Existential Psychology

Expecting a Partner to Fulfill a Role

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One of the big blindspots in romantic relationships, and the hidden reason so many of them don’t work out, is that partners themselves have hidden, barely conscious expectations for one another that are impossible to fulfill. So the person with the expectations is constantly feeling thwarted and disappointed while the person subject to those expectations is constantly feeling used and misunderstood.

What types of expectations are we talking about? These vary widely based on the psychological makeup of the individual in question but often revolve around deep existential questions, things like ‘saving or being saved’, ‘worthiness and unworthiness’ ‘mortality and not wanting to die alone’,  ‘putting on a pedestal and being put on a pedestal’, and ‘power and powerlessness’ . 

These and other hidden expectations aren’t about the real person with their real attributes, with their real strengths and real human failings, but are rather about a barely defined idealized image. The real person is expected to fulfill an unreal role, and the harsh but true reality in many cases is that the role takes precedence over the real person in the mind of the individual with those expectations. Anyone at all could be substituted in there because it was never about the real, unique human being in the first place but rather about a projection meant to satisfy certain deeply held emotional and psychological needs.

Is it any wonder that the people expected to fulfill these hidden expectations bend and eventually break under the pressure, leading to the dissolution of the relationship? After the breakup it’s almost always the partner who held the hidden expectations who feels wronged, who feels disappointed and let down, because in their mind all those hidden expectations seemed rational and reasonable.

After the wreckage clears this person will get back up, get out there in the world, and find a new partner to project those exact same irrational psychological and emotional needs onto. This person will harbor the exact same expectations, expectations that have less to do with the actual qualities, capacities, and frailties of the real person in front of them and more to do with a fabricated, barely conscious idealized image. The same cycle will keep repeating itself, where infatuation makes way for reality, reality leads to disappointment and let down, and disappointment and let down lead to the rupture of the relationship, unless insight can be raised around the process of idealization itself.