From Dr. Jessica Higgins: Expectations can fuel and motivate how we relate and react to others. However, most of us don’t even realize that we have had an expectation, until we find ourselves feeling disappointed or upset.
Most couples experience a great deal of confusion, disappointment, and upset within the power struggle phase of relationship. It may be important to read this article first before reading the following article (as the following article relates more to specific issues rather than the overarching relationship issue).
Is it okay to have expectations? Are expectations always bad? If expectations are not always bad, how do I know what is healthy and what is unhealthy in regards to expectations?
Here are 10 tips to consider when exploring your expectations in relationship:
1. EXPECTATIONS ARE OFTEN UNCONSCIOUS
Have you ever found yourself feeling sad or disappointed and not known why? With a little reflection, you may realize you had an expectation didn’t even know it.
To help bring awareness to your expectations, take some time to ponder – if you had it your way, how would the situation have been different? What did you want your partner to do or say? What would this have allowed you to feel?
Once we get a sense of what we were wanting, hoping for, or expecting, we can evaluate this desire. Is this really true for me or did I adopt someone else’s expectation of how someone is suppose to treat me? We pick-up messages about what relationships are suppose to be like from movies, television, family, and friends. If we don’t take time to explore our expectations, then we may acquire other people’s expectations that are not relevant or appropriate for us.
2. EXPECTATIONS CAN BE DETRIMENTAL TO RELATIONSHIPS
Expectations can feel overwhelming and stifling to the organic flow in relationships. We often miss the real beauty of what is available, when we have only one way that we want to interact with our partner. If we have expectations and are really attached to the outcome, then we can engage in power struggles by using manipulation or control tactics to get our way. This strategy often leads to conflict and unhealthy dynamics where partners do not feel free, authentic, and honest.
Realizing that your partner is not going to live up to your expectations or ideals can be devastating. Couples can feel disappointed, frustrated, betrayed, or resentful and move to end the relationship because of unmet desires and unfulfilled expectations. However, if you can look openly and honestly at your expectations, then you can use this as information to communicate with your partner more effectively and constructively. Also, if you are angry or frustrated, the this may be a signal that a boundary of yours is being crossed, which will also be important to address.
3. KNOWING THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN EXPECTATIONS, NEEDS, AND DESIRES
• Expectations are hopes and beliefs that are focused on the future, and may or may not be realistic.
• A need is something that is necessary for healthy relating and living. Do you know what is essential for you to have a healthy relationship (i.e. fidelity, kindness, lack of drug or alcohol addiction, etc.)? What are your deal breakers or non-negotiables?
• A desire is a preference about something you would like to have or receive.
4. TAKING OWNERSHIP FOR YOUR NEEDS AND DESIRES
The truth of the matter is –we know what we need better than anyone else. To expect our partner to read our minds is a setup for disaster. We are not static individuals with one mood, one preference, and one focus. We are dynamic. We change, grow, and learn day-to-day. We have different moods, desires, and plans. Yes, we may like our coffee a particular way, but even that can change over time. We can take all the confusion and mystery out of the equation, by letting our partner know and communicating (see tip #5).
Ultimately, it is our responsibility to get our own needs met. If we give ownership to someone else for getting our needs met, than we can feel dependent, powerless, and misunderstood.
Also, taking ownership inspires action. We realize we have the power to create change. We have the opportunity to nurture ourselves in the ways that we need it most. This is a difficult practice, but it can be very empowering.
Taking ownership of your needs can also be a spiritual practice. You realize that your relationship is not source, you end all be all. You have the opportunity to feel more connected, supported, and inspired by something greater. This connection, support, and inspiration will nurture your relationship as well.
5. EXPRESSING YOUR NEEDS, DESIRES, AND EXPECTATIONS
Have you ever consciously expected or desired something from someone, but didn’t give voice it? We probably have all had this experience at some time or another. Usually, this is a recipe for disappointment. How is someone suppose to know what you want if you don’t tell them? Even if they get it right a time or two, it sets up a dynamic where people are operating on assumptions, which often leads to miscommunication and frustration.
Often, we hide our expectations, needs, and desires because we fear that we will be rejected or that our partner will not be able to meet our needs. But how do we ever get our desires met if we cut ourselves off before we even try?
This may seem scary and vulnerable because it requires you to open yourself up and acknowledge that you have needs to your partner. But imagine being able to ask for what you need in a clear and clean way (i.e. by owning it, without making it someone else’s responsibility), and then experiencing your partner give to you in a very genuine way. This can truly be a very rewarding and transformational experience.
By taking ownership of our needs, desires, and expectations, we can work with our partners. We can help teach them what works and doesn’t work for us, and then we have the opportunity to learn and grow together.
6. GIVING PEOPLE THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT
Usually, people are doing the best the can. And your partner is probably loving you in the best way he/she knows how. This is important to remember when you are holding your partner up to an expectation or an ideal of yours. It may be helpful to consider, the question “how would I feel, if I trusted he/she is doing the best that they can?”
This is often easier said than done, especially when you feel hurt and protective. Trusting someone and giving them the benefit of the doubt can be extremely difficult, especially if you have experienced a lot of hurt and betrayal. It is important to keep track of your boundaries and needs. It is not okay to keep participating in a dynamic that is hurting you. If you are taking responsibility for your needs, then you will be more likely to take care of yourself. When it comes to other people, you get to choose what you are okay with and what you are not okay with. It is important to remember that you cannot control another person, and that your control is around what you participate in or not.
7. SEEKING SUPPORT, IF YOU NEED IT
Expressing your needs and giving someone the benefit of the doubt can be tricky territory, especially if you didn’t get your needs met when you were young. It is natural to attempt to fulfill these unmet needs, but oftentimes we can be very unskillful. It is even possible that you may not know that you are doing this.
If you feel a strong reaction, feel threatened, or really protective, than this may be a good indication that there may be an underlying hurt or an unmet need. There are many opportunities to heal and grow, through self-help books, articles, groups, and one-on-one counseling. It’s never too late to have a different experience, learn new tools and skills, and to start practicing them.
8. RECEIVING THE LOVE PEOPLE HAVE TO GIVE IN THE WAY THEY GIVE IT
Imagine receiving a gift from someone. You open it and tell them you don’t like it; they should have shopped at a different store, spent a different amount, gotten a different gift, and wrapped it differently. It seems ridiculous right? Well, think about someone’s time, energy, attention, and love as a gift. How well to do you receive people’s gifts?
While it is important to advocate for our needs and desire, it can be equally important to receive someone’s love and attention. You may be surprised that someone’s gift is better than you could have dictated. What would be different if you released your attachment? Would you feel a shift in the dynamic?
9. ALLOWING FOR SPACE AND MYSTERY
Without a ton of expectations, you can allow yourself to be more in the moment, receive, and be pleasantly surprised. You can receive your loved one’s expressions and gestures as genuine and authentic gifts. You can start to appreciate them with a sense of newness. You may have a greater appreciation for the miracle of love.
Allowing space for people to meet you in the best way they know how is truly a beautiful and powerful experience.
10. UNDERSTANDING THE GIVE AND RECEIVE NATURE OF RELATIONSHIPS
In successful relationships, there is a good level of ownership, honest communication, and a mutual dynamic of giving and receiving. The way in which people give can be very different, depending on the situations, their style, and personalities. Actual authentic compatibility may be more about how two people can accept each other and foster each other’s development, rather than how similar they are.