How can we overcome our frustration of unmet expectations? I dare say that every single time we suffer, get mad, anxious or irritated it is because something is not as we expected it to be. And very often it’s somebody else who failed to do, be, think or say what we expected them to.
When I talk about expectations (and I love talking about them), I often hear people say: “Oh well. I better not have any expectations then, do I? Especially, ESPECIALLY, not in romantic relationships. Haha. (And is it just me or do they expect me to affirm their conclusions?)
There is quite a lot of advice out there that says you better not have any expectations towards your spouse, so that you cannot be disappointed. Then again, some other studies seem to prove that low expectations usually generate low quality marriages whereas high expectations create better ones.
Now that’s not really surprising, is it? If you enter your marriage with the happy thought: “I’m a bum, you’re a punk. And this marriage is going to suck,” chances are you’re not going to have your gold wedding anytime soon.
And is not only true for couples. Look at your child in your mind go ”Well, I guess not much is going to come out of this one…” and guess what? They are going to feel so empowered encouraged, safe, and loved to take on the world and make a difference. Not.
Take on that job thinking about what a lousy company that is, what an asshole the boss and how probably the best you can hope for is a tiny raise in ten years and it’s more than likely that your career is going to be somewhat less than stellar. What goes around comes around.
Lowering Expectations Does Not Work
You see, to lower can mean two things. It can be used in the sense of ‘reduce’ as in reducing the price or the amount of sugar intake. The other way to use it implies negativity. Feeling low, low morale… you know it.
Unless you’re one of the handful of people in the world that have grown beyond their needs, you’re lower expectations are simply another way to say: I know that person is incapable, too stupid, ignorant or maliciously refusing to meet my needs. So I won’t even wait for their failure, I treat them like the failure they are from the get go. How does that make for a fun relationship?
Should you keep expectations high, then? You can. If you are able to keep your disappointment, let’s say, for no longer than an hour, why not live your life in happiest, highest expectation of your lover preparing the most beautiful dinner spoiling you with presents every day until every night when you actually meet them and all they say is “What? Well, there’s some cold half eaten pizza left over.”
After all, that means that for 23 hours you are in a much better position than anybody else who has lowered their expectation and runs around all day miserable about their loved ones who are such failures. The reality, however, is that this never works. Unless they make it up to for ten days in a row, chances are that after the second leftover pizza, you, too, lower your expectations.
We Cannot Live Without Expectations
Don’t pout. This is not about having no expectations. Without any expectations, after all, life becomes impossible.
If you can’t get up in the middle of the night with the certainty that the laws of gravity are still in place, and the toilet is behind the third door to the left, your pee’s going to end up in your pants before you know what to do with it.
Knowing what to expect helps us operate and feel safe in the world. Trust is based on being able to expect a certain behavior or outcome. Strawberries are sweet. The man in my bed next to me is my husband. The kitchen door opens to the inside. Those are practical expectations and there is absolutely nothing wrong with them. If at any point in time your expectation is not met, all you need to do is adjust your response. Throw the rotten berry away. Move out of the neighbor’s bed and into your own. Get an ice pack for your head and open the door to the outside. Remove pee from the flower pot (or leave it there, one time doesn’t hurt).
Emotional and Practical Expectations
Your suffering begins with emotional expectations. When you start to attach meaning to everything you see, hear or otherwise experience. When you believe that everything that happens and everything that other people do has to do with you and says something about you.
The bus driver grunts. He hates you. That piece of apple pie the waitress brings is smaller than the one she brought the girl next to you (yes, really!). She must think you should lose weight. It’s your birthday and it’s raining. God hates you. Your children did not pick up their socks as you asked them to. They hate you.
The quality and magnitude of your reaction to anything that does not conform to what you believe the world should be, is determined mainly by how safe and grounded you feel within yourself and how rigid you are in how the world should be so that you can feel safe inside. So, what do you do?
Detach from the outside and turn to the inside.
Detaching from the outside goes like this: Start asking yourself one simple question: Does a really mean b? Then find at least three other meanings that could be equally true.
Kids don’t pick up their socks. Does that really mean they disrespect me? Could it be (I know it’s hard to believe) that a sock-free environment is not part of a teenager’s priority list?
Girlfriend laughs at another man’s jokes. Does that really mean she wants to dump me for him? Could it just be that the guy is funny?
Turning inside has you look at what your emotional needs are behind every practical expectation you have (and yes, there is always one!). After a while you will find a pattern of emotional cravings and needs. Attend to them. Every single day.
You want to be heard. Hear yourself. Really listen to yourself. Don’t say yes, when inside you feel no. Don’t say no to what you feel inside. Take a break when you need one. Allow yourself to not meet other people’s expectations when they are not in line with who you are and what you want.
You want to be respected. Respect yourself. Walk away from situations that are unhealthy for you. Stop beating yourself up for every tiny mistake and all those things that aren’t even mistakes. Be nice.
You want to receive. Give. The most powerful reminder of how much you have and can receive is giving. Give every day without expecting anything in return. Give because you’re overflowing; give because it makes you happy. A smile, a favor, money, a hug (I know I know, not now), a loving message, you ear to someone.
Whenever you feel frustrated at what you perceive as someone else’s failure to meet your expectations, feel inside what your emotional need is and attend to it. The rest will fall into place.