- Article (Original): Expectations: The Silent Killer of Relationships
- Related Episode: Codependency: Your Happiness Matters, Too
- Related Episode: The Drama Triangle: Why We Step In and How We Step Out
- Related Episode: Responsibility: The Foundation of Healthy Relationships
Forgive typos and odd grammatical mistakes—this was transcribed using the magic of AI, and while it’s insanely awesome, it’s not perfect.
[00:00:00] Welcome back to the I Hear You podcast, I’m your host, Michael Sorensen, and I’m going to start off today’s episode or today’s intro with a question: How aware are you of your day to day expectations? Of what you’re expecting from life, your significant other or even strangers that you run into throughout the day? Chances are you carry dozens, if not hundreds of expectations throughout each day. Chances are also good that you’re only aware of a small fraction of them.
[00:00:31] But so what?
[00:00:33] Think of a recent interaction where you became frustrated, angry or disappointed.
[00:00:38] This could be with a romantic partner, a coworker, a friend, a family member.
[00:00:43] But what caused the upset? Did they leave dirty dishes in the sink? Did they not respond to your e-mail, your text? Or did they not invite you to go out last weekend? In most cases, the anger, frustration or hurt you feel has more to do with your unmet expectations than it does with whatever actually happened. And today, we’re going to explore this. We’ll explain how uncommunicated expectations are harmful to ourselves and our relationships. We’re going to talk about a few simple ways of bringing awareness to our expectations. And lastly, we’ll talk about ways to hold expectations, no matter how high they may be, in a healthy, positive, truth based way.
[00:01:27] This, like most of what I’ve recorded so far, really is another foundational episode. So this is a worthy lesson. It builds on other topics that we’ve already talked about. But this is one thing that you will notice right away, making a difference in your life
A Few Examples
[00:02:02] Let’s say that you come home one evening and notice that your roommate or spouse has left a pile of dirty dishes in the sink for the hundredth time.
[00:02:11] You might think to yourself, they always do this! And you’re fuming over their lack of respect. I’ve asked them a thousand times to do the dishes and I still come home to a full sink. What’s your expectation here? It’s that they’ll do the dishes, right? But what if they did do the dishes just earlier that morning? Or what if they were planning to do the dishes later on in the evening?
[00:02:35] Your expectation here isn’t just that they’ll do the dishes, it’s that you’ll come home to a clean sink. It’s that they’ll do the dishes right before you get home, or leave no dirty dishes in the sink in the first place. So the next question is, did you communicate that expectation to them? If you were specific about wanting to come home to a clean sink, and they agreed to that, then you might want to talk it over. But if you just said,”please do the dishes more often.” Can you really resent them for not knowing that you actually meant, “please make sure the sink is empty when I get home each night.” So in this situation, your resentment actually has nothing to do with your spouse or your roommate, whatever the situation here is. They did what you asked them to do. Your resentment has to do with the fact that you had other expectations that you weren’t conscious of, but are still holding them accountable for.
[00:03:32] Does that make sense?
[00:03:35] So the tricky thing about expectations and the tricky thing about a lot of life is that, we can’t nor should we expect ourselves to have to dictate every little thing that every person does. And we certainly can’t control other people. We certainly can’t control life. And so we face regularly dozens, sometimes hundreds of times throughout a day, situations where we had an expectation and things did not play out according to that expectation. And that is where resentment comes from. That is where disappointment comes from.
[00:04:09] Now, I’m not saying disappointments bad, but resentment is something that we don’t want to carry throughout our lives. We know that it is harmful to relationships and we know that resentment is harmful to our own happiness. So this topic around expectations, the title, you know, oftentimes when I share with you, I see these are the silent killers of relationships.
Expectations Are Not The Problem
[00:04:29] Now, I don’t mean all expectations. I want to clarify that here, that I’m not saying we shouldn’t have expectations in life because, one, you just can’t do that. And two, it’s not a very fun way to live life. We naturally as human beings are looking forward. We’re planners to a certain extent and we like to know what’s going to happen. And it’s helpful, too. It’s important to at least have a basic sense of how things will play out, or at least how we would like them to play out. So, again, I want to be clear, expectations are not the problem. Even high expectations, you can have crazy high expectations. And I’m fine with that. And you can be fine with that. It’s when we aren’t aware of those expectations and or don’t communicate them with people they involve that we run into issues.
