Most everyone has a myriad of expectations. We expect good manners, we want people to call us back when we call them, we expect our family to give us presents at holidays and birthdays, or we expect our mate will love us unconditionally. We may expect ourselves to be perfect or expect that our mate will always be strong and be there for us all the time. For perfectionists, expectations are about the right way to behave, such as an expectation that our mate is telepathic and will know what we are thinking. But our expectations can be way out of whack. We may deem that our expectations are simply the way people should live life. We are then quite astounded and angry when our expectations are not met. For example, some people believe that their mates should be romantic and selfless at all times. When this doesn’t happen, they think that their lovers have failed them. In a mature relationship this can become a major source of contention.
Here’s what expectations may look like:
- If you really loved me you would make love to me every night.
- You should know what I want before I do.
- You should always know what to do to make me happy.
- If you loved me you would buy me expensive presents.
Obviously, the downside of expectation is disappointment. Unrealistic expectations are idealized or fantasy versions of real life. Disappointment is our reaction to the difference between our fantasy and reality. When we can’t meet these expectations, we feel like a failure. When we attempt to do everything we can to meet our partner’s expectations and still can’t fulfill them, we stop trying. If, on the other hand, we have realistic expectations, then what our mate actually does is greeted with happy surprise. The critical point is to know what realistic expectations are. To find realistic expectations, we need to understand what we want and need from each other. In this way we can learn what we can expect from our relationship and gauge what may be too much or not enough.
Expectations are often built around unmet personal needs. The less able we are to meet our own needs, the more we will expect from others. But this doesn’t mean that we must meet all of our own personal needs or that we can’t depend on others. For expectations to be realistic, they must be founded in reality. Can my wife give me some of her time right now, or is she too busy? Why do I need my husband to tell me he loves me so often? The more we fantasize about how others “should” be in order to soothe our personal insecurities, the more we will expect of them and the more disappointed we will inevitably feel.
Let’s take, for example, the expectation that others should be on time. If we’re always on time, then we tend to expect others to do the same. We get angry when others aren’t punctual. We feel justified in our anger at our mate or friend. After all, this person was being disrespectful. If we look into the origins of time issues, we see that not everyone was raised the same way. Some households just don’t run on time, and the children in those homes may never have learned to be on time. And as we look deeper into ourselves, we may find that our anxiety about lateness is connected to fears of abandonment and insignificance.
Learning that we can manage expectations through understanding and empathy toward others can only have a positive effect on our relationships. Recognizing that we’re making others responsible for our anxiety about time helps us to develop more realistic expectations that help us work through our deepest fears. We must ask ourselves what’s more important, being right or being happy in our relationship?
The task of working out our anger and anxiety is the key to keeping expectations healthy. If we can’t work out our own anxieties, then we will look for others to help us out. If our mate is our only resource for anxiety reduction, we create an expectation that he or she will always be available to help us when we need it. This is not a realistic expectation. No one is that available. It creates a natural state of disappointment and resentment on both sides. We can’t afford the fallout from this behavior; it is bound to erode our connection. The resolution is obvious: we need to take care of our own anxiety and relieve our mate from being solely responsible for neutralizing it.
Alienation is unavoidable because no two people can be connected all the time. If we use this knowledge to create realistic expectations, we will not overreact when we experience the inevitable loss of connection. Learning to consciously and thoughtfully create connections based on an intrinsic grasp of what’s realistic allows us the freedom to experiment with different and unique relationship ideas. To play and venture into new worlds with each other gives rise to innovation and rebirth, which brings us from distance to intimacy and from anger to joy.