Want happiness? Let's get those expectations in check.
Expectations are a fundamental aspect of human relationships. It is natural to anticipate that our friends will remember our special occasions, that our partners will prioritise us, and that our loved ones will support us during challenging times.
These expectations are not limited to close relationships; they also extend to our everyday interactions with strangers. We all assume that people will drive safely on the road, that our food deliveries will be punctual, and that a simple 'hello' awaits us at our favourite coffee shop.
However, in life, our expectations are often left unmet. Our friends may disappoint us, our partners might overlook us, and we may find ourselves ignored at the coffee shop while our deliveries get delayed.
When our expectations are not fulfilled, we experience feelings of disappointment, hurt, anger, and resentment. As a coach, I frequently counsel individuals dealing with the pain of feeling let down by someone in their life. They often express sentiments like, "he/she should have known better" or "he/she could be doing more." It's a common refrain to say, "I would do the same for them."
While I empathise, I also recognise how we can inadvertently hurt ourselves by placing high expectations on others. That's why I've come to the conclusion that reducing our expectations is the key to healthy and happy relationships.
Having reasonable expectations in a relationship is entirely normal and healthy.
However, sometimes our expectations can evolve from reasonable assumptions into entitlement. We start to feel entitled to be treated in specific ways, and when those expectations go unmet, it can be disheartening.
A common 'entitlement' expectation I've observed is in the realm of communication. For instance, individuals who are consistently reliable communicators often become frustrated with those who are unclear and unreliable in their communication.
I consider myself a reliable friend, and yet, one of my close friends typically takes weeks to respond to my messages. While it bothered me, I eventually realized that I had assumed an expectation based on my values, not hers. I assumed that being a good friend meant not ignoring messages and resenting her for not adhering to that expectation stemmed from a place of entitlement.
It's natural to have some expectations in relationships, but why do we expect others to treat us a certain way and then set ourselves up for disappointment when our expectations aren't met? According to psychology, our tendency to place certain expectations on others may be due to the assumed similarity bias.
The assumed similarity bias leads us to believe that most people think and behave similarly to us. So, if we hold the door open for someone, we expect the same in return. However, we all have different values, beliefs, and relational styles. What's important to you may not be important to others.
The key to lowering our expectations is making small adjustments, especially in relationships where entitlement or assumed similarity is a factor. For example, if we stop relying on someone for something or expecting them to fulfil a particular role, we reduce the pressure on the relationship and avoid inevitable disappointments when our expectations go unmet.
In the case of my friend who was slow to respond, I stopped making suggestions or asking questions that required an immediate reply. This helped me manage my expectations and be less disappointed when I didn't receive the response I expected right away.
It can be challenging to step back, but it's often the healthiest choice for a relationship. If our expectations aren't met, we can also consider how to fulfil those needs rather than relying on someone else.
In addition to placing fewer expectations on others, we can choose to give freely without expecting anything in return. High-investment relationships, like committed romantic relationships, often involve significant sacrifices. However, sometimes people are unable to reciprocate for various reasons. It's crucial to avoid exploitative relationships, where one party continually takes without giving.
The key takeaways to lower your expectations in relationships:
Stop assuming expectations of others - recognise that people are different.
Ask less from others and learn to meet your needs within yourself.
Give freely without expecting anything in return.
Avoid exploitative relationships by prioritizing self-care and seeking balanced give-and-take.
It's important to reflect on the relationships in our lives and honestly evaluate whether our expectations are reasonable. If we expect too much, it might be time to step back, which can help prevent future disappointments.
Choosing to expect little and give freely liberates us from expectations, enabling us to act from the goodness of our hearts. However, we should be mindful of the risk of exploitation and balance our desire to give with prioritizing our own self-care, so keep those expectations in check!