Have you fallen into the Expectations trap in your relationships?

By 智扬

I had an interesting conversation with my wife recently. She mentioned that her friend had commented that we seemed to have a very lovely husband-wife relationship. I asked her how she replied her friend. She told me that she told her friend that we have reached the stage of ‘can’t be too bothered’ and given up on each other and thus, we may appear to have a lovely and harmonious relationship to outsiders.

While laughing at my raised eyebrows reaction, she explained that what we have given up on each other is our expectations of one another. Of course we still expect the other half’s love, care and companion as a spouse, but we have realized quite quickly in our relationship that meeting each other’s high expectations are often the root cause of many misunderstandings and arguments. We still have arguments often but luckily these are mostly over petty issues and resolved quickly. 

When I recalled and reflected upon our relationship ups and downs, I was not able to conclude whether we had reached this stage consciously or sub-consciously. If we really do not have any expectations of each other, we really would have no arguments at all, and that would make us the most ideal couple. For now, maybe we are just lucky as a couple to have a good common understanding between us. That said, in any relationship, overt expectations and poor understanding of one another’s perspectives are roadblocks in any kind of relationship. This can happen in the family, between friends and colleagues. Because of unevenly matched expectations and a lack of empathy, we can cause hurt to each other’s feelings and this will lead to disagreements, arguments or even hatred. 

Have you ever wonder, why are there expectations? Expectations exist mainly because we are being too attached to the things we love and cherish. Often, we are too attached to our own viewpoints. After spending time together in a relationship, we may slowly start to expect that the other person would naturally understand our preferences better and react accordingly. Due to this building up of expectations from the person you care about, when they do not meet up to your expectations, we feel disappointed. It is like when we are very stressed or feeling very down, we hope or assume that our loved ones would be more patient and caring to us. This assumption of something that should happen but does not happen causes frustration and arguments. Sometimes being frustrated, you just want to fight for your own right of way or your own viewpoint. But at the end of the day, the root cause is actually our own expectations and we let it develop into a ‘snowball’ effect. It starts from an initially small state of significance and rolling down, building upon itself becoming larger and in certain situation this snowball will have potentially disastrous outcomes. It can happen anywhere, anytime. In a business transaction, customers expect good service because they are paying for it. The shop owner expects the customer to make a purchase after he or she makes a few enquiries about the product or started to bargain about the price. The customer ended up walking away without buying, feeling frustrated. In some cases, the shop owner may even scold the customer for not making a purchase wasting his time and effort. Often, bigger expectations involve the persons we are dearest to and we can see that the closer a person is to us, when expectations are not met, the bigger our disappointments and frustrations are. 

I am not saying that we should have no expectations at all. Instead, we should develop more flexibility in our thinking and explore better ways of handling our state of expectations. We should always respect the other person as another individual with his or her own viewpoints and preferences. We should stop expecting them to always agreeing to our ways. Give up on the need to be always right, which is something that we are all guilty of. And by not expressing clearly you are thinking, it is unrealistic to expect the other person to read our minds. Being realistic in our expectations is also another important aspect. As the saying goes, do not expect of others what you do not expect of yourself. Not reacting immediately will give us an opportune time to exert better control to our reply and behavior. 

Though it was a random conversation with my wife, it got me thinking about how we should cherish the mutual respect and understanding we have already established and to continue to build on it. Good communication is often the solution and/or the prevention to disagreements and arguments, but better understanding of each other’s perspectives precedes and dictates how we communicate with each other. Awareness of oneself and our own feelings will enable better self-control, while awareness of the other party’s perspectives and feelings will enable better ways of communication. Softer tone of reply or use of gentle words can set the tone and environment for an enjoyable and conducive conversation. I must admit, saying and typing out my ideas is way much easier than doing but I believe by recognizing it and admitting to it is definitely a good start to better relationships. The ability to self-reflect goes a long way to prevent expectations of others to dictate our emotions.