Expectations! Those sometimes exciting, sometimes pesky, sometimes unrealistic beliefs, hopes or even demands that a certain event or action will take place at a certain time in the future. But anticipating the future is risky business and the trouble with expectations in a relationship is they are based upon a one-sided perspective or agenda. Some expectations may be normal and help to create healthy boundaries (e.g. I expect my date to treat me with respect). Other expectations are perilously close to “shoulds,” as in, “Its been X months, he should do or say this!” (i.e. “I want him to do this when I expect him to in order to feel happy or more secure.”) or “If she is really into me she should do that!” (i.e. “I want her to do what I want to prove she cares about my needs”). Never “should” on the one you love! [Shout out to Joel Comm for the original quote “Never let someone should on you!” in Social Poetry] Managing our expectations and the expectations of others is not always easy, however, if you want a truly satisfying and successful relationship it is a necessary endeavor.
Expectations live in the subconscious mind yet often drive our behavior and our conscious satisfaction within a relationship. Whether you are looking for a relationship or are already in one, you may have a variety of expectations. Let’s take a look at how expectations work for people:
When our expectations are met, our reaction is neutral, we experienced something as expected. On the other hand, if we had no expectation and nothing happened, we are also neutral as nothing was expected nor delivered. When we have expectations that go unmet, we have a negative reaction and suffer a disappointment. The only time we have a positive reaction to expectations is if we experience something greater than our original expectation–only then are we are pleasantly surprised.
This often unrealized dynamic of our subconscious’ desires and needs, as well as our resulting reactions based upon our expectations, can wreak havoc on a relationship.
Many things influence our expectations. Our families influence our expectations. We often have what we consider to be “normal” expectations simply because they follow a pattern we experienced with our family growing up. Yet that same pattern may not match the expectations of another, formed by their own family norms. Gender also plays a role in expectations and expectation management. Women not only have expectations for the present, they also tend to anticipate needs and desires for the future at an early stage in a relationship. Men tend to live more in the present with their needs and expectations in a relationship. Our friends and associates also influence our expectations with their own opinions and values. Our friends may even influence our expectations of when to pursue marriage or start a family. It can be challenging to know if you have actually chosen your expectations or if you are simply living out the expectations of others!
An even greater challenge is when we have experienced something negative in a past relationship and that past hurt influences our expectations. Sometimes this can be so significant that we may even begin to expect or fear a negative experience again (wait for the other shoe to drop so to speak) in our new relationships.
So how can you get past the trouble with expectations? Our tips below if followed regularly, will help you on your way to managing your own expectations as well at the expectations of others.
Examine what your own expectations are. Spend some time getting clear on what is important to you for yourself and for others. What do you want and need in a relationship? Are your expectations reasonable or do you expect another to compensate for what you lack? Be as honest as possible. Dig deep to consider why you want or need something from another person. Do you have work to do on yourself? Are you bringing your best self in a relationship? Have you resolved past hurts or are at least aware of the impact they may have on you and the other person in a new relationship? Do you know what drives your needs, wants and actions in a relationship?
What about the other person?
Ok so you are clear with yourself and know what you bring to a relationship. You know your motives, wants and needs. But what about the other person? Having interest and affection for someone you find attractive can be intoxicating. Take a deeper look at the whole person. Do you see them as they are? Or do you glaze over things that you know do not meet your wants and needs? Do you find yourself thinking “Oh, that’s ok, he will change,” or “Oh she didn’t really mean that,” instead of really seeing the person for who they are and taking them at their word or action? Be very clear when you get to know another person. They will reveal themselves to you. Do not rewrite things in your mind to meet your needs. A very clear hallmark of a great relationship is the ability to accept another for exactly who they are and not who you want them to become.
Ok, so you’re confident and honest with yourself and your expectations, and you are aware of who and what your other brings into the relationship. What now? Since expectations are ever evolving, how do you manage the expectations you have for yourself, your other and the relationship? It’s all about communication. Find out if you have similar life goals. If you do, don’t assume you are naturally the other person in that person’s future. We are all works in progress! What we think and feel today often changes in the future. Share your vision of the future without attaching yourself to the outcome. Communicate what you expect of yourself and what you want to find in your future rather than what you expect or demand of your partner! By communicating your hopes and expectations, and anticipating those of your partner and letting them know what you think and feel early on, you can better avoid disappointment in the future.
Live in the present
Often we get so caught up in the future we miss what the present is revealing. Live in the now. Learn to receive what is presented today. Enjoy and learn from your experiences. No matter how many hopes and dreams we have, we can only accomplish what is possible today. Our relationships are a gift. We learn a great deal about life and ourselves from others. But we can only experience and enjoy the present. If we do that well, the future will reflect the choices we make today.
What are your experiences, both positive and negative, with expectations in your relationships? How do they serve you? How do you best manage the expectations of others? We would love to hear from you! Share your experiences in our comments section!