William Shakespeare said, “Expectation is the root of all heartbreak.” He might be right! Last week we talked about the power expectation has over behavior, both ours and others'. It can be a force for good, but like many things, it can also do harm. I’ve been thinking about how expectations are affecting my friendships, how they played out in my marriage and how they affect my current relationships. Here are seven “don’ts” that will keep your expectations from killing your relationships.
Don’t expect someone else to make you happy.
Have you ever fallen into this trap? The cliche example of this is the single person that feels that they can’t be happy or fulfilled outside of a relationship. Don’t let the fact that it’s a cliche cause you to dismiss it. Or, if you’re not a single person putting that expectation on a potential crush, you think it doesn’t apply to you. But there are other ways this happens. What if you clean the house up on a Saturday while your spouse is gone and they come home preoccupied and never mention it? Should they? Sure. But, what if they don’t? How does that affect your happiness that evening? What if you send a friend a birthday card and they don’t acknowledge it? I’m terrible about this. Should they acknowledge it? Yes. But what if they don’t? How does that affect your relationship?
What if you have a hobby that you love, let’s use fishing for example. My son loves to fish. I grew up on a lake, I love everything water-related…except fishing. I’ll happily lay around in a boat with you all day while you fish, but am totally uninterested in fishing myself. My grandfathers were both fishermen…the genes just seemed to run out before me. But, apparently, they’re trying to revive in my son. What if I got into a relationship with someone who loved to fish. What if their happiness depended on me enjoying their hobby with them? That happened in my marriage. I was supportive of my husband’s hobby, I just had no interest in it myself. But, his enjoyment of parts of it depended on my participation and enjoyment. Which, I’ll come back to in a few minutes. Here’s the summary, it’s ok to have expectations in a relationship, it’s not ok to base your happiness on someone else fulfilling those expectations. You are responsible for your own happiness. No one else is. You cannot control someone else’s behavior, only your own. You’re responsible for your own happiness, you can’t put that burden on anyone else.
Don’t expect someone else to always be happy.
We are so uncomfortable with pain. We do everything we can to avoid it. Physically, emotionally, and relationally. We avoid both our own pain and that of others. So, when someone we know, a friend, spouse or child is unhappy, we tend to respond in one of three ways: we avoid it, we put limits on it, or we try to fix it. Often, we flat out avoid it. This looks like not calling a friend who is grieving or sad. It looks like telling a significant other, “ok, I’ll just give you some space until you’re feeling better.” Not in an I’ve-asked-you-and-you-want-space kind of way, but in a “this-is-uncomfortable-and-I’m-getting-out-of-here kind of way. Or, we try to fix someone’s pain. There’s plenty of time for advice or suggestions, just be sure that the advice you want to share has been invited. And lastly, we often put limits on others’ pain. You’ve grieved long enough. You’ve been sad about that long enough. You’ve been depressed long enough. Maybe they have or maybe they haven’t. Allow others to experience their pain their way for as long as they need. People need permission and ability to feel the whole range of emotions. Do not expect them to always be happy. And don’t take responsibility for their happiness. Your happiness is your responsibility and theirs is theirs. What should you do? Be with people in pain, help people in pain, and love people in pain.
Don’t expect others to read your mind.
Remember when I mentioned a bit ago that my husband expected me to enjoy his hobby with him? It was car racing. He loved all things mechanical and automotive. Me, not so much. I’m as non-mechanical as you can get and I’d rather be reading, hiking, painting or sewing than doing anything with cars. This caused some friction in our relationship. Not because I was unsupportive. But, because he expected me to enjoy it with him to a greater degree than I was able. He envisioned us attending car club meetings together and going away all the time for summer racing weekends with other car people. The problem was that I had no idea that these expectations existed. Have you ever done that? Had expectations of someone else that you failed to communicate and then as a result, when your expectations weren’t met, you know, the ones they didn’t even know about? You were disappointed, angry or over time, resentful? We all have. Sometimes we don’t even realize our own expectations exist.
This is a huge problem. No matter how well you know each other, no one reads minds. Communicate your expectations clearly. Sometimes the expectations aren’t a problem…if both parties know what they are. Sometimes the expectation is a problem, in which case knowing about it can lead to resolution instead of anger and resentment.
Don’t expect others to do things the right way…if the only right way is your way.
This is another one that’s easy to shrug off as extreme. Of course, you let other people do things their way! But, are there expectations they need to live up to? If they don’t, do they pay for that in any way? Do you let them know they didn’t meet your expectations? I’m not suggesting that you don’t have discussions in any relationship about expectations not being met…but have healthy discussions about it.
The cliche, “If you want it done right, do it yourself.” Comes from some nugget of truth, right? But, if you’re doing all the things all yourself because there’s no room in your world for things done differently, then your relationship will suffer. Burnout and resentment aren’t good for any relationship.
Don’t expect the people in your life to agree with you all the time about everything.
As much as social media begs to differ, we actually can agree to disagree with other people. We can actually love people who disagree with us. Shockingly, we can even like people who think differently than we do. No relationship is going to exist in which you agree on everything. It’s just not. Maybe if you hung out with your clone all the time, but, seriously, how boring would that be? Our differences are what make us unique and interesting. Treat them with respect. Not just the other opinions or ideas. But, the people who hold those opinions and ideas.
Don’t expect perfection.
It will never exist. Not in yourself and not in others. No one can live up to that standard. We’re imperfect beings in imperfect relationships. Understand that, be willing to treat failures with understanding, openness, effort, and grace and you’ll go a long way toward a healthy relationship.
Lastly, don’t expect others to have the same idea of what your relationship should be as you do.
We come to our relationships with different needs, interests, intentions, backgrounds, habits, and values. Even people who grew up in the same family may have different perspectives on what any given relationship should look like. Siblings might disagree on what relationships with their parents should be. Friends might disagree on how much contact is expected in their relationship. There are a thousand different ways we could have different expectations about what a relationship should be like.
You can’t control anyone but yourself. You can’t make them share your perspective. You can try to figure out what each of your relationship expectations is and try to come to a common ground. This takes effort on both sides.
Those are seven pitfalls we can sabotage our relationships with by having unhealthy expectations. What can you do? Here are three ideas:
So, what happens when we let expectations get the best of us? When there’s a gap between our expectations and reality? That’s where disappointment, anger, and resentment can live. Next week, we’ll talk about how to handle unmet expectations.
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