relationship.

As Antonio Banderas said, “Expectation is the mother of all frustrations.” It’s true. However, the wording of “unmet expectations” is insufficient. The problem is that it doesn’t address what caused the unmet expectation; or simply the expectation in the first place. Somehow it sounds simplistic; you could say the same for Antonio Bandera’s quote.

Also, we all have expectations anyway. It’s normal to have expectations, and we don’t necessarily see them met all the time. It’s more about having the right attitude when our expectations aren’t met and knowing if our expectations are realistic in the first place. To me, it sounds like sugarcoating who or what is really causing the problem. Saying “unmet expectations” is a distraction, and conducive for it to be misunderstood by those who are just takers in relationships.

When we were kids, we have this idea that by the time we reach our thirties, we should have a house, a family, a cat and a dog. Then as we grew older -let’s say you end up being a bum in your twenties because you love gambling and sportsbetting, but you kept on losing. After your thirtieth birthday, would you say that you’re not happy that you don’t have your dream house, family, cat and a dog, because your expectations weren’t met?

While surveying and finding the common variables (or denominators) are often reliable ways of finding the root causes of problems -especially by many relationships experts- it’s important to be careful of the wording that is used. I’m not saying that the idea behind “unmet expectations” is wrong; the idea behind it is strong, and something I completely agree with, which is ensuring first that observation must take priority before having any expectation. To be realistic at all times, as much as you can. If you’re not observing carefully, and you’re totally disregarding reality, be prepared to have your expectations not met. Like, if you’re a bum in your twenties, by the time you’ve reached your thirties, don’t be surprised if you don’t have what you thought you should have when you were a kid. Or, if you’ve become neglectful of your partner, don’t expect that she will be responsive to you, leading to many of your unmet expectations or hers.

The wording of unmet expectations is confusing, because it still puts the blame on a symptom rather than the root cause. We all have expectations, and we need the good ones that stem from being in sync with your partner or with your environment. The silent killer of relationships isn’t unmet expectations, but unrealistic expectations.

For instance, it is often said that when people enter relationships, they expect the other person to change their ways; or they themselves will be able to change the other person. This in itself is already an unrealistic expectation. We know by now that we don’t -or cannot- change another person. If a person wants to change, ultimately it’s up to that person. It’s the other person’s choice. You don’t have any control over what the other person ultimately does or chooses. If you’re a Packers fan, no matter what you do, your partner will not jump shift from being a Patriots fan. That’s why it’s often advised that you go for someone who’s mostly aligned with your values to at least sustain it, and someone who’s not controlling, or someone who’s not obsessing over the best football team. Trying to change another person is a form of control, and an act of insecurity for it subcommunicates scarcity and neediness, or lack of self-value.

Another example that is often used is -let’s say you’re the husband- and coming from work, you expect a nice meal, like a grilled steak and probably some bacon, because it’s your favorite meal even if it’s dinner time (Two pieces please! Make it crispy!). You became frustrated and asked why is there no food or bacon?! Instead, your wife or partner throws at your face a box of frozen hot pockets. And when you decline, she takes them from you, throws the box of hot pockets out of the kitchen window, runs back to the bedroom and slams the door. Is the relationship killer here the husband’s unmet bacon expectation?

Another one is from our current dating culture. Our current dating culture shows a lot about our unrealistic expectations. There’s this idea that all you need to do is find a magic formula and you’ll get the love of your life begging for you. It’s basically the idea that you can manipulate somebody into liking you or being attracted to you, which –again- is an unrealistic expectation; it’s as if men and women don’t have brains.

You have women on the other end equipped with their Cosmo magazines or The Rules, and men on the other end with their pick up tactics; both playing coy and acting uninterested when there’s really nothing wrong with showing interest. What’s wrong is being needy. So in the end, pretending uninterested is an act of neediness in itself. It’s like pretending “IDGAF” but actually “GAF.”

There are rules; like a woman who intentionally decides to be late on a date and constantly gives one word answers or short replies. Instead of actually attracting the guy, the guy thinks she’s not interested. So he doesn’t bother to make a serious effort, or doesn’t bother at all, because he’s serious about finding someone who’s at least interested, or someone he can date.

On the other end, the girl’s already very much interested, but the guy is still trying too hard. He’s already in, but he’s still implementing the pick up lines and magic tricks he learned. In the process, the girl notices that the guy is trying too hard and decides to move on.

He’s not sure she’s interested. She’s not sure he’s interested. Nothing happens. Realistic solution: stop being coy. Communicate. Have fun. Tease. Whatever.