Do These Examples Resonate?
[00:05:16] So let’s look at a couple of examples here. So maybe you come to me and say, my spouse is so inconsiderate.
[00:05:23] Why? Well, because they don’t ever offer to help with the laundry.
[00:05:28] You have an expectation here that your spouse will offer to help with the laundry. Right. And that’s fine. That is totally OK. That’s just the facts here.
[00:05:36] Have you told them this?
[00:05:39] Because maybe they’re willing, but they just think you enjoy doing the laundry. And I know that might sound crazy, but I know of some people who love my wife, loves doing the laundry. And so I take I take care of my own laundry. But I know she loves doing laundry. And so we try to strike that balance there. But it’s not it’s not as far fetched as it might sound. So communication there is important. Another situation, you might come to me and say, well, I feel like my girlfriend or boyfriend doesn’t care about me. Well, why do you feel that way? Because they never text me first. I’m always the one to send the first message, if I wait for them to reach out, they never do.
[00:06:16] What’s your expectation here?
[00:06:18] Your girlfriend or boyfriend will initiate conversations with you again? Have you told them that?
[00:06:24] There is a very good chance that they are enamored by you, but they simply believe that it’s your role to initiate things. If it’s your girlfriend, a lot of women still think that it’s the man’s responsibility to pursue and to initiate. And that’s fine. That’s neither here nor there. Or it could be the other way around.
[00:06:43] So, again, just because you expect it to happen a certain way, doesn’t mean that it’s true. Just because they haven’t reached out to you, it doesn’t mean that they don’t like you. You have to have a conversation with them to understand that. And as I go back into my own dating experience, this was very true.
[00:07:00] In fact, it’s funny because I remember a particular woman that I was dating and we had only been dating exclusively for about a month or so. And I felt like things were on the downward slope. I felt like we were drifting apart from each other because she wasn’t very affectionate toward me, especially in public. And so I’d sit by her and I was trying to walk that line of not being too, you know, having too much PDA or trying to push things along more than she was comfortable. And so I found myself withdrawing just a little bit.
[00:07:30] And it got to the point where I was expecting us to just end things. And so I pulled her aside after an activity that we were at. And I just said, hey, can we chat for a minute? And I said, I’m kind of feeling like things are a little off between us. I don’t feel like maybe you’re that interested or I don’t know if we’re as connected as I’d like to be. Do you feel the same way? Then she said, well, yeah, I kind of do, but I saw that you weren’t initiating physical contact with me and so I didn’t. And as we talked, we realized we were both still very into each other, but we were both expecting the other person to take point in the relationship. We were both expecting the other person to kind of set the pace for how it was going to play out. And so we laughed it off and from that point forward, I realized, OK, she really does want me to initiate things. She wants me to kind of lead out in terms of how our relationship progressed. So can you see how quickly a lack of awareness and communication can cause issues?
[00:08:35] It’s crazy. And it all stems from the simple unmet or unexpressed expectations. So let’s talk about how we shift that onto what I consider to be a healthier, freer path. Again, like I said, expectations are fine, we just need to learn how to manage them properly.
The Healthier Way to Hold Expectations
1. Recognize the Expectation
[00:08:54] So step one, like everything, is to recognize the expectation. To find hidden expectations, look for resentment or emotional turmoil in your life. Nine times out of ten, you’re upset because reality did not live up to your expectations, so anytime that you’re feeling resentful or disappointed or even angry, take a moment and step back and say, what was I expecting here? I clearly know how things have played out. But what was it that I expected? Why did I want to happen? What did I not want to happen?
[00:09:31] So again, if you send a text to a friend and then get upset when they don’t reply right away, you had an expectation that they would. Did you ask for an immediate response when you sent it?
