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Expectations in relationships

Updated: Oct 28, 2022

Usually a mismatch in expectations is because people hold different values that aren't aligned, or they have different views of the world based on their own unique experience. We tend to have a picture of how different relationships should play out based on ones we saw when we were children.

Any relationship issue I've ever had, has been due to someone having an expectation of me they haven't told me about and have been left disappointed when I've not met it. The expectation has remained unspoken, the gap widening and the hurt building with each breach.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and if only these expectations were communicated I would have had chance to say up-front that I couldn't meet them. I could have put in place my own boundaries, or negotiated what I could and couldn't do. If any perceived breaches were talked about objectively and compassionately, with love and understanding things would have worked out very differently.

We all change, and our circumstances are different so it's good to have conversations regularly, and not hold people to the same expectations you always have.

But we find it so hard to speak honestly in this way, especially to loved ones for fear of hurting them, or when our own egos and anger gets in the way. So we bottle things up hoping they'll pass (fawn), or we pull away (flight) or we lash out (fight). With each of these scenarios it builds, adding an extra layers of hurt and disappointment until one day it's too hard to go back from and repair.

I'm no angel and have done this with others too.

Learning from relationship challenges

I have learnt to completely lower my expectations of others. Why should I put my expectations on others in the first place?

Secondly, if I feel hurt or triggered by something someone has done or not done, my starting point is that I look for the best in people. I know it's highly likely we have differing values and opinions on what we think is important or a priority. I question myself with kindness on whether I've got unrealistic expectations, what I might be doing to contribute to the situation or if there's anything else unrelated going on that's triggering me.

Thirdly, I think about whether I need to repair and/or have a courageous conversation and approach this calmly and compassionately. My aim here would be to build mutual understanding and get curious and clear about expectations on both sides to decide whether they can be met or not. This is the hardest part and the one I've struggled with most in the past. There are many times I've not spoken up for myself or I've tried to speak with people who are just not ready to have this type of conversation. I've come to realise that's usually on the other person. Sometimes people have their own "stuff" that they project onto others, or they can be too angry to talk rationally with. I'd recommend thinking about your boundaries in this case and whether you're prepared to continue with the relationship in its current form.

Don't get me wrong I don't apply this as a hard and fast rule for everyone.

My husband and I quite rightly have expectations of each other in our relationship and in our parenting journey. We communicate these constantly, negotiate, renegotiate and talk openly about any issues (most of the time, we're not perfect!)

My children; I am teaching and guiding and of course need to set expectations with. I'm learning to have realistic and age appropriate expectations of them.

In a work setting it's different again. There should be clearly agreed objectives and standards.

Everyone else, I don't see why I should put my expectations on them.

Realistic expectations:

- kindness

- respect

- compassion

- accepting people's strengths and weaknesses and that they won't always get things right

- love and affection if it's a romantic relationship

Unrealistic expectations:

- believing people know how you feel without telling them

- expecting you to always take someone's side or vice versa

- expecting someone to have the same values as you

- that people should speak, believe or behave in the manner that you desire

- expecting a relationship to always stay the same

Accepting reality as it is, and people for who they are, without expectations, and trying to force people into the boxes you have created for them will reward you with better relationships and less stress. It'll give you a new found appreciation for those around you and an ability focus on all the good things in your relationships.

Not always easy I know! If you'd like some help with navigating this for yourself, I can help through my 1:1 wellbeing coaching.

PS if you found this blog interesting, you'll LOVE my emails! Subscribe to receive my emails here. I'll send you one every few weeks and you can unsubscribe at any time.

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