My New Years resolution is to be mindful of how I expend my energy and to release as many expectations as possible. These are both challenging goals for me but the “expectations” part is particularly difficult. I can pause throughout the day and determine where my energy is going by focusing on how I feel about a specific task or idea and get a pretty good handle on whether that task or idea is energizing or draining for me. But expectations for me are tricky. Often I will have an expectation of something and not even know it because it is so buried in my psyche like I used to think that love was expressed via gifts so I developed the expectation that men should bestow nice gifts as an expression of love. I had the belief that someone who really loved me would lavish me with gifts, take me out for nice meals or arrange trips that included plane fare and things l like to do. This expectation was the direct result from my father’s habit of gift giving and how he spent time with me. He often gave gifts of nice jewelry for birthdays or holidays and took me out for dinner or the theatre (or both) when we spent time together. It took me years to get over that one but I must say I have gotten some pretty nice gifts from men who have thought the same way. Now that expectation has been reduced to :nice but not necessary.
Other expectations sneak in as what I perceive as normal like I expect a bathroom in a nice restaurant to be clean. In terms of a potential mate, I expect him to be able to communicate and problem solve with me which includes demonstrating empathy.
But our expectations can get us into big trouble in relationships. In fact in an article in the January 2012 issue of Psychology Today, Are You With The Right Mate? (I mentioned this article before in the post about characteristics that make a good relationship), claims that relationships are good for examining and adjusting our expectations and that is a primary catalyst for personal growth and growth as a couple.
Here is a chunk of that article talking about expectations in relationships and how they are a problem:
To the extent that people have an ideal partner and an ideal relationship in their head, they are setting themselves up for disaster, says family expert Michelle Givertz, assistant professor of communication studies at California State University, Chico. Relationship identities are negotiated between two individuals. Relationships are not static ideals; they are always works in progress.
To enter a relationship with an idea of what it should look like or how it should evolve is too controlling, she contends. It takes two people to make a relationship. One person doesn’t get to decide what it should be. And to the extent that he or she does, the other partner is not going to be happy.
“People can spend their lives trying to make a relationship into something it isn’t, based on an idealized vision of what should be, not what is,” she says. She isn’t sure why, but she finds that such misplaced expectations are increasing. Or, as Doherty puts it, “A lot of the thinking about being married to the wrong mate is really self-delusion.”I have a friend who appears to have a successful marriage who tells me that when she realized that some of her needs were unmet, she began to examine her expectations with the help of a psychologist. She attributes her satisfaction in her marriage to giving up all expectations. This is confusing to me because I think there have to be some expectations is order to make a relationship function- like the expectation that this person will come home (this was the bar my ex-husband set- he used to say, “You know I love you because I come home.” which would really piss me off when used in an argument because it seemed like a really low bar to set for a marriage but perhaps there was wisdom in it that I failed to see at the time.) I think one needs to have the expectation that someone will follow through with agreements and if those agreements cannot be upheld to have the ability to communicate that and why (which preserves sanity in a relationship). Is that unreasonable?However, I do have a better understanding of what she means. Not the big stuff like fidelity or coming home but smaller things like being on time or eating healthfully.
What I am learning is that the key to happiness in this relationship thing is really about self growth. I am unhappy when I try to change people or insist on things being done my way. In the past, I thought I was negotiating but really I was only satisfied if I got what I wanted. I wrapped myself up in what my partner did and felt rather than paying attention to myself. I ignored the natural strengths and weaknesses of my partners and spoke in demands rather than respecting the relationship and speaking in requests. Frustration is really a wake up call to examine something in myself like unrealistic expectations, stubbornness, and inflexibility. Usually it means I am trying to flow upstream of something and if I meditate on it I can usually figure out what it is and find a mutually satisfying solution.