By Guest Contributor on July 1, 2017
Guest contribution from Megan Pinfield, Senior Advisor, Workplace Mental Health
I’ve been a clinical counsellor since 2004 and in that time, I’ve worked with many couples and individuals struggling with relationship issues. One common theme I have seen over and over again is conflict due to unmanaged or uncommunicated expectations.
Dr. John Gottman, a relationship researcher and author of several books on the subject states that 70% of all conflict in relationships is actually unsolvable  and that conflict will exist no matter what.
Why is conflict inevitable?
The answer to this question is that we all have certain expectations about relationships that many of us do not acknowledge to ourselves, let alone our unsuspecting partners . Our expectations come from how we were raised, the society in which we grew up, the types of books and TV shows we watched, how we were treated by the people in our social worlds and many other factors.
For example, from our family of origin we learned how to show and receive affection, how to negotiate for things we want, how to communicate our needs and feelings so others will listen, and what to expect from the people who love us.
Each of us has developed a unique set of expectations for relationships based on our life experiences. In addition to giving and receiving love, we all have expectations around the following:
- Relationship longevity (how long we expect relationships to last)
- Sexual fidelity (whether we expect our partners to be faithful or not)
- Sex (frequency, style, etc.)
- Romance (what it “should” look like)
- Children (whether we should have them, how many, what sexes, etc.)
- Work, careers and money (how ambitious our partner “should” be, how hard we should work, etc.)
- Communication (how much, what about, what’s taboo, etc.)
- Degree of emotional dependency (how much to rely on a partner for emotional support)
- Power and control (who has it, how much, when and in what situations)
- Housework (who does what and when)
- Friendships outside a relationship (how often do we see friends or opposite sex friends, etc.)
- Religious and spiritual beliefs (do partners have to share beliefs)
Sometimes in my counselling practice, I meet couples who openly discuss these topics before marriage. But more often than not, couples never even consider these ideas much less discuss them with each other. Every one of them has their unique set of expectations for each category – even if they are not aware of it.
Conflict happens when one person’s expectations are not met by the other party. For example, A and B are in a relationship and A has the expectation that B will show their love by buying A small gifts and setting up romantic getaways for the two of them. But B grew up in a family that didn’t have a lot of money, and B learned that showing love means doing chores for the other person without being asked. So B washes the cars and cleans the house and picks up the dry cleaning for A. Unfortunately, A doesn’t recognize B’s efforts as love and B feels unappreciated by A. So neither person is happy in the relationship.
If this goes on for five to 10 years, A and B can build up a lot of resentment and anger towards each other that lead to arguments and tears. The solution is for A and B to have an honest discussion about their individual expectations for the relationship (ideally A and B should talk about what each of them expects from the other in all the categories).
Sometimes it is helpful to have these discussions in the presence of a therapist, especially if there is a history of resentment and frustration in the relationship. A good therapist can help teach each individual how to communicate his/her needs and expectations in a respectful and non-threatening way so their partner can hear them.
Obviously, some expectations cannot and should not be met by your partner; a good therapist will help you and your partner learn to accept differences and make compromises.
If you are experiencing conflict in your relationships, take a moment to consider what your expectations are. Ask yourself, “what did I assume about this situation that is upsetting me?”
If you need more help, contact a counsellor in your area or UBC’s Employee & Family Assistance Program (EFAP) provider, Shepell.
 (Gottman, 2012, Why Marriages Succeed and Fail)
 (Markman, H., Stanley, S & Blumberg, S. 2001, Fighting For Your Marriage.)
By Miranda Massie on July 6, 2016
I recently attended a conference with health promotion and human resources staff from colleges and universities across Canada. What an amazing opportunity! Nothing beats engaging with people who are incredibly energized and passionate about the work that they do.
Some of these colleagues I met for the first time, while others I have had the pleasure of developing personal and professional relationships with over the past five years. Though we may only see each other in person once a year, we have created a strong and supportive community of practice.
The theme of relationships came up repeatedly in our conversations and made me realize how the strength of our relationships relies heavily on managing our own expectations. Our thoughts, assumptions, biases and frustrations can often interfere with our ability to create and maintain healthy and supportive relationships in life and in the workplace.
Here are a few examples that I feel help to illustrate this.
Example 1: Attribution Bias
If I trip over a power cord in the office, who can I blame? I might curse the cord and whoever left it lying on the floor. If I see someone else trip over this cord, I might think “slow down!” or “what a klutz”.
