Expectations: The Silent Killer of Relationships
Today’s topic is a big one.
Are you aware of your expectations? Of what you’re expecting from the people you interact with? You probably expect more than you think.
Think of a recent interaction where you became frustrated, angry, or disappointed. This could be with a romantic partner, coworker, friend, or family member. What caused the upset? Did they leave dirty dishes in the sink? Did they not respond to your email or text? Did they not invite you to go out last weekend?
In most cases, the anger, frustration, or hurt you feel has more to do with your unmet expectations than it does with whatever actually happened.
Doing the Dishes
Say you come home one evening and notice that your roommate or spouse has left a pile of dirty dishes in the sink for the hundredth time. “They always do this!” you think to yourself, fuming over their lack of respect. “I’ve asked them a thousand times to do the dishes and I still come home to a full sink!”
What’s your expectation here? That they will do the dishes, right? But what if they did do the dishes—just earlier that morning? Or what if they were planning to do them later that evening?
Your expectation here isn’t just that they will do the dishes, it’s that you’ll come home to a clean sink. It’s that they will do the dishes right before you get home or not leave dirty dishes in the sink in the first place.
So the next question is: Did you communicate those expectations to them? If you were specific about wanting to come home to a clean sink, then you may want to talk it over again. But if you said, “Please do your dishes more often,” can you really resent them for not knowing you actually meant, “Please make sure the sink is empty when I get home each night?”
In this situation, your resentment has nothing to do with your spouse or roommate. They did what you asked them to. Your resentment has to do with the fact that you had other expectations that you weren’t conscious of but are still holding them accountable for.
Uncommunicated Expectations Are the Problem
There is nothing wrong with expectations—even high expectations. It’s when we aren’t aware of those expectations and/or don’t communicate them to people they involve that we run into issues.
“My spouse is so inconsiderate.”
“Because they don’t ever offer to help with the laundry.”
You have an expectation that your spouse will offer to help with the laundry. Have you told them this? Maybe they are willing but think you enjoy it?
“I feel like my girlfriend/boyfriend doesn’t care about me.”
“Because they never text me first. I’m always the one to send the first message. If I wait for them to reach out, they never do.”
You have an expectation that your girlfriend/boyfriend will initiate conversations with you. Have you told them that? What if they are enamored by you but believe it’s your role (as the girlfriend/boyfriend) to initiate things?
See how quickly a lack of awareness and communication can cause issues?
How to Recognize Hidden Expectations
To recognize hidden expectations, look for resentment or emotional turmoil in your life. Nine times out of ten, you’re upset because reality did not live up to your expectations.
• If you’re upset with your friends because you feel they weren’t thoughtful enough on your birthday, what were you expecting? A surprise party? An evening out together? Did you communicate any of that or just expect them to read your mind?
• If you get upset when your spouse comes home from work and plops down in front of the TV, what were you expecting them to do? Help make dinner? Watch the kids so you can have a break? Are they being rude, or have you simply not communicated your expectations to them?
Got it? Try it.
Think of a person or situation you’re feeling upset about, and do some digging for any unexpressed expectations. If you identify one or more, consider sharing them with that person. If you notice that you have an expectation of something ahead of time, decide to either 1) be okay if it’s not met or 2) communicate that expectation with the person it involves.
Tomorrow, we’ll tackle tips and tricks for improving communication in relationships, including conflict management, sharing expectations, and more.
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