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Low Expectations, High Standards: A Surprising Equation for a Happy Marriage

As an Imago therapist, I often work with couples who feel stuck, disconnected, or dissatisfied with their marriage. Why does this happen? One common issue that can arise in relationships is a mismatch between expectations and standards – and you may be surprised to hear that it’s beneficial to have high standards in a relationship.

Some people maintain low standards for their relationship, while others’ expectations are too difficult to meet. In fact, many have that exact combination, which can be a recipe for dissatisfaction. In fact, research has shown that the equation for a happy marriage is combining low expectations and high standards.

What exactly does that mean?

Explaining Low Standards and High Expectations

At first glance, these two words – “standards” and “expectations” – can seem synonymous. But, in fact, they are talking about two very different things.

Essentially, low standards mean that you allow people to treat you poorly. You accept bad behavior by allowing it into your life while not doing anything about it.

On the flip side, high expectations mean that you want and expect to be treated well. We expect our partner to fulfill all of our needs and desires, to be our best friend, our soulmate, our confidant, and our lover. We expect them to always be there for us, to never let us down, and to make us happy.

You can probably already see the problem here. If your standards are low (allowing people to treat you poorly) but your expectations are high (expecting good treatment), you are almost guaranteed to be disappointed.

What’s the solution? Reverse that equation.

Set Your Standards High and Your Expectations Low

Standards are the values, behaviors, and qualities that we require from ourselves and our partner. They are the foundation of a healthy relationship, and – when you marry your actions to your standards – they help you to grow and improve as individuals and as a couple. 

Remember, having low standards means accepting your partner’s bad behavior. Having high standards, then, is refusing to stand for that. 

If your significant other does something you don’t like, having high standards means calling them on it and letting them know it is not acceptable. Then working with them to come up with a plan so they do not repeat that behavior.

This can actually improve your relationship, since your partner will see that you value yourself. Often, this makes someone more likely to treat you with respect and kindness.

Where do expectations fit in?

At their most basic, they are our uncommunicated desires. Because of this, when we have high expectations in our marriage, we set ourselves up for disappointment.

It makes sense if you think about it. If you’re expecting specific behavior from your partner but not communicating that, how can they possibly engage in that behavior? Those high expectations will leave you feeling let down and frustrated, and you may even start to question whether you made the right choice in your partner.

Low expectations, on the other hand, mean not expecting your partner to fulfill every need and desire. Understanding that they are human and will make mistakes. Being more forgiving of their shortcomings and more grateful for their strengths. 

Combining Low Expectations and High Standards

So, how do you balance low expectations and high standards in your marriage? 

It starts with communication. Share your standards with your partner – and make sure that you live up to those standards, as well. 

And when either of you don’t, be forgiving and understanding. But don’t just ignore the issue – talk it out and come up with a plan to get better.

You’re both human, and you’re going to make mistakes. Partnership means approaching your relationship with a sense of curiosity and openness, appreciating each other’s strengths, and finding ways to support each other’s growth and development.

By approaching your relationship with a sense of realism and acceptance, and by setting high standards for yourself and your partner, you can create a strong foundation for a healthy and fulfilling partnership.


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Copyright @2020 Dana Cole, LMFT