Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Great Expectations

Over the past few months, I've come to a realization about myself and my close friends, and I think it's as close to a universal truth as you can get. (and forgive me, as I know I'm not the first to come to this realization. however, it's a big one to me, so I'm going to explain how I got here, why I think it's universal, and what I'm going to do about it. also, this post is super-long.)


So, what is this revelation? 

The single-most detrimental element to any relationship is unmet expectations.

When you boil down every relationship that has ever encountered a rift--whether a break-up with a boyfriend, a blow-out fight with a friend, or a tears-and-screaming-fest with your mother or sister, it all comes down to the simple fact that somewhere along the line, one of you failed to meet the other's expectations.

Let's start with the biggie: Your significant other cheats on you. You have an expectation that he will be faithful to you. He's not. Your expectation is unmet. Sure, he's a skeezeball for cheating on you, but on the most basic level, there is an unmet expectation here*.

Now, onto your BFF. You make plans for the weekend, and in your mind, it's just the two of you, even though you never really verbalized that. Next thing you know, she's invited everyone she knows to go see the movie, and suddenly your BFF date is crashed by a ton of people, many of whom you don't know or aren't comfortable around. You had an expectation that it would just be the two of you. That expectation goes unmet, and it results in a fight, even though neither one of you may realize why you're fighting at all.

Then there's your mom. She supports you endlessly and values your independence. But when you've got that big project that you said you'd tackle yourself, you secretly expect her to offer help. Maybe you never tell her about your expectation...see, that's part of the expectation, too. She should know you'll need/want her help. She should know to offer help. And when she doesn't, your feelings are hurt; you feel unloved and unsupported.

Think back to your last big fight with someone--anyone. What expectations were in place in that situation? What expectations went unmet?

It all comes back to our great--even enormous--expectations.

I've been in similar situations as the last two (or watched friends go through these situations) since the beginning of the year. I am quite blessed to say that I've never had to deal with a cheating significant other. However, I have friends who have, and this truth has hit me like a ton of bricks lately. When we have high expectations, and especially when we don't communicate those expectations, we will be let down. And that letting down has the potential to destroy relationships.

I also mentioned that I believe this to be a universal truth. Why? Because one of the most well-known stories from this book is really all about it.

Chances are you know the story. The man has two sons. The younger son decides he wants his inheritance now, before his father dies. The father, a generous man, gives it to him.

The younger son runs away, wasting the money his father has given him on food, drink and prostitutes.

Then the famine comes. The younger son realizes his terrible mistake, and decides to go home to his father and beg to become a servant. Before the younger son has time to offer himself as a slave to his father, though, the father, in his grace, compassion, mercy and unfailing love for his son, puts a ring on his finger, a robe on his shoulders, and kills the fattened calf in celebration of his return.

The father's love for his son hasn't changed, even though the son has made a terrible mistake.

Many times, we end the story here, with warm fuzzy feelings that we can never stray too far from the Father's love. And this is true. All to often I have been the younger son, squandering my inheritance with things I know my Father doesn't want for me. But he lets me do it, because he loves me, and he knows I will come home running.

There is more to the story though. After the warm welcome of the younger son, the party to celebrate his return starts up. The older son--the one who has stayed on his father's farm, working his fingers to the bone--hears the celebration, and wonders what's up.

When he gets back to the house, the last thing he expects to see is his father throwing a huge, and presumably expensive, party for his wayward little brother. See, all this time, while the older son has been working, he's had the expectation that his father will love and value him above his brother always and forever now that his brother has been so irresponsible.

The older son experiences a rift in his relationship with his dad because his expectations that he is the "good son," and that he should be rewarded for his good behavior, are not met. In fact, his father's actions fly all over his expectations. If the older brother ever thought his little bro would return, he surely expected that his father would berate his younger sibling for being so stupid in the first place. The last thing he would have expected would for his brother to have been, seemingly, rewarded for being wayward!

What the older son doesn't understand though, is that the father wanted to celebrate the return of his lost son, not berate him for his mistakes. The father fails to meet the older brother's expectations, and the older brother ends up angry. The older brother doesn't understand the father is ready and willing to share his wealth with his eldest child--all the older boy has to do is ask. But the older son doesn't ask--his expectation is that his father would offer these gifts if he were willing to give them.

The expectations of the older brother prevent him from sharing in the joy of his returned sibling, and they prevent him from living a life of joy and celebration with his father. (see Luke 15:11-32)

So, starting today, I am going to take a serious look at my expectations. I am going to try and identify the things I expect of my husband, my family, my best friends, my coworkers and even strangers. And yes, I will try to identify the expectations I have of myself. And when I recognize an expectation, I will do everything I can to establish whether or not it realistic, and if it is, to express my expectation to that person.

If I expect my husband to unload the dishwasher, I will ask him to do it, instead of pouting when he doesn't. 

If I expect my mother to call me on her way into work tomorrow, I will call her instead.

If I expect my coworkers to pitch in and help with a big project, I will ask them to do so, instead of grumbling under my breath that no one supports me. 

If I expect the guy in front of me to step on the gas because he's not driving fast enough, I will stop and ask myself why I'm in such a hurry anyway, and is that his fault? 

If I expect myself to get something done at home, I will ask myself if it is worth staying up a little later to do. And if it's not, I'll tell myself that I need sleep right now, and that chore will still be there tomorrow, when I have more time to devote to it. 

Today, I challenge you to identify your expectations. And when you name them, that you then identify if they are realistic. And if they are realistic, that you then verbalize them to the appropriate person/people.

Today, my expectation of myself is that I will not hold my expectations against those I love. 

What's your expectation today?

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* I am in no way saying that the reason a relationship involving a cheating significant other fails because you expected him not to cheat. I also do not mean, on any level, that anyone can make a relationship with a cheater "work" just because you come to expect the cheating. No one deserves to be cheated on, and if you come to expect that from your SO, I would venture to say it's time to really examine how healthy the relationship is for you, and it may be time to make the hard decision to put your best interest, health and well-being first.


Julie (brown eyed belle) said...

I love you, and you can always expect me to be a wonderful and true friend to you :)

Eyegirl said...

I'm new to your blog, and love this post. Very insightful. It seems like it should be common sense, but I guess it isn't. We often do expect people to be able to read our minds.

meredith said...

i know my expectations are extremely high - high for myself and high for those i love. though they are high, they are realistic. it's important in relationships not to settle for anything less than what you know you deserve.

that being said, it's always important to reevaluate our expectations. for me, i need to reevaluate how critical i can be of myself and those closest to me!

a great reminder, i love your words.