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2 Ways To Keep Expectations From Killing Relationships

Photo courtesy of JeffChristiansen via Flickr
Photo courtesy of JeffChristiansen via Flickr

Expectations (can) kill relationships.

And I’m not just talking dating relationships. I’m talking about friendships and relationships with family members. Sadly, I’ve seen its effects in my own life.

My childhood was spent in a toxic household that bled of unfulfilled expectations. My biological mother had expectations that my stepdad wouldn’t spend all of their money on booze every night. My stepdad had expectations that he could do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. Obviously, this caused an explosive atmosphere that left me in the cross-hairs. They both had their own expectations for me, too. I was supposed to be a child who was “seen and not heard.”

Miraculously, when I was 13, I had the opportunity to move in with relatives, who have been my sanctuary ever since. But just because I left my mother’s house didn’t mean there were no longer expectations. Unfortunately, there were many. And when I didn’t meet those expectations like she thought I should, she retaliated with verbal fire. I’m 31 now. The last time we talked, things were exactly the same as they had always been more abuse, because I didn’t fulfill her expectations.

The thing with expectations is, there are a lot of should’s involved. One person thinks another person should do something. The problem being that those should’s are often impractical or unspoken. Of course, not all expectations are bad.

We all have expectations in relationships. So, here are two ways to keep those expectations from killing your relationships:

#1 Keep Them Realistic There is nothing more frustrating than unrealistic expectations. I once dated a guy who had an expectation on what size I should be. I tried numerous (and sometimes unhealthy) things in order to meet those expectations. I never could. He knew I struggled with my weight and played on that insecurity to try and manipulate me into the woman he wanted. Trying to change someone is an unrealistic expectation.

Other unrealistic expectations might be to think someone should be somewhere when they were unable to like attend an event with you when they had previous plans. Or when a person thinks they should have received a certain gift for a birthday, holiday or special occasion. What about expecting an engagement ring from someone who isn’t ready to take that next step?

Even simple things, like expecting our best friend to text back immediately, knowing they have a newborn to take care of and a toddler who is probably spilling milk all over the kitchen floor! If someone expected me to answer my cellphone every time they called, that would be unrealistic. There are unopened voicemails on my phone from last November. Those close to me know that, so they shoot me a text or an email.

The key to realistic expectations is remembering that we should hold ourselves to the same standards we are asking of the other person. Don’t ask someone to do something that you would not be prepared to do.

#2 Share Them You’d think this one would be a given, but it’s key that we share our expectations with people. Pretend it’s like a job. You don’t apply for a job without knowing what is expected of you. You’d never want to walk into work expecting to be taking people’s orders and making coffee, but your boss asks you to file his taxes instead. You’d quickly be asking, “Did I miss some small print? Was this in my job description?”

We should never assume someone knows what we expect. Assumption gets us in trouble. If I’ve learned anything it’s that. Having open and clear conversations on what is expected helps relationships mature and deepen. Sure, they aren’t always comfortable (we’ve all had one of those), but it’ll save you from even harder conversations later on.

So, whether you’re trying to have a healthy relationships with a family member, a friend or a significant other, it would do you both well to have clear, spoken expectations. And just in case you’re wondering, it’s never too late to have that talk.

About Holly Hrywnak

Holly is a 30ish-year-old writer who strives to share honestly and transparently in hopes that it will encourage others to be open about their own struggles and lessons learned. She's been accused of being sassy, which she finds to be an admirable attribute. Her favorite things include: making people laugh, chocolate, sweatshirt weather and authentic conversations over coffee. One day she hopes to find herself a bearded lumberjack to call her own.
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