Expectations Can Be Hazardous

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010 at 10:22 am

Expectations Don’t Work In Marriage

Jim Hutt, Ph.D.

What would you think if I told you there is no place in a healthy relationship for expectations? Well, that’s exactly what I’m telling you.

You may, or may not, have heard the adage that goes like this: an expectation is a resentment under construction. And here’s why there is more truth in that than you may realize.

First of all, expectations provide only binary results: you either meet it, or you don’t. And sometimes, expectations aren’t even verbalized or made explicit.

And we all know that mind reading typically doesn’t work.

Second, an expectation, when made verbal, is often heard as a demand. Demands frequently meet resistance, particularly if we grew up with demanding and un-empathic parents.

Third, an expectation, particularly when it truly is a demand, leaves little room for negotiation, and lots of room for defensiveness, frustration and disappointment.

Any of those three elements reduce the odds of getting your expectation met, and increase the odds of

resentment taking its place.

So, what is a better way to conduct the business if getting what we want? Great question!

Well, here’s the answer: First, slightly alter your thinking, that is, switch from expectation to desire.

Second, state your desire to your partner. Here is an example of each:

First, the expectation:

“I don’t see why you have to work so late. What’s the point in being together if I can’t even expect more time with you in the evening after work?!

You need to get home earlier!”

I’m sure you can imagine many of the less than positive responses you might get from that.

Conversely, a desire often leads to a positive result, has a distinctly different quality.

Here is a spoken desire:

“I’m sad and frustrated that we don’t have more time in the evening after work. I know your work is important to both of us for several reasons, and so is our time together. So, I want to talk about how we might manage our time, because I’m sure there’s a way for both of us to get what we want.”

Now, you’ve demanded nothing, made a reasonable, clear request in an assertive manner, and even been empathic toward your partner about how hard she/he works. Furthermore, you’ve directly said what you want, and made it clear you’re including your partner in the resolution process. Sweet!

This has all set the tone for a very positive negotiation, no one is being blamed for doing anything wrong, and the stage is set for a collaboration that will significantly lower the odds of having a fight, reduced defensiveness, and given each of you an opportunity to be heard and understood.

And all because you decided to let go of expectations, and instead, let your desires be known.

We all will have ongoing desires in our relationships for years to come. Don’t convert them to expectations; express them directly as desires–you’ll both be happier because you’ll get what you want more often than not.

©Jim Hutt, 2010 Ph.D, and CounselorLink.com. all rights reserved

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