Proper toilet paper roll placement: Over or under? When loading the dishwasher: Rinse first or load ‘em up filthy? Laundry policy: Separate by colors or toss it all together? These are the kinds of complicated issues that can take an otherwise lovely relationship completely off the rails. Because let’s face it, living with other human beings can be challenging.
Case in point: Brett and Alison have been dating for a year and they’ve decided to move in together. They couldn’t be more compatible. Neither of them can think of a time when they even bickered with each other, let alone had a full blown disagreement. They shared all the same interests and genuinely enjoyed being in each other’s company. Not to mention, they were head-over-heels in love. What could possibly go wrong?
After a couple of months, Alison started to realize that Brett leaving his sweat-soaked socks on the bedroom floor after his morning run wasn’t just a couple moments of absent-mindedness. It was his M.O. Brett noticed that when Alison loaded the dishwasher it looked like she’d done it while navigating an earthquake. She also insisted on putting glasses in the lower tray when everyone knows, glasses always go on top. Alison preferred to do several small loads of laundry while Brett just shoved everything in until the lid barely closed. Alison left on every light in the house. Brett left the toilet seat up. They both did their best to simply ignore and learn to live with their partner’s little peccadilloes. But as time went by, the annoyances grew and began to seep into other parts of their relationship that had nothing to do with laundry or toilet paper.
The real issue here isn’t about the behaviors, it’s about how piss poor Brett and Alison are managing their expectations. And it doesn’t help that when either of them tries to offer a suggestion, the other reacts as though their very existence is being challenged. But if they had known how to communicate their expectations effectively and from the start, they could have avoided a lot of headaches.
Here’s a great strategy that will help you not only determine compatibility, but will help navigate expectation-setting. Before the first date, put together the following lists :
Needs: These are the must-haves, the deal-breakers. This is likely a pretty short, focused list that might include things like your feelings about marriage and having (or not having) children.
Wants: These are important to you, but they’re not necessarily deal breakers. This is probably a longer list that might include things like bucket-list items. If the other person says there’s no way they’d ever get in a hot air balloon, okay, good to know. But there’s no reason to blow the whole thing up before the appetizers arrive. You can always go hot air ballooning with a friend.
Nice-to-Haves: These are desires, but you can take them or leave them. It would be great if the other person also loved to mix peanut M&M’s into their popcorn. But if they don’t, hey, not everything in life turns out like a fairy tale.
Now, I’m not suggesting you whip out a pen and legal pad on your first date. That would be awkward. But you can certainly work your lists into conversation. Asking a question like, “What are your thoughts on wooden spoons in the dishwasher?” can be a good icebreaker. If you didn’t have a list and you're already deep into a relationship, you're not out of luck. Make the lists now, and have them inform which hill(s) you're willing to die on.
Brett and Alison didn’t have lists when they started dating, so the first step toward bringing them back to their harmonious cohabitation is for them to recognize whether their expectations are reasonable or not. Because holding an unreasonable expectation is not only unproductive, it also drives you and everyone around you completely nuts. Remember, the criteria that must be met in order to consider whether an expectation is reasonable or not: Understanding, Willingness, Capacity, and Alignment with vision. The other person must understand the expectation that you hold for them, they must be willing to meet it, they must be able to meet it, and you need to be sure that the expectation aligns with your overall vision. For Brett and Alison, they share a vision of living together in a state of peace and love.
Every relationship requires some compromise, a little give and take. It doesn’t seem unreasonable for Alison to ask Brett to stop leaving his gross socks on the floor. It’s certainly something he’s capable of doing. It really comes down to whether he's willing to do it. If he’s not, then Alison is going to have to do some real soul searching about whether this guy is all he’s cracked up to be. Seriously though, sweaty socks on the floor might not be enough to torpedo an entire relationship. But many little things piled on top of each other can be enough to at least make living together pretty unpleasant.
You don’t have to live in a state of resentment about your partner’s habits. At the Power Series we dive into the strategies for managing expectations so that you can live in a state of peace. Click HERE to learn more and sign up today!