What Do You Expect?
What is an expectation?
A strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.
A belief that someone will or should achieve something.
Let’s talk about that second line, there, a belief that someone will or should achieve something. Let me ask you this; how easy is it to change? What’s the biggest thing you’d like to change about yourself? Are you done, yet? Have you even started? Not that easy, is it? Now what if someone strongly believed you should change in that way? What if they believed that you would, or should, achieve those changes? And what if you didn’t? Do you think the fact that you didn’t quite fulfill their desire, confirm their strong belief, would cause disappointment, even if only a little? Would prolonged disappointment on their part, perhaps, cause a strain in your relationship? Yes, it would, and the more time that passes that you don’t confirm their strong belief, the more likely that disappointment will mount. The relationship deteriorates over time as a result. Yet we all have expectations of others in our relationships. It is absolutely natural.
Expectation is a relationship disease, like a cancer, eating away at it, undermining its health and vigor, zapping its strength and cutting short its longevity. The only person than can change you, is you. You, plain and simple, have to want to change. Then you must apply a significant amount of energy to that desire. And only you can do that. Period. You can’t change anyone else, and they can’t make you change either. Expecting another to change, trying to convince them to change, pleading, offering ultimatums or threats, are the surest way to put a once vibrant, healthy relationship to a slow and miserable death.
This reaches far beyond romantic relationships and invades relationships with friends and with family members. Expectation causes disappointment, anger, resentment and eventually bitterness, in any relationship. The “expector” is disappointed, angry, resentful and bitter for being let down, the “expectee” for the lack of compassion and understanding on the part of the “expector”. Even if we have expectations of someone with the best of intentions, “I think you should lose weight because I care for you.” Or, “I think you should spend less money so you can save for retirement.” When those types of expectations are placed on us, even though well intended, what is the immediate reaction of the “expectee”? Not change, at least not long term. The “expectee” may make an initial effort, but if they are not embracing the change wholeheartedly, if the desire to change does not come from within, the behavior will continue, the expector will be disappointed, and the expectee feels all that much more awful, first of all for letting the “expector” down and for “failing” or for letting themselves down. Often times, this undermines the self-esteem and self-confidence of the “expectee”, which, with many behaviors, just causes them to increase or worsen, or for new behaviors to manifest.
I once knew a married couple and from the outside looking in, I thought they had the perfect relationship. I remember talking to the wife about it and she told me that a couple of times a year, or when there was a change in family dynamic (a new kid, a new job, etc.), they’d sit down and discuss their expectations of each other. I thought this was brilliant. I attempted to employ this in my own, already unhappy marriage, and the expectation that my husband would even sit down and have a meaningful conversation with me wasn’t even met. Long story short, my marriage ended, neither of us ever lived up to any of each other’s expectations. And the happily married couple are now bitterly divorced. The wife was, for lack of a better term, a bit more assertive than her husband. Over time, he pretty much self-destructed. His life is in shambles and she is happily remarried.
Surely relationships must have some level of expectation in order to survive. Is it wrong to expect your spouse won’t cheat, will honor your wedding vows? The difference here is that vows are a mutual agreement, entered into by both parties, willingly. An expectation is one sided. Therein lies the crucial difference. Expectations often follow the word “should”. Listen to your thoughts, your words; how often are you thinking or saying, “should” as it relates to other people in your life? That is a one-sided desire, your desire, for someone else to change or conform, often against his or her will or desire. Expectations in a relationship, being one-sided in nature, are a highway to frustration and disappointment. Yours and theirs.
We usually begin a relationship managing to overlook all those things we think the other party should or should not do. We are open, accepting and tolerant. That is the key; openness, acceptance and tolerance. As time passes, unless we are conscious of own behavior, the “shoulds” begin to creep into our thoughts and into our speech. We need to learn to identify this tendency and to foster that loving openness, acceptance, and tolerance. We need to affirm in our relationship the characteristics of the other person that drew us together and accept the characteristics that we might otherwise expect to change. Quite simply said, much harder done, we need to replace expect with accept.
One of the best books I have ever read on all matters of relationships is The Soulmate Experience: A Practical Guide to Creating Extraordinary Relationships by Mali Apple and Joe Dunn. This book eloquently and logically explains how poisonous expectations can be to a relationship and how to replace expectations with invitations. I’ve read this book and I’ve re-read this book. And I recommend this book unequivocally. It should be required reading for anyone that ever has to relate in any way to another person! I am inviting you to read this book; I am not expecting you to read it. I’ll accept your decision, either way. Just sayin’.