The Truth About Expectations I Wish I had Known Sooner
Life is full of irony.
Shortly after I published my last post “Since Divorce My Relationship Expectations Have Changed“ I was given some interesting perspective on “expectations” from a coach I was working with that punched me right in the face.
And I use punched deliberately. This insight that was provided to me made me think about so many personal experiences differently, especially those within my romantic relationships. I couldn’t help but see all of these “expectation episodes” through this new lens. A lens that, quite frankly, made me realize how unintentionally self-sabotaging I had been part of the time, while the other part of the time, how unintentionally harmful others had been, too.
The truth hurts, as they say.
This coach said to me: “Expectations create separation because they put people on a pedestal that sets them up to fail us.”
He continued. “There is no room for grace or acceptance when someone then fails and is human. ‘Expectation’ is a place no one belongs. It’s a place for one or another to fail.”
Mind blown again. (Because I’ve got such a BIG mind it can be blown twice.)
My thoughts raced through all kinds of examples of when I had knowingly held an expectation for someone else close to me, usually one that I hadn’t voiced or expressed in any way, and when that person didn’t come through, how devastatingly crushed or disappointed I was. When finally confronted on why I was so disappointed it usually turned out that that thing in my mind – the expectation – was not realistic, not communicated, not fair, or some combination of the three.
And when that resulted, I would berate myself for having not communicated my expectations. Followed by the self-punishment for having set too high of expectations, to begin with. I would always end up both disappointed with them and then frustrated with myself. Why couldn’t ‘good enough’ just been good enough? How come I wasn’t just happy with how things were? Why did I need to have any expectations- couldn’t I just let things alone?
It never occurred to me that the problem wasn’t in not communicating the thing or the severity, intensity, or significance I placed on the thing itself but in having expectations, to begin with.
It is one thing to set a boundary for what you need or define the parameters around how you prefer something to be done or turn out. But when you set expectations for someone that are not communicated and then also based on your own model of thought, belief, or operation, you fail to take into consideration how the other thinks, feels, or acts, thus setting them up to fail before they even know there’s a “test.”
I’ve done this more times than I can count. Unknowingly. I’ve recognized that I don’t always communicate when I should. That I internalize. That I avoid confrontation if I worry about hurting the other. And I’ve also recognized I haven’t necessarily always chosen the right partner.
But, even the right partner could be the wrong one if they are always faced with unattainable, uncommunicated expectations. The place of separation and failure. The whole ship is bound to go down if that’s the consistent course.
What makes it worse is thinking of the times I felt I didn’t meet others’ expectations. How lousy and disappointing it always felt. I’ve made choices throughout my entire life based on others’ – either perceived or actual – expectations. Choices that have not always felt serving or fulfilling. It’s been no happier on the receiving end than it has been on the end of being the one to set the bar.
The third level of this is the self-imposed level of expectations. The times that I tell myself, “I should,” or “I must,” do that thing and then when I fail to, beating myself up about it. It’s incredible how many times I find that I want to use the word “expectation” even in my vocabulary. Holding expectations has become a schema from which to operate my life. Some kind of navigational compass for behaving, thinking, feeling. If I dig deep as to why I have set that expectation for myself, what I end up finding is some age-old idea picked up in childhood or from somewhere else along the way that has just stuck and never been questioned.
As such, expectations can be separators even within ourselves.
I’ve had more success, felt more like myself, stepped more into my own truth and light when I have ignored expectations – self-imposed or external. When I have drowned out that noise, I’ve been able to hear more of what serves me. When I have made choices based on my own directions and internal guidance I have felt better. Certainly, when I have communicated more outwardly what I prefer or need, it has had far better results.
I wish I had known this truth about expectations sooner. If there were a troubleshooting guide for living life more in alignment or one for healthier, happier, longer-lasting relationships this should be the first tip, right after “reboot the machine” and “make sure you’re plugged in.”
Lose the expectations and replace them with solid boundaries instead.
Looking back now on that last post I think, Okay, first the thing to have learned is that expectations are not the way to go in a new relationship. And second, what I was already trying to say that I didn’t recognize until now is that I don’t want to live by someone else’s rules (read: expectations) about what I want or need in a new relationship.
It’s not really that my expectations have changed, it’s what I actually want in a relationship that has changed. It’s knowing that I want to define my relationship based on my own needs and interests that has shifted. And it’s in determining the characteristics I now desire in a new partner. These are all based on my own guidance system and intuition. What I know now about myself. What I’ve learned about life along this journey. I had already started to shed life through the lens of expectations, I just didn’t know it. There was no language for it at that time.
Now, I look at expectations as a place of ‘exile.’ Separation. Distance. Emptiness. While boundaries are a place of binding together. Connection. Intimacy. Communication.
And I know which place I want to live.