It has been my observation that much of the unhappiness in our relationships can be attributed to expectations: missed expectations, unreasonable expectations, unexpressed expectations. When I have expectations of how others will behave, and they are not aware of or not capable of meeting them, I am setting them up to fail. If I don’t know what someone’s expectations are, despite my best efforts to meet their needs and serve them with love, I may disappoint them.
Those of us who have been hurt or abused in the past, may have deep-seated unmet needs. We may desperately want those around us to meet those needs. We must be careful not to compound the problem by having such high expectations of those around us that we set ourselves up for disappointment.
Part of the problem is that we don’t always know that we have expectations of someone until they fail to meet them! Then our surprise and disappointment can make them feel inadequate, incapable, embarrassed or ashamed. It can become a cycle of hurt.
Think about times that there have been negative feelings in your relationships. Can you trace it back to missed expectations?
I can hear some of you saying, “But I have to have some expectations of others in my life!” Perhaps. If you feel like you must, here are some guidelines that I have found help to avoid creating hurt and disappointment in my relationships.
Guidelines for Expectations:
Be aware of them
Sometimes we have expectations of others that we aren’t even aware of. This could be because we assume all people will behave the way we do, or the way we were raised. Think about your expectations of others and try to be aware of them.
Choose them carefully
If you find that you do have expectations of others, make a conscious decision that you are either going to keep them, or let them go. Don’t just hold on to them by default.
Make sure they are reasonable
Ask yourself if it is likely that the other person will be able to meet your expectations. If it is not, then you are creating an environment of continually repeated hard feelings and frustration. This damages the other person by making them feel like they will never be good enough. This also affects you, by almost guaranteeing your disappointment, and feelings of low self-worth. After all, if s/he really cared about you they would meet your expectations, right?
Even if you have conscious, reasonable expectations, if you do not clearly communicate them, the other person can fail to meet them. Not because they can’t, and not because they choose not to, but just because they didn’t know about them, or don’t have the same understanding of them as you have! For example, perhaps you are a romantic and you would like your loved one to recognize the anniversary of your first date. If s/he is not romantic by nature, they may not even know what the date is, never mind realize that you would like to celebrate it! It is unfair of you to be disappointed that they didn’t remember. If it is important to you, let them know. Don’t “dig a pit for your neighbor” (2 Nephi 28) by setting up situations in your relationships in which someone is likely to be disappointed or hurt.
The other person must agree to them
If you don’t share your reasonable expectations with the other person, and come to an agreement that they will try, in good faith, to meet them, you are likely to be disappointed. Suppose that you express to them that you have a need, and request that they meet it. If they don’t agree to do it, you will probably be disappointed. You cannot control others. You can only control yourself.
What if this person doesn’t want to meet your expectations? Then you need to let go of their behavior and focus on your own. If the other person is an adult, you have to come to terms with the fact that they have their agency and are not obligated to comply with your requests, however reasonable and clearly communicated. When the person in question is one of your children, Love and Logic has some great approaches. Most of them deal with focusing on what you can control (your own choices and behaviors) rather than what you cannot control (your child’s choices and behaviors).
It may make you feel vulnerable to express your needs and desires and risk rejection. You are already doing that by assuming that they will know what to do to make you happy and are willing and able to do it. It is better to talk about it in a calm and reasonable way ahead of time and try to work out a win/win for your relationship.
What if I do all that and I am still disappointed?
What do I do if someone does not meet my reasonable and communicated expectations? That depends on the circumstance.
- They tried and failed. I thank them for their efforts, figure out how to get the immediate problem solved without judgment or shaming, and think about or talk with them about what we can do the next time to get a better outcome.
- They didn’t even try. This tells me that there is something wrong on a deeper level in our relationship. Perhaps my expectation was not as reasonable as I thought. Perhaps it didn’t take into consideration his/her needs. Perhaps s/he was reluctant to share their true feelings with me because when I don’t get what I want I have a tendency to throw shame or guilt. I have to examine my motives. Am I trying to manipulate or control the other person? Am I being selfish? Maybe they have an unexpressed need that I wasn’t aware of? Maybe they never really agreed to meet my expectations in the first place?
I have written several posts on how to let go of things we cannot control. If our best efforts to have and communicate reasonable expectations are ineffective, the Lord can help us to let go and seek His help to find another approach to getting our needs met.
- Write about times you have been disappointed or worse as a result of expectations that were not met.
- What will you do differently in the future to pursue serenity and peace in your life?
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