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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Nanyang Tech chapter.

What do you think is the most important thing in relationships? 

Is it communication? Perhaps respect? Boundaries? Trust? All these things are perhaps the first thing that comes into our minds, and they are 100% valid. But as I was discussing this topic with a friend of mine, I realised that the most important thing for me in my relationships is really managing expectations. 

If you have read my If He Wanted To, He Would article, you would see a hint of that. Some people just have a smaller capacity to give, whether it is because they are healing or that is simply the way they are. Everyone has different baselines and therefore, different expectations. For example, a scenario my friend gave was: If you were out eating with your significant other and a close friend, and the friend is struggling to take some food from the sharing plate and your partner helps them, is that a red flag? Some of my friends felt that it was, while others didn’t. It’s clear that there are so many differing and conflicting opinions about red flags and what is considered a red flag. If you’re in Relationship Tiktok, you would have seen countless debates about different scenarios and what is permissible for a partner to do. Ultimately, to me, it seems that what is considered a red flag or what is permissible in a relationship depends entirely on the context and the two people involved. 

To me, I think the most important thing is to communicate these expectations with one another, and to manage them. To clarify, this is obviously not applicable in situations involving any kind of abuse (emotional, psychological or physical) and cheating (emotional and physical). For scenarios like the one described in the previous paragraph, the most pertinent thing is that you know your partner. You know their intentions, and you know their personality. For me, my friends are an extension of me in some ways, and my partner taking care of them is his way of showing care for me as well. But this may not always be the case for each relationship. Other people may have other expectations of their partner, and that is totally okay. What is not okay is to compare your partner to people you are not in a relationship with, and expecting them to do the same. Furthermore, just having expectations is not enough. Communicating them to your partner and reaching compromises if need be, is just as equally important, and I find that it resolves and prevents many conflicts.  

Beyond romantic relationships, managing expectations can also be extended to friendships. As I grow up and transition between life stages, I grow apart from some of my friends, and I feel like this is completely natural. Life gets busy, schedules are packed, and sometimes I just don’t have the energy or time to catch up with old friends. For some, this is problematic, and is a sign of a distancing relationship and weakening friendship. It shows a lack of priority and even initiative. However, I find that the old friends I connect with the most, are the people who understand me: they understand I have commitments and can get busy sometimes, and the lack of daily texts is not because I no longer want to be their friend, but it’s just that I’m caught up in the storm of life. Understanding one’s circumstances and managing expectations on the level of maintenance the friendship needs is what I find the most predictive of whether a friendship lasts. 

Once that management of expectations is completed, I feel that everything else falls into place. Automatically, you have respect for each other and your boundaries, because you know where you stand with each other, and what are the expectations one is supposed to have on the initiative or actions one has to do to nurture the relationship. Communication comes hand-in-hand with managing expectations, and understanding comes naturally as you strive to take into account your partner’s circumstances in times of misunderstanding. Trust comes easier than usual, because you know what you and your partner or friend are both okay with, and the knowledge of these boundaries makes one feel more at ease and secure. 

Coming to this epiphany has certainly helped me with resolving conflicts and distress in relationships. Perhaps you can try implementing this in your relationships, and seeing how that works out. For me, it is what relationships really need. 

Emmy Kwan

Nanyang Tech '25

The embodiment of a "material gworl" but with no money, if she isn't complaining about capitalism, the economy or the patriarchy, you can find Emmy in the aisles of a clothing store, ironically selling her soul to the corporations she often critiques.