What Do You Expect?

I’d like to say a word about expectations and how they influence our lives, probably more than you even realize.

Expectations. We all have them. Of ourselves, of others. Of our children, our friends, our coworkers, our jobs, our lives. And how those expectations are, or are not, fulfilled, affect our attitudes and our actions.


I often spend the better part of my work day talking to parents about expectations of their children and keeping them realistic. Certainly if you know your child can say “doll” then it’s ok to expect her to say it in order to obtain the desired object. However, if you child wants to see the fish and you have never heard her utter the word fish before, expecting her to say it in order to be lifted up to see them is not only unrealistic, it’s cruel. I certainly wouldn’t want someone to tell me to quickly solve an advanced math problem or I can’t have my lunch. It’s unreasonable, I couldn’t do it.
Unrealistic expectations play a large role in the occurrence of child abuse. If you truly believe that all children are able and ready to potty train at age one and your one and half year old isn’t doing it, frustration is going to occur. Only instead of understanding that your child can’t, you see that child as defiant, stubborn, bad. Having a clear and realistic view of what your child is and isn’t capable of is crucial for maintaining realistic expectations.
It’s not just children we need to have realistic expectations for. I am always amazed at the relationships that end over expectations that just aren’t achievable. If you haven’t read the book, “Real Love” by Dr. Greg Baer, you should. It took me awhile to get through it because I kept exclaiming, “oh this is ridiculous!” and throwing it down only to spend the next day or two thinking it through and realizing it was right, just difficult to put into practice. This would send me back to pick it up and resume reading until the next time I exclaimed over it’s ridiculousness and threw it down. In this halting manner I finally not only understood but embraced what it was telling me. That to love someone unconditionally is to have NO expectations of them. My first response to that was, well, that’s ridiculous! But it’s actually not.
Unconditional means no matter what, therefore, to love unconditionally means just that. No matter what. Any time you are angry with another person, it is because they have failed to meet your expectations. Think about it. You expected your son to wipe his feet before walking across your clean floor, you expected your friend to pay for lunch this time, you expected your spouse to remember your anniversary. You are angry because they failed to meet that expectation.
If you love someone unconditionally then you love them even when they fail to meet your expectations. Not having any expectations in the first place keeps you from feeling angry when they aren’t met. The book does a great job of teaching you how to get and give unconditional love. I’m not going to try and recreate it here, this was a very bare, barely scratching the surface summary and I know I have not done it justice. I highly recommend you read it for yourself. Meanwhile, I feel like I’m making a short story long here! Back to my point!
I’m not sure it’s possible to truly be expectation free but we can have realistic expectations of our significant others. Don’t date a doctor then be surprised after the wedding when you get left alone in the middle of your anniversary party for a medical emergency. Don’t marry a woman who hates to cook the be surprised that she doesn’t cook for you. And don’t sweat the small stuff.
People often comment that my husband and I just got lucky or they want to know what our secret is. The only trick is that we just accept each other the way we are, we don’t try to change each other. We also don’t expect the other person to be a mind reader. If I want to do something specific for our anniversary, I say so and well in advance. Likewise, if he’s cooking and feels like he needs help, he asks for it rather than hinting and feeling resentful that he isn’t getting any. These are just simple examples, but hopefully they illustrate my point.
I think you will find that you are much happier in life when you don’t have an overabundance of expectations. If you bring me some dinner, I’m happy you thought about me at all and I won’t complain if something isn’t to my liking. This way, I simply enjoy the dinner and the fact that you thought of me. On the other hand, I could react by being disappointed because I expected you to remember all my likes and dislikes. In one scenario I just ignore the part of the meal I don’t like and enjoy the rest. In the other I may sulk and dwell on how thoughtless you are. Really the difference between me being happy or unhappy in this scenario is what I choose to focus on. See there? Happiness really is a choice!

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