Have you ever heard of the “nocebo effect”? No? Me neither.
Have you heard of the “placebo effect”? It’s the phenomenon where if you believe you are being treated for something, you feel the effects of it. For example, if you are told the pill you are taking will cure your headache, you take it and assume your headache will go away. When it does go away, you think nothing of it, except when you are told the pill you took is a sugar pill. That’s the placebo effect.
Well, apparently the same goes for the opposite of the placebo effect – the nocebo effect. If you believe that something is not going to work, it doesn’t. If you are told the aspirin you are about to take is a dud and won’t work, it doesn’t – even if it’s the same kind of aspirin you always take for your headaches.
Can you imagine how the nocebo effect could affect your relationship?
Let’s say the laundry is starting to pile up in the back room. You go to bed with the expectation that your partner will not do the laundry, and it will still be there in the morning to haunt you; this is a nocebo. Why? Because if they actually don’t do the wash, just as you expected, you are now unknowingly creating a negative cycle in your relationship. You assume your partner won’t do the laundry, so you don’t have a conversation about how you expected it to get done. Now every time the clothes don’t get washed, your frustrations continue to bubble up and your partner has no idea. You are self-fulfilling your nocebo.
So how do you combat the nocebo? I was always under the impression that no expectations are the best kind of expectations. If you have no expectations, then there is no way you can be let down, right? When it’s typed out, it seems like a pretty pessimistic view on life. Especially when it comes to relationships. If I never expect my partner to show me affection, how can I create a foundation of what I need in a relationship?
Studies show that it’s actually good to have high expectations when it comes to your relationship. It’s healthy to have expectations of respect, affection, intimacy, time together, etc. Being in a healthy relationship means you are getting your needs met by a person you love and trust. If your needs aren’t being met, and you are under the expectation that they should be met (which they should), you are in a place where you and your partner can talk about what you need. This sets you up for continuous strong communication and, hopefully, a thriving relationship.
If you receive love through acts of service, it’s important to talk to your partner about it. Give examples, be open and honest – set yourself up for high expectations. When you go to bed, assume your partner will wash and fold the clothes because you have talked about how important that is to you. Then when they do, you can receive love in your love language. If they don’t, then it’s time for another conversation.
It’s good to have expectations. It’s your decision what to do if your expectations aren’t met. For example, I best receive love through physical touch. I expect that my partner and I will kiss when one of us leaves for work. My partner and I have communicated that when I do not receive intimacy my needs are not being met. If we don’t kiss before we leave for work, I feel forgotten. One evening, my partner left my place for work and we did not kiss – I festered about it the rest of the evening. But because of my expectation, we were able to have a conversation with him about how I felt. It’s not to say that our relationship is perfect because of our communication, but we are able to be open with one another and continue to grow into the people we want to be for each other.
What do you need to feel loved? Share your expectations with your partner. If you find that there is a big discrepancy between your expectations and your partner’s, then it’s the perfect opportunity to have a conversation. You will likely learn more about each other’s needs, what makes each of you feel loved, and what’s important to each of you. Through discussion, you can hopefully come to an understanding in which you are both of your needs are being met. Don’t let the nocebo effect and the fear of being let down prevent you and your partner from continuing down an exciting path of growth.