Why do we expect so much from others? Or from ourselves? High standards, low standards, what’s right and what’s wrong? Well, neuroscientists claim our expectancies lie in our prior belief system which dictates whether that leads to happiness or disappointment. And guess what? YOU get to decide by managing expectations in relationships. Let’s take a trip into your past and present…
I used to be very hard on myself. If I didn’t get an A in school, I’d butter up to the teacher for extra credit (note: some teachers don’t like apples). I had harsh expectations of myself to be perfect. As I grew older, I started to expect the same from others, wondering why they weren’t like me. And it wasn’t until college that I started to accept people the way they are and understand they have other goals than mine. I had to adjust my expectations.
It sounds a little ridiculous, but we set standards on others that may not be accurate. We have to check ourselves and understand where these expectations come from, how they affect us, and what each relationship brings to the table so we can make appropriate boundaries.
Disclaimer: I am not a licensed therapist. This is based on research, professional advice, experience, and diversified knowledge on the topic.
Where Expectations Come From
Mehrdad Jazayeri, a professor of life sciences and member of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research conducted a study to test how neurons in the brain encode our expectations of the world around us.
To summarize in his words: “If you can’t quite tell what something is, but from your prior experience you have some expectation of what it ought to be, then you will use that information to guide your judgment.”
Expectations come from our prior beliefs about an issue or topic. These beliefs help to control our behavior and set realistic boundaries. For example, you make lunch for yourself during the week. You know based on prior experience that you enjoy having lunch ready so you expect that feeling during lunchtime. This is a realistic expectation. When our expectations become unrealistic (winning the lottery and becoming a billionaire) or when expectations are too high, we start to fall off the deep end.
How Expectations Affect Us
We can set expectations that will cause either satisfaction or disappointment. It’s as simple as that. Before we dive into managing expectations in relationships, let’s start by letting go of some common notions.
Some expected expectations to avoid are:
Everyone should be like me.
Definitely not…no offense. If everyone was the same, diversity would cease to exist and we wouldn’t encounter challenging experiences that push us to be better.
When expectations of others are too high, you have to halt yourself and first learn how to stop judging people. If you think someone should be a certain way (your way), then you’ve fallen under the quick-to-judge spell. We judge others to ensure our comfort level and safety are okay, but when you force your opinion on them, you’ve closed your mind to what they have to offer. And everyone has something to offer whether you agree with them or not.
Life is fair.
What a cute saying. Fair is a “lack of favoritism toward one side or another,” according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Do you have any favorites? Ice cream, color, children? So we all lean toward certain things because they bring us joy or a challenge or comfort, etc. Life can seem fairer if you don’t expect things to turn out your way every time. It’s best to keep an open mind and learn from experiences. Try the 4 agreements that will change your life.
If I accomplish this, then I will receive this…
It’s good to set goals and techniques for success. By laying out a playing field, directing yourself a path, and staying disciplined, you will likely achieve your goal! Yay! However, expecting something as a result (other than a possible accomplished feeling) is leading you to disappointment.
Let’s say you worked really hard this week doing a juice cleanse and going for a walk every single day. Your friend, Lucy, said she did this and lost 8 pounds! This means you will, too, right? Unfortunately not. You weigh yourself and you only lost 3… If you changed your thinking to I’m so happy for Lucy! I’m going to try the same thing and see if it works for my body. If it doesn’t, maybe I’ll try it for 2 weeks or maybe I’ll try something different. Either way, I shouldn’t expect anything to happen but I could feel good trying.
Managing Expectations in Relationships
How to Manage Expectations in Romantic Relationships
In romantic relationships, we put pressure on our partners to provide everything for us. Esther Perel, an international best-selling author, extends this notion in her book, Mating In Captivity, saying, “Today, we turn to one person to provide what an entire village once did: a sense of grounding, meaning, and continuity.”
If you think about it, way back when, the role of both sexes (at the time) was VERY different from now. The woman and man looked toward each other for things like creating a family and company. However, their sense of community was also different. They did not have technology in the way we do now, so they looked toward others in the community for their other needs (instead of searching for them behind screens). The men had brothers and friends to celebrate with after a hard, long day of work while the women gossiped with other women during child playtime.
The woman and man in the relationship did not go to each other each time they needed to gossip and celebrate.
Neither should we.
We cannot expect our significant other to provide us with all aspects of life: spirituality, excitement, entertainment, interests, patience….the list goes on and on. So appreciate what your partner has to offer you (you can figure out what that is in the next section) and accept them for that. As long as your partner supports you the way you need to be supported and you are respected/content with both roles in the relationship, it’s okay to go to others for other purposes in your life (such as gossiping or celebratory needs).
How to Manage Expectations in All Relationships
What expectations to have in a relationship is detailed beautifully by the life coach and former Hindu monk, Jay Shetty. In his book, On Purpose (which I talk about a lot), there is a chapter on the types of characteristics you need from certain people. He also has a podcast episode on the 8 types of people you need in your life which manifests the exchange of needs versus the checklist of finding those people (highly recommended).
Jay talks about managing expectations in relationships by how he gave out love to others but didn’t see it in return. His monk teacher explains, “The problem lies with your expectations. You assume the love you receive will come from the person you gave it to. But it doesn’t always come from that person.“
We often expect too much of others when we don’t have a clear sense of their purpose in our lives.Jay Shetty
The 5 Types of Trust
To manage expectations in relationships, we have to understand what the relationship is to us. What does this person provide me? What, more importantly, do I provide them?
There are five types of trust we put into people:
- Competence – they solve your issues
- Character – they have strong opinions and follow-through
- Consistency – they are there when you need them
- Care – they care about your well-being, not your success
- Challenge – they test your ego
You’re probably going through your list of friends and family playing match-up right now, and that’s fine. Just remember, you are these 5 to someone else as well.
- The first one is someone who always has great advice and understands, or can empathize, what you’re going through.
- The second is someone who you know won’t lie to you about how your butt looks in those jeans…
- The third will almost always be available to you; it’s that person you pick up the phone to call when something happens.
- The fourth is someone who pays attention to you as a person, not your material side (most moms and dads, for example).
- The fifth one is a challenger – someone you may not like, but you can trust them to humble you when your ego flairs and you think you’re on top of the world.
You cannot expect everyone in your life to fulfill all of the trust features. Sure, it can take a village to feel supported, but that village contains different people who do different things for you. You wouldn’t go to your sister who hates tattoos about your first tattoo – you might go to your best friend who is your consistent cheerleader so you can rave about it together.
Once you understand what this person offers you, then can you determine what you can expect out of them.
Didn’t expect all of that information to hit home, did you? If we reset our expectations of what the world and people offer us, we can feel more surprised! Now you understand where expectations come from and how they can affect our happiness. Will you choose to be more satisfied in life, or continue to be disappointed by others?
Take on that winding road, because the view is worth the drive.