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Expectations: Can’t live with them, can’t live without them

Expectations… we all have them, we all feel the weight of them. In my sessions with clients the theme I see again and again is frustration and pain around unmet expectations. This can be true with our romantic partner, kids, job, friends, the list goes on. We cannot escape having expectations or having them thrust upon us. So why are we so bad at communicating them?

First let’s break down what it means to have expectations. Expectations is defined as ‘the strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.’ Every situation we enter we have a predetermined idea of how we think things are going to go or how we want them to pan out. For example, I have a friend who was excited about going to a pumpkin patch around Halloween with her husband and two children. In her mind they would head out in the morning and have this lovely fall day among the pumpkins, maybe sipping apple cider and eating some of those yummy doughnuts those places always seem to have. They’d take adorable pictures of their small children in the patch and selecting their perfect pumpkins before heading home for nap time. The kids would go down and she and her husband could relax on the couch maybe cuddle a little and talk about what a fun morning they had.

What really happened was in the car on the way to the patch her husband informed her that he’d like to spend no more than an hour there because he wanted to get to the grocery store early and then hit the gym. He also had some errands that he may want to run if the groceries didn’t take too long. My friend was really sad. To her it felt like he didn’t want to spend time with his family and was prioritizing things he wanted to do over quality time. She said nothing and they left the patch so he could do his errands and she and the kids went home. The kids napped and she sat alone feeling rejected by her husband. She texted me about this and how disappointed and kind of mad she was that this is how the day was going. I encouraged her to talk to him about it that night when the kids were asleep because I know him and it was unlikely that he flat out didn’t want to spend time with his family. It was likely that he also had expectations for how the day would go and he announced those expectations and she didn’t say anything in return so to him it probably sounded like a good plan.

She mustered the courage to inform her husband that she was really disappointed with how the morning went because she had this idea of a leisurely morning together with their kids doing this great activity and instead he wanted to run errands and work out. He was completely taken aback by this and informed her that there’s no way he’d rather run errands and work out over being together as a family, but they had no food at home and the store is busier later in the day and he might as well work out since he’s already out and about. He felt obligated to get the shopping done so there was food in the house for dinner and they weren’t scrambling to feed the kids. His expectation for the day was have a little fun, get the chores accomplished, and then relax in the evening with his family. Had they only discussed their expectations prior to leaving the house not only could they have made a joint expectation for the day, but they would have avoided the pain and rejection she felt.

Expectations aren’t just restricted to day to day activities, they also bleed into our emotions and can make us feel in or out of control. This is where managing our expectations becomes incredibly important. Having realistic expectations for ourselves and others is a mandatory part of living a fulfilled life. If our expectations exceed what we or others are capable of then we need to really reevaluate them. If a client came into my office for the first time and told me that it was their expectation that they would feel 100% better after the session I would tell them that it wasn’t a realistic expectation. Feeling better only comes with change and change only comes with hard work and time. It would be realistic to discuss the changes they wanted to make in their life and how we could work toward those changes.

For some reason it gets really difficult for people to share their expectations (or as I like to call them, my hopes and dreams) with their loved ones. Sharing openly about anything puts us in a vulnerable position and even for those in solid relationships sometimes this feels scary. Vulnerability means letting our defenses down and opening ourselves up to another person completely. In order to have successful and happy relationships we need to be able to be vulnerable with each other at times. When I share my hopes and dreams for the day with my husband we both have a much better understanding of what my expectations for that day are. It also gives him the opportunity to share with me as well and if our expectations don’t match then we can figure out a plan to meet each other half way so we both feel good. I also think calling them something like hopes and dreams for the day puts a more light hearted spin on it when we’re not addressing super serious expectations. The word expectation carries a weight with it and it can feel more intense than it needs to be. But if I say “Hey babe, my hopes and dreams for the day include only wearing sweats, doing as little as possible, and not leaving the house unless it’s to play in the yard with the kids.” Then he’s able to laugh a little and be like “That sounds great buuuuut, we also need to run to the store for groceries for the week and the house is kind of a mess so it would be really helpful if we could team up and get everything in order.” Then we can make a plan for accomplishing both fun and relaxation as well as getting the less fun stuff done so at the end of the day we feel like we tackled some must dos and also spent quality time together as a family… and most importantly only wore sweats while doing it.

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