You know what we do that doesn’t get us very far in our relationships?

We make covert agreements and have covert expectations of others. Pay attention here, it’s a good one.

So what are covert agreements and expectations?

They’re essentially the unspoken agreements and expectations we have of the relationship and our partners—they’re agreements we haven’t *actually* made, yet we expect them to be met. (You see how this is getting tricky already?!) Now, we can make covert agreements with just about anyone; it doesn’t just show up in our romantic relationships:

“If I work really hard and put in overtime, my boss will notice and I will get a bonus.”

“If I massage your feet and make you dinner, we will have sex later.”

“If I go on this date with you, you will pay for dinner.”

“It’s the weekend, you will let me sleep in.”

“If I stay up with the baby tonight, you’ll stay up with her next time.”

These are some classic examples of covert expectations and agreements we have, but what happens when they get a bit more in-depth? What happens when our agreements involve our love languages, triggers and unhealed wounds?

As you’ve probably experienced before, you get let down, disappointed and frustrated.

Sometimes you begin to question whether the other person even cares or loves you; maybe you wonder how they could POSSIBLY think that what they’re doing is “fair.”

When we make covert agreements we really set ourselves and our relationships up for major miscommunications and misunderstandings, which then, often lead us to feeling disconnected and like we’re failing in our relationships. It creates an opportunity for conflict which can often lead us further away from one another.

So where do we start and what can we do differently?

This really does take, what will first feel like, over communication. Part of shifting out of this space is shifting towards clear and concise agreements where both parties are essentially consenting.

We can only do this when we’re clear on what it is we need and expect and what the other person needs and expects, too.

That means we have to get real with ourselves. It means we have to be willing to address and label what it is we need in order to feel loved, respected, honored and supported. It means that we challenge ourselves away from the things that keep us internalizing things, staying quiet and silently hoping for different outcomes.

Too many people get caught in the space of hoping for different outcomes, hoping that their partner will be able to mind read and “just do it” (and...get it right).

Unfortunately, that’s just now how it works.

Take a few moments to think about where in your relationships you feel let down. Identify where you wish your partner (or any relationship) would do things differently.

What expectations do you have of your partner, friends, employer, employees, or family? Have you voiced those expectations or kept them silent?

  • Write out five expectations you generally have every week. Some may be fairly simple and straightforward and others may be far more complex.
  • Once you’ve done that you get to share those expectations and agreements with the other (fun, I know!)
  • Find a time to tell the other person what your covert agreements have been and that you’re working on being clear with expectations.
  • Ask them to do the same so that you both have a better shot at fulfilling on them.

Some expectations will be easy to meet, while others may not be something that you or they will agree to (that’s totally okay). It just creates a space to have a conversation around those agreements and shift the expectations.

Moving covert agreements out into the open isn’t just about getting all of our expectations met. We get checked sometimes, for sure. But it opens up space in order for us to have the conversations that create clarity and understanding. It’s such a great move in the right direction. Try it this week!

Originally posted on Mindful Marriage & Family Therapy.