Also known as the fundamental attribution error, attribution bias is where we place emphasis on internal factors to explain someone else’s behaviour without considering external situational factors (as we might to justify our own behaviour and actions).
Example 2: Try on a different pair of shoes
Think about someone with whom you have interacted or experienced a challenging situation recently. Remember that moment and think back to the emotions you were feeling at the time (frustration, anger etc.).
Now, imagine that you went to sleep last night and woke up this morning to discover that you had switched places with this person.
Put yourself back in that challenging situation, but as the other person. What emotions are you experiencing now? Is there a reason for your behaviour?
Momentarily taking ourselves out of our own experience to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes helps create empathy. Trying to identify with someone else’s feelings and emotions can help us better understand their behavior and perhaps approach a situation or relationship differently.
Example 3: Challenging assumptions
Take a look at the posters below. They come from an anti-stigma campaign from Healthy Minds Canada.
It’s obvious that we would never treat people with heart disease and cancer this way. However, the stigmas that persist around mental illness is very real and these posters expose a double standards that exist. They are a great example of how we can place our personal assumptions and judgments on others, creating a false basis for the relationship before it even really begins.
This month’s newsletter theme is healthy relationships and I hope that these examples will help you to look at the way that you approach your relationships with others going forward. Supportive and nurturing relationships are key to our individual and professional success.
Be curious, be open and be understanding.
All my best,
Want to learn more about ways to foster positive relationships in the workplace?
Attend our upcoming session to learn more about the 2016 Not Myself Today Campaign:
Not Myself Today Information Session, July 12 @ 12pm
Learn about the campaign and how your department can be involved; discover support tools and resources; learn more about mental health and become involved in fostering safe, open and supportive work environments.
By Guest Contributor on February 4, 2015
Guest Contribution by Dr. Joti Samra
5 steps to a financially-wise Valentine’s Day:
Identify your beliefs, assumptions and expectations around Valentine’s Day: then challenge them.
Start by articulating your beliefs and assumptions around Valentine’s Day. Be honest with yourself. Do you think you have to take your partner out for a fancy expensive dinner for them to know how much you love them? Do you worry your partner will be disappointed if he or she doesn’t “get” an expensive gift? Articulate the thoughts that compel you to overspend on Valentine’s, and then challenge those thoughts. Ask yourself, are those thoughts accurate? Are they valid? Check in with your partner and ask them if they feel or expect what you may be assuming they do.
Create a Valentine’s Day budget.
It is amazing how often people don’t do the obvious – speak openly about how much they are going to spend on Valentine’s Day. Often, we get caught up in assumptions or perceived expectations of what we think the other person wants or expects, and then end up overspending on unneeded and unnecessary items. So talk openly about this; speak to your partner about what you would each like to do, and set (and stick to) a Valentine’s Day budget. Be realistic in this and keep in mind, Valentine’s is ultimately just another day.
Be creative in planning Valentine’s Day activities.
Generate fun, low-cost activities you can do with your partner. The main overarching aim is to spend time together on this day. Make a special dinner at home; turn off all technology (cell phones, TVs, computers) and just focus on each other; go for a long walk; take a day off work and spend the day in bed cuddling and watching movies. Do something you might not do on another day. The day can be meaningful and highly memorable in the absence of fancy dinners or extravagant gifts.
Give low or no-cost gifts.
Make a pact to spend no or little money on gifts. If you have a talent, use it! Write a love letter (handwritten, not text or email). Write a poem or a song. Choreograph a sexy dance for your partner.
Remember: love is not defined or communicated by material goods.
In this day and age of consumerism, it is easy to get caught up and feel the pressure of having to “buy” something as a symbol of our love. Keep in mind that how much you love, care for and adore another is not related to what you buy them! Our love is communicated by making someone feel special and important to you: so do something this Valentine’s Day that communicates that to your partner.
Interested in learning more about how your extended health benefits can work to better your relationships? UBC Staff and Faculty have access to a number of health related prevention services through the Employee and Family Assistance Program. Staff and faculty who are enrolled in UBC’s extended benefits plan also have $1,200 coverage per year to see a Registered Psychologist.
Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych., is a clinical psychologist and organizational and media consultant. She is the host of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network’s “Million Dollar Neighbourhood” and was the psychological consultant to CITY-TV’s “The Bachelor Canada”. She has also served as a psychological consultant and expert to a number of other TV shows and news outlets. Dr. Samra maintains a clinical practice in Vancouver. Her website is www.drjotisamra.com and she can be followed @drjotisamra.