There are 2 camps of thought on this question. The first camp says that: No, you shouldn’t have expectations. That you should go with the flow, meet someone with whom you have great chemistry, fall in love and then adjust your expectations to make room for this great new love in your life.
The second camp says: Yes, you should know what you’re looking for in a life partner and only seriously date someone if they meet most of your expectations. This way, you’ll avoid many of the conflicts which occur when 2 people with differing wants, goals and passions in life fall in love, but then can’t make their relationship work.
The reality is that few questions can be answered absolutely. Should you have expectations when you date? Yes, you should, but they should be a carefully curated list of the most important values which you feel you could never compromise on. For all the rest, you should be willing to make adjustments in order to accommodate the person you love. Otherwise, you will have a list of objectives which are unlikely to ever be fulfilled and you might miss out on finding and falling in love with a wonderful person and a great marriage partner.
Defining Your Expectations
What do you expect from your future spouse? What do they expect from you? The problem with expectations is that they are often not clearly defined or prioritised.
We may start off by saying “I expect my spouse to support me in my career”. However, we may not have thought through what degree of support we are looking for. In this case, does it mean that we expect our future spouse to be a stay-at-home husband or wife? To be willing to relocate to any country which our jobs might post us to? To accept our highly demanding travel schedules?
Even if we are able to define this, have we thought through whether or not finding a spouse who will support us in our careers is the most important expectation we have. What if finding a spouse who will be a great parent takes precedence? How do we define which expectations are the most important ones to consider?
The Most Important Expectations are Based on Values
The first step in understanding your expectations, is to understand which values you feel are most important in defining who you are. Some examples of values are: ambition, integrity, service, respect, loyalty, collaboration, empathy, courage, wisdom, independence, generosity, optimism, flexibility and persistence. There are many values, but only some of them will speak uniquely to who you are.
Think through your values and make a list of them, then spend some time narrowing down your list to not less than 3 and not more than 10 values which you feel best define how you want to live your life.
Discuss Your Values with Your Partner
As you date, start by looking for a partner whom you feel shares the same values that you have. Expectations change over time, but values should not. In the beginning of a relationship, your expectations may be as simple as “I hope he will make an effort to get along with my family”, after you get married, those expectations may change to “I hope he understands that I would like to care for my aging parents in our own home”.
Both these expectations are different, and it would not be appropriate to bring the second one up when you first begin dating, or to expect that your partner would be willing to commit to it at that point in time. Yet, both expectations arise from the same value – filial piety.
If you have been lucky enough to find a partner who shares the same values as you do, you are likely to find that your expectations will remain aligned even as they change over time.
Embarking on a serious relationship without understanding and clarifying your expectations might lead to complications when both of you realise that you have irreconcilable differences later on in the relationship.
The most important expectations are those based on the values which most closely define who you are as a person.
Expectations will change over time, but values rarely do.
As you date, try to find a partner who shares the same values as you. The chances of your present and future expectations remaining in-sync will be much higher and your chances of having a strong and successful marriage will be too.