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I often hear that lowering your expectations toward your partner is one of the best ways to avoid arguments and maintain a smooth relationship. 

I agree with that statement in the sense that high hopes are a shortcut to disappointment. 

According to a study published by the American Psychological Association, flexible expectations are less likely to be violated, which results in greater satisfaction and persistence in the relationship. In other words, lowering expectations means less chance of disappointment. 

But just how much should we lower our expectations?

Is it too much to expect a small surprise gift on our anniversary?

Should you not even bother to expect a bowl of soup as you lay in bed with the flu—when your spouse doesn’t even know how to cook instant noodles?

Isn’t lowering your expectations sort of like giving up on your spouse?

Do not look at lowering the bar as giving up on your significant other. It’s more a question of giving more choices to your partner, to reduce the chances of failure and despondency. 

For example, instead of expecting your spouse to be able to set up a babysitter and reserve a restaurant for your anniversary, be willing to accept him ordering a late meal after the kids go to bed. Once you broaden the options, both you and your spouse have extra wiggle room, in case things don’t go the way you’ve planned. 

What happens when lowering your expectations isn’t enough? 

More often than not, a couple’s lack of communication is one of the biggest barriers to improving their relationship. Even though you might have clear expectations as to what you want from the relationship, you might be failing to deliver it to your partner in bite-size language.

For example, you might want your partner to show more romantic gestures on your birthday. But if he lacks strategies for expressing his feelings in any caring sort of manner, you might have to spell out the instructions for him, so he knows what he needs to do. 

Instead of asking him to surprise you, tell him to buy a bouquet of flowers and a specific gift—and where he can get it from. You might even have to ask him to hand over his credit card and do the legwork yourself. 

playful couple
Photo by Susannah Townsend from Base image

Lowering expectations is not the same as losing hope

Comments like, “Whatever, I don’t care anymore”, or “What was I thinking” can only bring arguments and resentment. 

Instead, accept a minimal effort and work up from there. For example, if you expect your spouse to be involved in meal prep but he’s one hundred percent uncooperative at the moment, try asking him to wash the ingredients or put away groceries instead.

The main point behind lowering expectations to improve the quality of the relationship is based on a promise to work toward meeting more of one another’s expectations. 

A Dutch study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships shows that one’s sacrifice can be appreciated by the other when his/her expectations are not too high. 

In other words, if your partner has very high expectations of you, your sacrifices and hard work are far less likely to be appreciated. On the other hand, if you have lower expectations of your spouse, any nice gesture can come as a pleasant surprise. 

Lowering expectations works toward strengthening a relationship when both parties are open to accepting things about their partner that may at first seem less than ideal. At the same time, there should be a healthy hope for appreciable efforts toward improvement on both sides. Lowering expectations cannot work to strengthen a relationship if only one side makes sacrifices, or either party gives up hope entirely.


Lowering expectations is a way of giving more options to your partner that may not be your top choices, but allow them a better chance to satisfy your needs. While trying to be open to more options, remember to communicate your expectations clearly. Lowering expectations only works when both parties agree to work toward better future results while appreciating each other’s efforts.  

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