Expectations: The Relationship Killer

I can explain why people have expectations and how they can ruin relationships. I can suggest methods to help you manage those expectations and the subsequent disappointments. However, I can’t do the work for you—and it is hard work. First, you need to recognize your expectations are harmful. Second, you must decide to change your natural behavior when faced with unmet expectations. Finally, through managing your expectations, you can save yourself from inevitable disappointment and improve your relationships.

Over your lifetime, you will have many relationships to navigate: relatives, schoolmates, friends, teachers, co-workers, bosses, community members, significant others, and your own children. The one thing all these relationships will have in common is the existence of expectations, but where do they come from?

They come from a place Choice Theory psychology ® calls the Quality World. Each of us has this imaginary place where everything is perfect. Our parents are exactly the way we want them to be, and our children behave exactly as we think they should. All our teachers are fair and see our inherent value and worth, and our bosses appreciate our contributions and are understanding on those rare occasions when we may underperform.

If we could live in our Quality World, we would experience constant inner peace. The problem is, we need to live and navigate the reality of our lives and our relationships, and this can be a daunting task.

The problem is this: You have expectations of the people in your life regarding what kind of person they should be. When they match your expectations, all is well. But when those expectations aren’t met, you typically respond with sadness, frustration, resentment and anger. These emotions are your best attempt to get the other person to better match your expectations of them. One big challenge with this approach is that they don’t typically know what your expectations are. Even if they did, people are more inclined to line up with their own values, beliefs and desires.

The next thing that happens is misdirected. We typically point a finger and blame the offending person for our emotions, which we created ourselves as our best attempt to get what we want. How can that be their fault? It isn’t. It’s not really your fault either because it’s unlikely you’re aware you created those emotions to communicate your displeasure to the other person. However, now you do, so one change you could make when you experience these painful emotions is to ask yourself, “Am I currently upset because I have an expectation of this person in our relationship they are not meeting?” If the answer is “yes,” then it’s time to look in the mirror and consider Kyle Cease’s quote: “No one has ever broken your heart; they’ve broken your expectations.” When I first heard this quote, it was a mind-blower for me. If I was to embrace those words, which I did, then who do I believe is responsible for my expectations? Well, I am, of course. If I don’t want to be disappointed, I need to change by letting go of my expectations. This puts the responsibility squarely where it belongs, on me. I’m creating the expectations and then becoming sad, angry or frustrated when others don’t meet them. I remember realizing what a trap that was. Because of it, we’re destined to struggle in their relationships—the lifeblood of our entire lives.

What can we do instead? I have developed the Unconditional Trust Challenge to cope with the tendency humans have for expectations. You have one thing you can trust every person for: You can trust them to do their very best to get what they want in every moment of their lives. Period. If you care about them, then you would want them to have what they want, even if it doesn’t line up with what you want for them.

The next step involves looking in the mirror at yourself to take responsibility for your part of this equation:

  1. What expectations do you have of the other person?
  2. Have you communicated those expectations?
  3. Did the other person agree to meet your expectations?
  4. Do you have the right to hold expectations for another person?
  5. If you trust them unconditionally, are you seeing this person for who they actually are, instead of who you wish them to be?
  6. If you discover you don’t like what you see when you attempt to see someone clearly, are you courageous enough to draw the boundaries you need to protect yourself and be at peace, up to and including ending the relationship?

Follow this process and you will never be disappointed by expectations again. You will also be taking responsibility for your own happiness and your life. If you’d like more information, set up a complimentary 15-minute strategy session here.

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