When we are in any type of relationship we hold a set of expectations for the each other. We are constantly doing this without thinking too much about it. I decided to try to break this process down into its elements to get a clearer understanding. I think if we better understand this, we can be more mindful of our expectations and thus significantly improve all our relationships.
What do we usually base our expectations on?
They are often based on what we are used to from past experience and our idea of what is ‘normal’ in any particular relationship category. For example, if someone has a childhood where they are abused or neglected then they might go on to live their lives expecting this from everyone. The same goes for spoiled children who usually grow up expecting a lot more from others than they end up getting and at the same time not really doing much in return.
In close relationships people with low self-worth generally have lower expectations (they don’t feel they deserve it) and those with higher self-worth have higher ones (they know they deserve it). However, I have noticed that in many cases the same people with high self-worth will have lower expectations for loose ties than for those with low self-worth. Probably because people with low self-worth want everyone to like them where as high self-worth people only care about the love of their inner circle.
What to do when expectations are not met?
There will be cases where one holds higher expectations of someone than they are either capable of or willing to meet. This will lead to conflict and various emotional responses and can put the whole relationship into question. It is important to reach an understanding of what you expect from each other and if these expectations can be met.
If someone lets you down or “hurts” you, the first question you have to ask is, “Is it fair for me to place this expectation on them?” If the answer is “no” then you should no longer feel let down. If the answer is “yes” then you have to ask yourself, “Do I need to lower my expectations for this person?” Maybe it is just a one off event, you can solve it through communicating your feelings and thoughts and sorting it out. But if this is a serious issue or something that keeps happening repeatedly then you have to consider lowering your expectations.
The next question you have to ask yourself after lowering your expectations for this individual is, “With this new set of expectations, what role do I see this person taking in my life moving forward?” This is where you have to decide how much distance such a person should have from you. Lowering expectations will create distance because closeness and expectations both move in the same direction. This could range from a slight downgrade of the relationship to a termination of it.
Usually I try to match my expectations for someone with what they are capable of from the start so there is never an issue. People who I have low expectations for stay at an appropriate distance and those that I have high expectations for remain close. But sometimes I get it wrong. Sometimes I put higher expectations on someone than I should. Usually because of some sentimental reasons leading me to wish better from them to justify my attachment, thus avoiding the inevitable result of having to break that attachment and redefine the relationship to a lower level. That is a painful thing to do but an important thing to do.
It is also important not to just focus on your expectations of others but on their expectations of you. Throughout life people may put various expectations on you which you will not meet. It is your responsibility to help others manage their expectations of you by communicating clearly.
Most people go through life unconsciously assigning expectations to people and not really understanding what they are doing or why. If we aren’t mindful of this we can look forward to a lifetime of relationship problems which may result in becoming a hermit with an unhealthy passion for cats.
– Please comment if you disagree with something.