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. So why are we so bad at communicating them?
First let’s break down what it means to have expectations. An expectation is “a 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. For example, I have a friend who was excited about going to a pumpkin patch with her husband and children. In her mind they would head out in the morning and have this lovely Fall day among the pumpkins. Maybe sip hot apple cider and treat themselves to those fresh doughnuts those places always seem to have. They’d take adorable pictures of their children in the patch and select their perfect pumpkins before heading home. Once home, the kids would nap and she and her husband could relax on the couch together.
What really happened, was in the car on the way there, her husband informed her that he’d like to spend about an hour there. He wanted to get to the gym early and then hit the grocery store. My friend was really sad. To her, it felt like he was prioritizing chores over quality time. She stayed quiet, the kids picked their pumpkins, and they left the patch so he could run his errands. The kids napped and she sat alone feeling rejected by her husband. When she texted me about this I encouraged her to talk to him about it that night when the kids were asleep. It was likely that he also had expectations for how the day would go. He announced plan and she didn’t challenge that plan. He probably thought they were on the same page.
That evening she shared her feelings with him. She had this idea of a leisurely morning together as a family, doing this great activity, and instead he wanted to run errands and work out. He was surprised and shared that there’s no way he’d rather run errands and work out over being together as a family. He felt obligated to get the shopping done so there was food in the house for dinner. Going to the gym during the same trip minimizes time away from home. His expectation was to have a little fun, get the chores accomplished, and then relax 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 daily activities. They bleed into our emotions and can contribute to feeling out of control. This is where management and reevaluation of expectations becomes incredibly important. Having realistic expectations for ourselves and others is part of living a fulfilled life. We are setting ourselves up for disappointment when expectations exceed what we or others are capable of. If a client came into my office for the first time with the expectation of feeling 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 over time... and the confrontation of a lot of uncomfortable emotions. 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 with their loved ones. Sharing openly about anything puts us in a vulnerable position. 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 someone shares their expectations for a day or an event, it creates transparency. If expectations don’t match then there is an opportunity to figure out a plan to meet each other half way. There is an opportunity for compromise and collaboration. There is an opportunity for teamwork. The act of teamwork with our loved ones makes us feels closer and more attuned to them.
The word expectations does carries a weight with it. It can feel more intense than it needs to. Really what it speaks to is our desire for an identified outcome and our assumptions around the likelihood of that panning out. The more transparent we are with our loved ones, the easier it is for those desires to come to fruition. A plan can be made to meet the needs of all involved.