How to kill any relationship with expectations

by - November 16, 2015

Whether we realize it or not, each of us enters relationships with a set of expectations. This is true of friends, spouses, coworkers, neighbors and our children. These expectations have the ability to sabotage our relational health and leave us we huge wells of disappointment. They also have the power to crush those around us.

There are four types of expectations I've identified as being prevalent in my own life. Joe was given first read and he wants me to clarify that this list contains the busted expectations and that there can be good ones that are aligned and met.

Unrealistic Expectations
The clearest example of this in my own life is the expectation that my boys will behave in a public space past their bedtime. This is completely unrealistic. They are tired, most likely hungry, and simply cannot hold it together. If I expect to have an adult conversation with a friend in these circumstances, it is almost guaranteed that I will be interrupted during each sentence I try to speak. For me to then get angry when the kids fail to meet this expectation is unfair to them. Several other unrealistic expectations are that friends know when they are needed without being told, that a spouse will fill all our emotional needs or fill the same roles that our own parents did, that a parent will never be hurt by our words, that all our friends will share our political positions, that an employee can achieve 70 hours of work in a 40 hour work week, that others will always notice and praise us for the work we do, etc. When everyone is disappointing us, maybe we need to reassess our expectations and determine if they are realistic.

Uncompromising Expectations
Admittedly, uncompromising expectations are sometimes essential for boundaries and well-being. For example, "no means no" isn't something we should budge on. However there are other expectations that are actually rooted in preferences that may not be shared by the people we place them on. Sometimes our preferences collide with the preferences of those we love, and we have to be willing to determine what's best for the good of everyone. We can't always be autonomous. An example early in my own marriage was some fairly intense conflict Joe and I has over the cleanliness of our house. I create messes, piles and chaos, he cannot peacefully dwell in the midst of clutter. My expectation was that he would love me for me and accept my mess. His expectation was that if I loved him, I would never leave out any piles and help maintain a healthy environment for him. Neither of these were completely unrealistic. Eventually, we learned to compromise both our expectations and our actions. I still struggle with clutter creation, and he still gets frustrated by the mess, but we've both changed patterns and carry weights in order to ease the expectations we place on each other. I try to respect our communal spaces, not have multiple rooms with multiple ongoing projects, and he daily cleans up tons of messes that aren't his own and has shown an abundance of patience during times when I explode.

Unspoken Expectations
Here's another marriage example. When we had our first baby, I expected that on the weekends my husband would shift into doing 50% of the care-giving, including diapers. I never told him this, but I expected it. This didn't happen. He was completely exhausted from long work weeks and expected rest. Don't get me wrong, he did about 110% of the cleaning and cooking, but he could not smell a dirty diaper if it were in front of his face -- or at least he pretended not to. I finally blew a gasket and declared that I was fine if life and my duties carried on as normal on weekends, but I just needed to know what to expect. I didn't want to wait around for him to notice and change the diaper while the baby developed a rash just to give him the chance to step up and do it. My own unspoken expectations up to this point were making me bitter, but once they were spoken and realigned, I could handle it. We also can do this to friends when we have a set of hoops that friends must jump through if they love us. Is it a text quota? Is it a certain threshold of quality time? Do you even know what your expectations are? Sometimes our expectations are unspoken because we are unaware that they even exist. However, if you go and look at your disappointments, chances are you can pinpoint an expectation that wasn't met in each case. Also in this category are the expectations that we falsely represent. We say one thing yet really mean another. Maybe we do this because we are embarrassed by what we want. Maybe we think the other person will read between the lines. A key to communication is making sure the message sent is the message received.

Assumed Expectations
This was a nasty one that is similar to how we can project our feelings onto another person. Hypothetically, you have a friend with a seemingly perfect marriage or dating relationship. You feel insecure, and she essentially becomes your unicorn. You measure everything you do to what she does. You then assume that your own partner idealizes her and her marriage as well and expects you to be the same way. In your failure to live up to that unicorn relationship, you imagine that your partner is disappointed with you. Maybe you do this as a mom. Maybe you assume your boss expects you to perform just like the coworker that you consider to be a creative genius. This is a lie. We are all individuals, our relationships are unique, and we should not try to chase an unattainable ideal that may not be a reality. I've done this in just about every category of relationships. Worst yet, I've assumed God had a set of expectations of me, and I've allowed those to distance me from Him.

So that's basically it. We all have expectations, and they aren't all bad. But we have to realize that they are our own and it's up to us to figure out that they are there and either adjust them, communicate them and root them out when they are lies.

"Well this was unexpected..."

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