[00:09:42] If you’re upset with a colleague because they went to lunch with a few others but didn’t invite you, what were you expecting? To be invited? Well, how’s your relationship with that colleague? Have you worked to build a relationship with them? Could you set up lunch and invite them next time? You know, if we take this example for a moment and tie in some of our previous episodes here, do you see how a drama triangle can form right there? How you create a drama triangle if you’re not taking responsibility for your happiness? You see all your colleagues go out to lunch and you’re not part of it. Well, what happens? You go into the victim role. You say, oh, my gosh, woah is me. I can’t believe they didn’t invite me. He’s such a jerk! Guess what, you just made your coworker who organized it the persecutor in your mind. And now you might look around the office and maybe look for another colleague who also was left behind. Maybe you call up a friend, or your spouse, or your sibling, or your parent or whatever, and you start complaining to them and say, “can you believe it? They never invite me to things. I hate this job!” Looking for them to rescue you and say, “oh, man, that’s horrible. I can’t believe he would do that, he’s a total jerk you just shouldn’t even talk to him anymore.” Now we’re into that drama triangle.
[00:10:57] So I like to tie in previous topics every now and then because again, they all play together. Simply not being aware of an expectation can start leading us down the path into a drama triangle, and then the rest of our day just kind of sucks. We just don’t feel happy, and it’s not anyone else’s fault. It is not your colleagues fault. It’s not your friend’s fault. It’s not anyone else’s fault but yours because you are staying in truth around that situation.
[00:11:27] Let’s look at another example, let’s say that you get upset when your spouse comes home from work and they plop down in front of the TV. What were you expecting them to do? Was it to help make dinner, maybe watch the kids so you can have a break? Are they being rude or have you simply not communicated your expectations to them?
[00:11:48] Last one here, this one’s a little bit of a trickier one. If you’re upset with your boss for not giving you credit for an idea that was yours, what was your expectation? Well, probably that they would publicly acknowledge you. And if so, did you communicate that to them? Now, this one’s tricky because I’m sure some of you were thinking, I can’t ask for that. That’s stupid, that’s rude, that’s weird to say, “hey, I want credit.”
[00:12:13] But is it? I want to challenge that thought for a moment. A lot of times we have trouble with these types of things, we don’t feel like we can assert ourselves because we think that’s rude. Many of us have grown up in this culture of just be kind, don’t ruffle feathers. You don’t want to be the aggressive, prideful person.
[00:12:33] But is it prideful? Is it aggressive? Is it rude? Let me ask you this, which is kinder, tactfully asserting yourself and saying, hey, it would really mean a lot to me if you would give me credit for that the next time you talk about it. There’s a tactful way to say it. So you could you could say it that way, or you could just silently resent your boss and spread negative energy around the office for the next few days. Always thinking to yourself every time someone brings up the topic, That was my idea. I can’t believe he took credit for that. I can’t believe she wouldn’t have pointed something out like that. Which one is the kinder approach?
[00:13:11] So the first step in finding freedom in this is to recognize the expectation.
2. Explore the Reality
[00:13:17] Step 2 here is to explore the reality. Now, what do I mean by that?
[00:13:24] Well, just because you have an expectation does not mean the other person has to abide by it.
[00:13:29] Just because you tell your spouse, hey, I have an expectation that the dishes are going be done when I get home. So, if you can do that, I’d really appreciate that, thanks bye! It doesn’t work like that.
[00:13:39] It doesn’t work like that with your coworkers, not with your boss, not with your siblings, your family. That’s not the way we want to live life by dictating what people do. That’s one of the first parts of what I mean by exploring the reality here, and that’s recognizing that OK, I have this expectation. Point number one, they might not fulfill it. They don’t have to do that. Am I okay with that?
[00:14:00] A big part of this exploration here is recognizing that nobody else can read our minds.
