In close relationships, expectations are emotional stresses that are often fuelled by the expecting person’s need for belonging and importance. The expectation is often looked at as a “right” by the one doing the expecting. Examples of this include:
- You are my wife so you should behave in a way that doesn’t upset me.
- You are my husband so you shouldn’t be looking at other women. You should want only me all the time.
- You’re my friend so you’re supposed to take my side when I disagree with someone or something, even if I’m wrong.
- You’re my parent so you should support me financially.
- You’re my girlfriend/boyfriend so you should give me sex when I want it.
- You’re my employee so you should always agree with me
- You should remember my birthday.
- You should consider my feelings before making a decision.
- You should do what I want to do.
- You should feel the same way I do.
I once asked a client of mine if he would rather have a wife who does things for him because she “should” do them or because she “wants to” do them. His reply was something to the effect of, “She’s my wife—she should want to do things for me!”
During a relationship workshop, I asked the participants to get together with their respective partners to discuss what their relationship would look like if they were free of expectations. At one point a woman stopped the exercise with her husband and stated to the group in exasperation, “Why should I be married to him if I can’t expect him to do what I want him to?” My reply to her was that if she only married him so that he would fulfill her expectations, she was not really married to him; she was married to a fantasy of the man he should be—and if this was the case, she would be wise to prepare herself for a life of constant disappointment.
Let’s look at it this way: If you go out in the rain without a raincoat, your clothes will get wet. It’s the nature of rain to make things wet. Similarly, if you go into a relationship with expectations, you will be disappointed. It’s the nature of expectations to produce disappointment. It doesn’t matter how justified you feel about your expectations, they will inevitably lead to disappointment.
If you examine it, you will find that disappointment is an empty feeling that is coloured by sadness, regret, discouragement, and failure. Sometimes it is also accompanied by a sense of futility. Few of us stay disappointed long enough to recognize what it is we are experiencing, choosing instead to move into feelings of frustration, resentment, and outright anger (none of which, by the way, do anything to transform the disappointment). Regardless of how we feel about it, however, rain leads to wetness and expectations lead to the emptiness of disappointment.
Unfortunately, because we think we have a right to our expectations, we rarely examine the dynamics of them. Expectations lead to emptiness because that is where they come from—the emptiness of need. Whenever you expect something from others, you are stating, “I am lacking something; therefore you must give it to me.” However, the nature of need does not allow the need to be satisfied. This statement bears repeating: The nature of need does not allow the need to be satisfied. The surprising reason for this is that need does not exist in reality! We have everything we want inside us. We were born that way, with the potential to express all the gifts, talents, and creative genius contained within our essence. Need is a condition of emptiness or lack, and in truth we lack nothing.
Below is a list of the things we as human beings tend to expect the important people in our lives to give us. As you read each quality, mentally check off the ones that you expect the important person or people in your life to give you.
Love Appreciation Encouragement
Emotional Support Recognition Guidance
Understanding Acceptance Compassion
Admiration Approval Play
Attention Companionship Gratitude
Acknowledgement Support Nurturing
Trust Patience Comfort
Now, consider that every time you expected one of those qualities from someone, you were actually denying the existence of that quality inside you. Of course, you have always possessed those qualities because they do not come and go; our awareness of them comes and goes! When we are unaware of them and want to experience them, we instead experience need. If I am not experiencing appreciation, all I have to do is become aware of the appreciation inside me. But when that little voice of need says, “I can’t see any appreciation in here,” then I feel the lack of it and expect my partner to provide it.
If my partner does not express appreciation in the way I want to hear it, I become disappointed. If she does express it in the way I want to hear it, I may be temporarily satisfied, but will need to get it from her again sometime in the near future. Eventually she will not meet my expectation—I guarantee it. Why? Well, just look at the conditions most of us put on expectations:
- You must give me what I need.
- You must give it to me in a certain way. Sometimes I will know what that way is, and other times you will have to figure it out, because I don’t even know how I want you to meet my need.
- You must give it to me without my having to ask for it. Even when I know what I need, I may not tell you, adding a second expectation that you read my mind.
- You must not make me wait for it. I want it NOW! In fact, you must anticipate what I will need in the future and have it ready for me as soon as I need it.
- You must always be ready and willing to give it to me regardless of how much it inconveniences you.
It is unreasonable to think that anyone could satisfy all my expectations all the time, but since they are rooted in childhood needs, the expectations are childishly unreasonable in nature. I don’t care how unrealistic I am being; I want my needs met NOW! From this unreasonable attitude comes the fiction of fantasy—an illusion created by the child that the needs will get met in some magical way, contrary to all the evidence.
Fantasy accompanies the child through adolescence and into adulthood. If you examine much of the advertising around you, it might become clear that the people who are trying to sell you something usually appeal to your fantasies about attaining the qualities mentioned above (love, appreciation, recognition, etc.), and reach all the way back to your needs for belonging and acceptance.
However, it doesn’t stop at advertising; the whole of society seems to be in collusion around creating fantasies about what will fulfil us. The fantasies of the perfect mate, perfect job, perfect financial situation, perfect friend, perfect political leader, and so on, lead us to the conviction that happiness and fulfilment are conditions that exist outside of us. This idea causes people to run around endlessly on the Expectation/Fantasy Cycle.
Next: Part 2—A Life Beyond All Expectations