When I was getting married, someone told me, “Every argument in marriage will be because of an unmet expectation.” I nearly immediately discredited this statement by the user’s term “every”…I very rarely endorse using such extreme words. However, the longer I am married, and the longer I walk through life in general, I see this more and more as truth. Any time I stop to think about the cause of an argument with my husband, or hurt feelings at the hands of a friend, or disappointment in my job or myself, I can nearly always find its source at an unmet expectation I have of myself, the situation, or the person.
Have you ever thought about this? When you are feeling disappointed, frustrated, angry…why? I imagine you can draw it back to a failed expectation. Our expectations are not always bad or inappropriate – often they are a necessary tool to identify our standards for ourselves, situations, and people we allow in to our inner circle. And standards help us to reach goals, hold values, and live the lifestyle we feel is important to us. But sometimes our expectations are unrealistic and cause us more grief than they do help. So then, what next?
Becoming aware of your expectations
The first step in determining which expectations are worth holding on to is simply to become aware of them. Many of us don’t even realize we are holding ourselves, or others, to a certain standard. When you find yourself experiencing disappointment, anger, or frustration, I encourage you to trace it back. Some people find it helpful to concretely make a “map” of the situation that led to the feeling (ask yourself “What happened before that? And before that?”). When you arrive at the trigger of the sequence of events or feelings, ask yourself “What did I expect of the situation/person/myself?” or “What did I want to happen?”
The next step is discerning where your expectation originated. Most often, we anticipate the world to turn in a way that was taught us from childhood. Even if we have determined to live a different life than what was prescribed by our culture, religion, or parents, often these teachings have deep grips on our worldview without our awareness.
What to do with your expectations
Once you’ve determined the origin, you can then decide whether this is an expectation, or value, that is worth your energy to hold on to. Sometimes we feel it most certainly is and must then walk forward in the work of holding something true to us while giving grace to those who may not agree.
But sometimes, we discover the expectation is not something worth our time and energy. Sometimes, we realize our expectations are unrealistic and must begin the work of reframing what is reasonable for the situation. If our expectation was formed from childhood, this can be difficult work. But it is possible. Eventually, we can decide to release the situation/ourselves/someone else from this standard. The irony is it may seem in the moment as if we are releasing some one/thing else, when in reality, we are freeing ourselves to more possibilities and opportunities.
Whatever your expectation or mental framework for a situation, be open to exploring where it came from. You may just find freedom to experience life more fully in doing so.