When we are asked to describe what it feels like to experience love, most of us say, not without reason, that it is something that goes far beyond words.
Falling in love comes accompanied by a hormonal rush , and in a way, our brain reacts as if we were taking a drug every time that person is near.
But at the core of relationships there is not only a cascade of hormones: there are also expectations . This is a component of affective life that can be expressed in words, since they are simple ideas about how a relationship is or should be.
However, despite being in the realm of words, we often ignore our own expectations, and that is precisely what can make them become a mental trap.Expectations can transform us into slaves of our own relationship, to the point that the person who gives without receiving is always us .
Asymmetrical relationships and their effects
Before we understand the role that expectations play in all this, we can stop and see what it is that makes trying too hard for a relationship cause so much discomfort.
If anything characterizes asymmetrical relationships, that is, those in which it is always the same person who is trying and sacrificing, it is a mixture of fatigue, stress and helplessness.The fatigue is due to the fact that, materially and psychologically, making the relationship “work” always depends only on us . There is no one at our side in an experience that, paradoxically, has its reason for being in the fact of sharing something exciting.
This does not only mean that we will make efforts to face difficult situations, but also that it will be up to us to decide at all times what decision to make, to choose the least bad option so that this courtship will go one step further without having solved the underlying problem and knowing that it will come back sooner or later. It is the latter that generates stress: the anticipatory anxiety of knowing that we have only achieved momentary relief.
Impotence goes hand in hand with despair , and in them there is a paradox: the expectations that cause these sensations are, at the same time, the lens through which we examine our love problem to see if we can find a way out.
Why expectations can create an emotional quagmire
To understand the psychological impact of giving everything for a relationship, one must understand that the expectations about a relationship will always be there . Having beliefs about what a commitment of this kind will be or should be allows us to make it gain meaning, which points in one direction. That means that asymmetrical relationships in which someone constantly sacrifices himself or herself for the other person do not appear simply because of the existence of those expectations.
So how does the problem arise? People who bet too much on a relationship do so partly because they have a value system in which pure sacrifice is seen as something good, dignified . From this perspective, situations of constant exploitation and abuse of power by our partner not only do not warn us that we are in a toxic relationship, but they give more reasons to continue sacrificing for it, to continue testing that capacity for sacrifice without giving in to adversity.
The problem in these relationship traps is that the long history of personal sacrifices made to make the relationship work is a reason to continue doing so indefinitely. This is a loop , a phenomenon in which the causes of this constant bet on the relationship are, at the same time, the effect of continuing to do so at the expense of our health.
Why do we sacrifice ourselves in this way for the relationship?
We have already seen that asymmetrical relationships in which one person gives everything and the other barely makes an effort are largely due to the effect that certain expectations have on us: in particular, the expectation of moving forward despite the adversities that may arise, whatever they may be and without thinking too much about their anticipation.
But… what psychological mechanisms explain why we can behave so absurdly in one of the most important areas of our lives? It’s basically one that’s called “cognitive dissonance.”
Cognitive dissonance and the sacrifices that never end
Cognitive dissonance is a feeling of discomfort that appears when we have in mind two ideas or beliefs that contradict each other and to which we give importance. To make that unpleasant sensation (which can become an obsession that occupies our attention constantly), one of the ideas must “win” over the other.
However, this battle of beliefs almost never comes to an end through the use of reason . In fact, we usually do a lot of fiddling” to make the cognitive dissonance go away.
For example, in the case of asymmetrical relationships, these ideas are usually the following:
- Real relationships don’t end, and you have to sacrifice for them.
- That discomfort I get from the relationship is avoidable.
In this struggle of beliefs, one could say that the second option is more attractive, as it offers an outlet and is linked to a sense of well-being. And yet many people choose the first. Why? Because it is the one that makes our beliefs and our vision of things waver less .
If we assume that a relationship in which another person does not take his or her side is not a relationship that suits us, we would have to face many other cognitive dissonances, because our self-image would have been greatly affected: it would be shown that this sacrifice for something that has formed part of our own identity has been meaningless and we would have to build a new vision of things that allows us to feel good about ourselves and our decisions.
The sooner it is cut, the better
That is why it is important to detect situations in which our expectations act as a prison for our emotional life .
Despite the fact that relationships are a matter for more than one person, cognitive dissonance makes us the ones who boycott ourselves , transforming the discomfort produced by unhealthy expectations into a reason to keep betting on that source of discomfort.