[00:14:08] I remember hearing an exchange from somebody the other day, I guess it was like a month or so ago, and they were talking about how they were on their way home or they had come home from a long business trip and they were exhausted. They got home late, and I guess the way that their apartment is setup, they don’t have parking, a driveway or a garage. They park on the side of the road. And every week when it’s trash collection day, they have to take the trash cans out after they’ve both moved their cars, so that the trash can come pick it up. And then when they get home, they need to put them back inside before they can park on the side of the road. And this one individual was coming back from a long business trip and it was late and she was exhausted and she pulled up to the house and saw that her husband hadn’t moved the two trash bins. He had found a parking spot where he didn’t have to move them and he didn’t move them so that she could park there. And she was livid. She was talking to another friend saying, I can’t believe that, he knew I was gone. He knew I was coming home late. He should have moved them. He should have known. My friend even challenged that a little bit and she’s like, oh, I don’t know. She tried to give her husband the benefit of the doubt. Her friend was like, no, he should have known this. If he really cared about me, he would have gone out of his way to move those so that I had a parking spot when I got home. Now, can you hear that? Can you see the reality in that situation?
[00:15:35] It’s trickier when we’re in it, but oftentimes it’s pretty easy when we’re the outside looking in. She was literally expecting her husband to read her mind. She was expecting her husband to look at the whole situation and recognize that he needed to move the trash cans.
[00:15:53] Now, I’m not arguing that that wouldn’t have been a kind of thing for her husband to do. It absolutely would have been. And, you know, great if he had had the presence of mind, but we don’t know what was going on. There could be any number of reasons why he didn’t think about it. That’s not his problem.
[00:16:10] Now, if they had had an agreement around it and they had communicated it and they had said, hey, this is really important to me. Can we both agree that whoever gets home first, they’ll take the trash cans back so we have a parking space there? Yes, you good with that? I’m good with that. Great. There we go. Then, she has every reason to be upset. And I’ll say it this way, she has reason to be disappointed in the situation regardless. So I’m not saying that she has to just be happy and say, oh, look, trash cans. Great! I get to move them now. It’s fine that she’s disappointed in that, but what she doesn’t get to do is resent her husband. She doesn’t get to blame her husband for that if they haven’t already talked about that and set that expectation.
[00:16:49] Once you recognize an expectation, it’s important to have a little bit of dialog with yourself and unpack this a little bit. How important is this expectation to me?
[00:16:59] And be honest with yourself, you’re not doing yourself or anybody any favors to pretend like it’s not that big of a deal. You don’t want to invalidate yourself here and say, well, yeah, I want it to happen, but I’m OK if it doesn’t, if that’s not true.
[00:17:13] But it is important to look at that and recognize that, because now you’ve brought some awareness around it. Now you’re at least one step closer to holding the whole situation in truth here. So you’ve recognized the expectation. Step 1. 2, you’ve explored the reality, meaning you recognize that it may or may not play out the way you want.
3. Appreciate the Action
[00:17:31] Step 3 is to appreciate the action.
[00:17:36] You might have instances here where again, if we go back to the very early example of the person in your life who you asked to do the dishes, they said they would, they just didn’t do it the way that you wanted. They didn’t do it right before you got home. They did it at night, before bed or whatever. Take a moment to appreciate the fact that they did do the dishes. I mean, they still did it. It’s not their fault that you didn’t tell them you wanted it done right before you get home.
[00:18:01] I’ll share an example that literally happened this morning, and this is going to sound ridiculous and it actually really is.
[00:18:07] So, I walk downstairs and my wife and I were getting ready to pick up around the house. She cooked some breakfast for me and I was going to make some toast for myself. I opened up the fridge while the bread’s toasting and I see that she bought jam. So we were out of jam, we had strawberry jam. It’s amazing jam from Costco, the organic stuff, highly recommend it. I am embarrassed even saying this, I look in the fridge and I see that she bought jam. So at first I’m excited. Then I see that instead of strawberry jam, she bought raspberry jam. And I was a little disappointed, because I really like the strawberry stuff. And in that moment, I caught myself. I mean, I was getting ready to record this episode on expectations. So it was a little more top of mind. But I thought, OK, Michael, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater here. This is a tiny little thing that she didn’t get the strawberry one that you wanted. But I never told her that. And I don’t know if she prefers raspberry more or whatever, it really doesn’t matter. But at that moment, I thought to myself, well, Michael, you didn’t A. tell her that you really wanted strawberry jam. B. how cool is it that she went out and got the jam in the first place? So that’s what I mean by appreciating the action there. In that moment, I was able to catch myself, not that this was going to ruin our marriage or anything, I would have forgotten about it two minutes later. But nevertheless, that level of detail, that level of recognition is critical in these things because it’s all those little things.
