“Never idealize others. They will never live up to your expectations. Don’t over-analyze your relationships. Stop playing games. A growing relationship can only be nurtured by genuineness.” — Leo F. Buscaglia
Expectations can be helpful when creating guidelines in a relationship. Whatever the type of relationship — intimate, friendship, work or casual — expectations are intended to help us feel safe and secure and able to anticipate. However, unmet expectations are almost always the cause of anger, frustration and disappointment, often leading to painful and perhaps unnecessary endings.
It is important to understand that our expectations are based in our individual experiences, values, unmet needs, fears, hopes and dreams. So when we place expectations on others, we are placing a lot of pressure on someone to protect those underlying pieces. Do you really want to put your hopes and dreams in someone else’s hands? Whenever we give someone that much power, it feels very personal when they don’t deliver.
This can be seen so clearly in our political discourse that is often filled with anger. At every turn, our leaders make decisions that are not up to the expectations of millions of us and may only meet some of the expectations of the rest of us. It would be impossible for them to meet each of our individual or group expectations. Yet many of us expect and demand that they do. Many of us take the action of our leaders quite personally, as if they have singled us out in some way.
Personalizing the failure of someone to meet your expectations is what leads to pain and suffering. Who then is the cause of the pain and suffering? Is it the person who created the expectation, or the individual who failed to live up to the expectation? What if this was an agreed-upon expectation, like fidelity within a marriage? As the Buddhist may say, “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”
The defining moment comes when the offended party makes a choice whether or not to personalize the failure of another to meet an expectation. With an unmet, agreed-upon expectation, it makes it even more difficult to avoid personalizing the actions of the other person and experiencing betrayal. In relationships, expectations and betrayal go hand in hand.
As Leo Buscaglia suggests, it may be better to not have any expectations. However, it is unlikely that we will ever really avoid having expectations. So what can we do to minimize the pain and suffering when someone has not met our expectations?
• Be honest. Was your expectation reasonable? Did you set up the other person and yourself by idealizing him or her?
• Avoid personalizing the other person’s action. Ask yourself, would the other person likely do this with someone other than you? The answer is probably yes.
• The actions of another person are rooted in his or her own experience. You can lovingly remind yourself, “This is not about me.”
You may feel powerless over the other person’s actions; however, you are not powerless over your response. You have the power to decide if this is somebody you want in your life or if you are going to let their actions cause you suffering.
When it comes to smaller unmet expectations (neatness, for example), challenge yourself to stay out of resentment. When you get to resentment, you know you have made it personal.
Another person’s lack of neatness is not about you. You have different views and come from different experience. Don’t make it a story about a lack of respect or lack of appreciation. If the other person truly lacks respect for you, or you for the other person, then why are you together? Be clear about the real issue.
Helpful books are “The Presence Process” by Michael Brown and “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz.