Three kinds of expectations
It's still the most surprising thing Becky has ever said to me.
"OK," she declared. "I've decided to lower my expectations of you."
Becky has a theory and after two decades together I’m convinced she’s right: Most conflict and unhappiness in relationships comes from three kinds of expectations.
Sometimes our expectations are unreasonable. In the early days of our marriage Becky expected a certain standard of living but also expected me to be more available to her than I could be with a full-time job. I expected us to always have sex as often as we did on our honeymoon. We both find ourselves expecting too much from our kids today - a seven year-old is going to forget his coat at school sometimes. And it will be on the coldest day of the year. It's just going to happen.
Sometimes the expectations we have for those we love are too lofty or misplaced entirely. Becky’s taught me to change, lower, or completely do away with those expectations that can bring resentment and frustration into our marriage.
Sometimes our expectations are reasonable but not communicated well...or at all. A friend of mine recently blew up at his wife because she never initiates sex. At the same time, it turned out, his wife had been harboring resentment against him for never taking her out on a date.
Dates and sex and compliments and a day off and flowers and…and a lot of other good things just mean more to us if we don't have to ask for them, right? We think that if someone really loves us, really cares, really understands us, then they'll just know what we need. And we're wrong. Love does not give us the super power to read minds.
How many expectations could be met if we would only communicate them clearly?
Sometimes we get it right. Our expectations are reasonable and clear. But they're still not being met.
Man, does that hurt. I feel devalued. I take it personally. I've learned from Becky's example to clearly communicate that, too.
"I've decided to lower my expectations of you," Becky said. What a gift that was! I no longer felt like a failure. I felt lighter. But I also wanted more than ever to be a better husband. I wanted to meet her expectations, no matter how high.
It's still surprising how being expected to do less motivated me to do more. Maybe that's just me. But maybe not. Maybe the people in your life will exceed your expectations, too, if you take the time to adjust your expectations of them first.
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