The other day, I was talking with a client by phone. She was significantly upset by her husband’s behavior. She was at home recovering from a surgical procedure. Although she had the help of her mother and teenage children, what was lacking was her husband’s attention. We talked about how she felt, and it seemed she was feeling a bit unloved because of his aloofness and inattentive attitude.
To be fair, he did provide some care and did check in on her in his own way. The problem was that it was not what she had expected. They had talked about the help she would need prior to the procedure, and she felt he fell short of what they had discussed. She also told me how he was raised and what he experienced relating to care and compassion in his home life. She shared lots of good information that shed light on her current situation, especially on what was real in her marriage and what was imagined.
We discussed how expectations can cause disappointment when placed too high or too low. We also discussed how to ask for what she needed in a nonthreatening way.
Expectations are universal. We all have them, and our lives are often impacted by them. In Charles Dickens’s novel, Great Expectations, the main character, Pip, inherits money from a secret benefactor. He views this fortune as a steppingstone to marrying the girl of his dreams. When he learns that the money is not necessarily part of that larger plan, he realizes that he has taken many important relationships and gifts in his life for granted. His expectations robbed him of fully appreciating his reality. Can you relate? Expectations can often cloud how we perceive our reality.
Here are several ways to make relationship expectations work without getting disappointed and discouraged.
- Focus on what you already have in your life that is working. Use this information to ground yourself in a positive place, full of gratitude.
- Be aware of what is possible and not what you wish could be or what you feel should be. We all have dreams and goals. But when we set goals for other people, we have entered a realm that is beyond our control. Giving up power this way is a setup for resentment.
- Turn it down a notch from what you ideally want, to what you will accept. An example might be if you wanted your spouse to lose fifty pounds. But upon reflection, you realize the improbability of that and suggest ten pounds instead. This is more likely to happen. A partner can feel crushed by a goal that is too remote. But a small victory can put him or her in a frame of mind to seek out further changes.
- Ask yourself if the expectations you are seeking are realistic. Consider what you know about that person’s values and background. A boss who is sparing with praise and quick to change expectations might not ever be a different sort of person. But you may be able to create a mutual system for record-keeping so that the goals at the beginning of a project are clear to both of you.
- When we have expectations, there is usually a payoff. If you feel disappointed with the results of your expectations, ask yourself if they were necessary to get the result you wanted. Receiving small gifts (such as a card or flowers) may make many wives feel more loved. But many husbands only think to do these things for holidays and special occasions. Make a list of all the things your spouse does that tell you he loves you.
- Finally, look for the positives around you, and savor what you have. Ignoring those and focusing only on what you don’t have will ultimately lead to more stress and unhappiness.
Expectations are a part of everyday living. It is prudent to look at how much we inflate them and how much we place value on whether they pan out or not. But every time we do not examine them, we are gambling against rather long odds. Having realistic and measurable expectations is an important element of a successful relationship.