[00:19:37] And more importantly, it’s the habits that we fall into day in and day out that make the bigger changes down the road.
[00:19:47] So in that instance, I had the opportunity to kind of resent my wife for the act of service that she had done for me, or to flip it over and just appreciate the fact that she went shopping and got us more jam.
[00:19:59] So, appreciate whatever the other person has done for you. If they made the bed, but they didn’t make it in the way that you like it to be made, well, cry me a river. They made the bed, isn’t that cool? If it’s really important to you to have it made a certain way, now you get to talk to them about it. And that takes me to step number four on bringing health and truth around our expectations.
4. Negotiate the Situation
[00:20:22] And that’s to negotiate the situation. First, you recognize an expectation. Then you explore the reality around it. Then you appreciate whatever the other person has done for you and then negotiate the situation, negotiate the expectation.
[00:20:38] What I mean by that is, if it’s really important to you that they make the bed a certain way, you can talk to them about it. Say, hey, thank you so much for making the bed this morning, I realized that I really like it when it’s made in such a way. I’m happy to take care of making the bed in the morning, or if you’re up for it, would you be cool doing it this way? That may seem like a trivial conversation and it kind of is. But, you can replace that with any situation in your life.
[00:21:06] The key is to have a conversation around it. You don’t get to dictate how the other person does things or whether they even do something, nor do they get to dictate what you do or how you do it. But I’m making some assumptions here that, if you’re talking to this person, you care about that relationship to some extent or another. Which hopefully means you are willing to make some compromises. Hopefully it means you are willing to listen to the other person and.. Big, big, big, hopefully you’ve listened to past episodes here about codependency and boundaries. Hopefully you are aware enough that when somebody asks you to do something that you’re not comfortable doing, you’re okay sticking up for yourself. You’re OK asserting yourself and you’re OK setting a boundary there.
[00:21:52] Now, this is simple in concept, much more difficult in practice. This is big stuff, this is stuff that we’re gonna be working on our whole lives. And yet this is the truth, this is the healthy approach to life. This is the secret toward stepping out of a life of resentment. Stepping out of a life of anger, or hurt, or feeling like other people don’t appreciate us as much, or they don’t love us as much and stepping into a place of personal power.
[00:22:26] So, my invitation to you today. Think of a person or situation you’re feeling upset about and do some digging for any unexpressed or unrecognized expectations. And if / when you identify one, consider sharing it with that person or at very least, unpack it. Get clear within your own mind about what it was that you wanted, what it was that happened. And be honest about whether or not it was their fault or your own.
[00:23:00] Again, if you notice an expectation ahead of time, decide to do one of two things either one, be OK if it’s not met, which is fine, again, there’s certain expectations that you’re just not going to want to share with people and that’s fine. You just have to say, OK, I have this expectation, I don’t feel comfortable sharing it with this person. So if they don’t meet it, I’m going to be OK with that. I might be disappointed, but I’m not going to resent them. I recognize that they can’t read my mind and I’m okay with that. But I hope it happens. Second option is to communicate the expectation and negotiate. Figure out what it is that matters to you, share that with the other person and see if they’re open to meeting that expectation. And if they’re not, see if you guys can figure something out that gives you a solution that works for both parties.
[00:23:51] By working to become more aware of our expectations and then putting truth around them and communicating them, we take back more of that responsibility for our own happiness. We strengthen our integrity and our connection, and we become happier, more positive people.
[00:24:10] So that’s where I want to wrap things up today. As always, I’d love to hear from you. If something from today’s episode resonated with you, or if you have a question or additional insight, or maybe even just a request for a future episode, please feel free to email me. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org or you can contact me on my website, michaelssorensen.com also on the site, you’ll find show notes for today’s episode, as well as links for further learning and understanding. And that is where we’re going to wrap things up today.
[00:24:40] Until next time.