The formula behind unmet expectations is not that different from the formula of reality gap. Actually the formula that is associated with the idea of unmet expectations that says Expectations – Observation = Frustation can be misleading. Because the observation factor can be higher, thus the formula doesn’t always lead to frustration. I know I’m being so nuanced here, but it matters. So here’s what I think would be a more correct formula:

Higher Expectations – Lesser Observation = Frustration

The reality gap formula is like this:

Higher Expectations – Lesser Reality = Reality Gap

All it is really, is being in sync with our environment or reality. It’s about facing reality as it is and not how we make it to be, which is also the premise of “unmet expectations.” Facing reality is what human behavior experts and thinkers are always fascinated with, because we humans are very good at denial. Now, why is this? One big answer begins with our family, and environmental conditioning on whether we were brought up with healthy coping strategies or not in facing our problems (or simply facing reality). 

We consider a kid spoiled when he or she always get what they want, and always treated as if they’re so special and above everybody else. As the kid grows up, he or she can continue always doing whatever they want, and their problems are always solved by someone else. In the process, they don’t know what taking responsibility means, and don’t learn how to be self-sufficient or self-reliant. The moment they enter into the real world -such as college or after college- reality comes in conflict against their grandiose view of the world and of themselves, especially if they were too spoiled by their parents. He or she will have difficulty adapting to the real world and will solve daily problems through unhealthy coping strategies which Alfred Adler talked about: denial or avoidance, surrender, and overcompensation.

A person can continue to indulge his fantasies in his twenties, and as he or she grows older, realize the big difference between their fantasies and reality. They could either face reality head on, or continue with their feel-good delusions. Often they don’t, or are unable to as they are spoiled. Since they don’t have sufficient healthy coping strategies in the first place. Author Sam Vaknin calls this Grandiosity Gap, the difference between our grandiose view of the world -or of ourselves- versus how things really are. So if expectations are replaced with grandiosity in the formula, with less consideration for reality, it leads to a grandiosity gap. It’s no different than delusions of grandeur.

Higher Grandiosity – Lesser Reality = Grandiosity Gap

We all grow up having dreams, expectations of what we want to do and have in our lives. The kind of partner that we want. The kind of life that we want. But if one is raised in a highly dysfunctional setting, delusions or daydreaming are often escapes from a toxic environment. It’s a way for our minds to compensate to protect themselves. However, this psychological process is meant as a transition. It must not be permanent, otherwise growth doesn’t happen; growth that is needed to work with reality and have healthy expectations.

“Grandiose dreams are normal and healthy, but grandiose expectations is just narcissism.”

―Mark Manson, The Accidental Self-Help Entrepreneur

If they are based on facing reality and finding healthy acceptance, to deny, surrender, or overcompensate is not needed. If you are a man who doesn’t like your job, and don’t want it to affect your mood every time you go home, it may be time to look for a different career or request for a transfer to a different department. When a job eats you up, or something dysfunctional in your family (i.e. your parents) has plagued you for so long, you’re only going to come home feeling frustrated about having no bacon, and taking it out on your partner, who’s as tired as you are. Maybe it’s time for you to address an issue that leads you to be overly demanding from others. The demanding attitude is -at many times- the overcompensating measure to cover up feelings of insecurity, or of what is lacking in one’s life, especially in relationships.


I don’t know who originally coined the words “unmet expectations.” My guess is he’s a marketer who probably didn’t want to alienate his demographics, and he had to be a little soft. On the other hand, when we’re dealing with serious problems such as facing reality, sugarcoating things don’t always help. We must tell it like it is: you have unrealistic expectations. Using “unmet expectations” as the phrase can only be conducive in feeding narcissism.

Antonio Bandera’s “Expectations is the mother of all frustrations” quote is -in a way- true, because for the most part our expectations aren’t realistic. Our minds are not good measuring sticks. But the better way of wording it is unrealistic expectation is the mother of all frustrations. Because we’re not frustrated at all times, or we can choose not to be frustrated if our expectations aren’t met.

Of course, reality isn’t easy, let alone facing it. But if we are to solve many of our problems, especially when it comes to relationships, it would be more beneficial and fulfilling to face them head on, and be more honest with ourselves in that we may have been far from it all along. And it’s our responsibility to bridge the gaps as much as we can.

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Writer and researcher on advanced self-development, currently exploring many fields of human knowledge. On this site, you will find his writings and perspectives about our society & culture, many of which are counter-intuitive, but backed by experience, common sense, and science.

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