I didn't meet Husband until I was 30 years old, so I had a lot of good quality girl time in my years after college graduation. My friends and I would pack a bag, drive up into the Ozark Mountains and camp out all weekend at one of the girl's parent’s lake house. We would lie around all day (doesn’t that sound glorious???) in our jammies and watch entire seasons of Law and Order while eating Doritos and brownies. A full day and night of sugar, carbs, drama and murder. Sounds healthy, right?
What if I told you that most of us have our own serial killer in our lives? It might not be an actual person, but it brings death everywhere it goes.
That silent killer is expectations.
We all have them. Some are reasonable. Some are realistic. Some are reasonable, but not realistic. For example, while it may be reasonable for me to expect my 6 year old to put her backpack in the car before school without being reminded, it is not realistic. That is just not my life. The sneaky thing about expectations is that so many of them are core level, we don’t even realize we have them! My dad has taken the trash out every week for all 44 years he has been married to my mom. I had no idea when I got married that I had the expectation that my husband would take out the trash. If I had a nickel for every time we have fought over trash, I could buy a Costco membership. And then I would go to there because it is my happy place and there is no one there to fight with about trash!
No matter what our expectations are, they always set us up for failure. Here is the anatomy of an expectation:
We go into an interaction or situation with an expectation of how the other person will perform.
They act or react differently than our expectation.
The gap between their response and our expectation is filled with disappointment and frustration.
We create a story in our head out of that frustration of why that person acted or reacted that way (which is usually not true.)
Relationship has been broken and now conflict resolution must occur for relationship to be restored.
But how often do we avoid that conversation? How many times do we just pull back and let the distance bring a slow death to the relationship? Expectations can knock off relationships faster than a hot knife thru butter.
Avoiding conflict usually seems the easier route in the moment, but it rarely produces a healthy resolution. Let’s be clear: neither does throwing your toys like a pissed off toddler. I’m gonna hit you with a little 12-step wisdom here because that’s where I learned all this goodness.
Step 4 says “We made a searching and fearless morale inventory of ourselves.” In regards to expectations, this is the place where we have the chance to look at our hurt and frustration and see what expectations have been lurking in our hearts. It is time to define what we have used as a benchmark of acceptable behavior. No matter the response, the expectations we bring into a situation are always our part in it. Own your stuff, sister.
Step 10 says “We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.” The way I remember this one is “keep short accounts.” If you find yourself smack dab in the middle of Frustration Land, stop and take a deep breath. Cool down and evaluate your feelers. If there is still a conversation to be had, PUH LEASE make the call. When we can separate the person from the issue, it makes this whole scenario a little easier to tackle.
What does that look like? I’m so glad you asked. Try this on for size:
Ring. Ring. “Hello, sister. I need to chat with you about something. The other day when you did/didn’t say/didn’t say do/didn’t do that thing that I thought you would, my feelings were really hurt. I just wanted to let you know so we can talk about it.”
Does that seem so scary? Not once you do it a time or two. And it really is the healthiest way to address the unmet expectations lurking in our lives, ready to murder relationships. While you can’t own their response (or even have an expectation of it), what you can do is speak your truth and then listen. My experience has taught me that when I am brave and step out in the spirit of reconciliation, the other person usually shows up brave too. After all, it is more fun to be brave together.