* This is post 1 of a series on healthy management of expectations.
Are you feeling constantly let down by the people in your life? I used to face disappointment after disappointment- especially in my romantic relationships, but with friends, too. Let down after let down, I started wondering why I couldn't seem to attract the kind of people into my life who put in adequate effort, who were thoughtful and generous, who aimed to please- ya know, people like me!
I wondered if this was because I was expecting too much, or because my expectations were unrealistic or unfair, or if I was constantly disappointed because the people I kept choosing were just crappy, selfish people who didn't give a damn about anyone but themselves. I was confused and frustrated. I felt unloved and uncared for. I started to worry that I was doomed to a lifetime of unsatisfying relationships.
To have expectations or not to have expectations- that seemed to be the core question up for debate among those offering solutions to combatting disappointment with others. On the one side a simple solution- stop expecting anything, meet all of your own needs, and you'll never get disappointed! On the other the notion that having high expectations is important in getting what you want out of any relationship, so ya better know what you want and communicate it. I tried it both ways, and I was still unhappy. Neither option helped me get my needs met.
So after toiling, contemplating, learning and experimenting for years, I finally began to figure things out on my own. What I came to realize is that the wrong question was being asked. It wasn't about whether or not to have expectations (you should have them), it was about what was okay and reasonable to expect and what wasn't. The question needed to be- 'how do I establish healthy expectations that support mutual benefit and satisfaction?' Having the wrong expectations damages and often ends relationships. Part of the reason for this is, when not contemplated within the frame of mutuality, one person's expectation could compromise the other person's sense of wellbeing or satisfaction.
Here is an example of this from my personal experience. When I met my current partner, he would occasionally smoke cigarettes in social settings. I knew this from the beginning. I am not a smoker and do not like smoking at all, but I initially accepted that he smoked from time to time. At some point I grew frustrated with the smoking, expressed it to him, and expected him to quit altogether. He didn't want to quit because he enjoys a cigarette when out with the guys. We began to fight about it and we did so for months.
I fell into the trap of focusing on my own wants over his needs- I wanted him to not smoke because I thought it was gross and unhealthy. He needed to feel free to smoke if he wants to smoke. Eventually I realized it was reasonable to expect him to hear me out about my concern, which he did, but unreasonable to expect him to quit just because I didn't like it. I knew it when we met, and I accepted him and chose to date him knowing he was as an occasional smoker. He needed and expected to feel accepted by me, free to make his own decisions without being judged, and to have his decision respected. That was reasonable, and a good lesson for me, might I add, on how to love my partner better.
So here is the first thing I learned to ask in order to discern if my expectation was supporting both mine and the other person's best interests:
What do I fundamentally need to feel loved and safe in the relationship?
The first question has to do with what I need as a person, and what all persons need- including my partner and friends. All persons feel loved and safe through things like kindness, acceptance, affection, and respect. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect these things that make up emotional safety, for without them a healthy relationship is impossible. And because one should expect to give and receive these critical things in any close personal relationship, any expectation I may have that disrespects the other person in some way, is unkind, communicates a lack of acceptance for who they are or how I know them to be, or deprives them of affection is unjustifiable.
Studies confirm that people who have high expectations for how they are treated in relationships get what they expect, and those with low or no expectations are treated poorly. It's important to clarify for yourself and others what your fundamental needs are so that don't find yourself starved for the basics of what feeds that sense of connection and emotional security in your important relationships.
But what if you have expectations beyond these fundamental things, ones more particular to you as a unique individual, like responding to your love languages? Or how about if you're feeling like you give way more to others than they give to you and you want more reciprocity? In the next post I will share another powerful question for discerning if your other expectations- beyond being accepted and treated kindly, affectionately, and respectfully- are realistic, fair, and reasonable and how to adjust them if they are not.
Questions? Thoughts? Comments? Share them below or email me to keep the conversation going! I love hearing from you.