It was a gorgeous Saturday morning when Alisha began running through her morning routine of getting three little ones dressed and fed. She also wanted to shower, exercise, make beds and prepare for a family outing. Ordinarily, these daily tasks would create no emotion—they were her ‘job’. But today, it was Saturday, and her husband was home, lying on the couch reading the paper with his cup of coffee near by. He was oblivious to the bustling household and made no offer to help. Alisha was extremely angry by late morning and made no eye contact with Josiah as she stomped by him, finishing one task after another. They argued the rest of the weekend about how unhelpful Josiah was around the house, creating at best an environment of forced fun for the family. They were miserable and disappointed that another weekend had been ruined.
Alisha and Debbie talked about the disappointing weekend. She asked her if she ever stated her needs to Josiah about wanting help with the kids. Surprised, she explosively shouted, “Why should I have to ask him for help with the kids? He is their father! He should know that I need help!”
Unexpressed expectations are the pathway to resentment and anger. That is an old slogan of the 12-step communities. Whether justified or not, having expectations that are not talked about lead to disappointment and distance in relationship.
Why Do We Have Expectations?
An expectation is simply a hope, belief or prospect. You have expectations because you are born with needs and desires—we believe seven basic desires. When you arrived in this world as a baby, you had many practical needs that made you totally dependent upon adults in your life. You had hopes that you would be nurtured and cared for. When you weren’t, you created ingenious ways to get what you needed: crying was your first tool! As you grew older, you acquired other ways to make your needs and wants known: pouting, begging, having a tantrum. Or you may have begun to ‘take things into your own hands’ to make sure you got what you needed: lying, stealing, hording, escaping or controlling whatever you could in your own life(eating, defecating, talking, and participating).
Out of your basic needs is to be physically taken care of (to be safe) and to acquire the other 6 Desires of your heart--to be heard, affirmed, blessed, touched in healthy ways, chosen and included—you created expectations of others and of the world. In a perfect world, you would not have needed to ask for anything; loving adults would have taken care of it all. In our imperfect world, your hopes to have all that you need and desire are dashed—and you are left to figure out how you will acquire them in a healthy way. From this place, you begin to develop expectations that other people will be able to‘help out’ in your life to give you what you need. We all have expectations. It is not realistic to think that if we lived a healthy enough life, we could eliminate all of them. Our desires are deep; our needs are realistic; and we do not like to be in pain when we are faced with living without something we need or want. However, we can learn about our expectations and make better decisions about how to deal with them so that our life is more joy-filled. Ultimately, we can use our expectations to enlighten us about what the deeper yearnings of our heart are and how we have missed getting them met thus far in life.
Why Do Expectations Harm and Disappoint Us?
Why do we even have expectations if they create so much harm and disappointment? What are these expectations and why are they so powerful in destructing ourrelationships?
To expect is “to anticipate in the mindsome occurrence or outcome". It is “to anticipate, look forward to, count on, assume…require, demand, or insist upon”. As we type the definition, we feel an explosive power in the word! First of all, if you really can’t hear the words that are attached to an expectation nor can you see anything because it is ‘in the mind’, then it is going to be really hard for someone else to figure out what it is. When you live with unspoken expectations of others, you are similar to being a field with land mines where they are hidden away beneath carefully planted bushes and camouflage. You ask someone you care about to walk through that field and to detonate those mines, but they have no idea where they are! Figuring out someone’s needs or desires without any clues is very frustrating. The person you would like to be helped by is also set up for failure because it is impossible to help and please someone when you don’t know what they need. Failure leads to coping with anger or sadness which leads to distancing in a relationship—and the cycle of disappointment, resentment and anger continues.
If you have not been taught how to talk about your needs and desires, you will continue to look forward to someone else ‘reading your mind’ so they will give you what you need. You might even tell yourself that if your friend really was a friend, or your spouse really loved you or your boss thought you were an important asset to the company, he/shewould automatically know what you needed. You shouldn’t have to voice your need or desire. People that know you well, you tell yourself, should also know from a look on your face, or a sigh or an overloaded to-do list that you need something! Or if theywere really sensitive folks, they should know you need affirming, or including or touching or something. And the “shoulds” turn into blame and demands of others and the world—reversing what you need or desire into someone else’s need or desire to do something about it! Blaming leads others to get defensive and to do and say things that distance them from you, exasperating the whole situation. In the end, you get less of what you wanted in the first place. The real disappointment occurs when you give away your ability to do something about your life and trust that someone else will take care of it, for you have then lost the ability to trust yourself to create the life you want.
We already hear some of you saying, “But why should I get married if I can’t have any expectations of my spouse? Or, why have friends if we can’t expect things from each other?” We want you to know that having expectations will be part of any relationship, and that in itself is not a bad thing. What we do with our expectations is what gets us into trouble. We want to teach you how to talk about your needs and desires so that at least some of the time, your significant relationships can help you fulfill those, and when they can’t, you will trust yourself and God to find fulfillment for those they can’t.
Why Don’t You Just Ask For What You Need?
It seems so simple: if you need or want something, just ask for it. But most of you don’t. Why is it so difficult to state your needs or desires? There are clues that explain how you lost the ability to ask clearly for what you need if you examine your past.
If you remember what we wrote in Chapter 9, the truth about you included that Godis with you and in you, that you are unique, valuable, purpose-filled, precious, capable, and lovable. But as you grew in an imperfect world with imperfect people entrusted with caring for you, you did not always get what you needed—and sometimes, you got what you did not deserve. When that abuse or abandonment occurred, you began to take the truths about who you were and you created false meanings and beliefs about yourself and others. Often times, those false beliefs led you to question some of the basic truths about all divinely created human beings: everyone has unique thoughts and opinions, feelings, words, behaviors, and needs that are important. If you are not allowed to have your unique thoughts, feelings and needs or you are talked out of them in some way, you remain stuck with false beliefs: I don’t have valuable thoughts, I shouldn’t feel, I shouldn’t talk, I should do things just to please others, and I shouldn’t have any needs.
Creating Expectations From Wounds
We can create unrealistic expectations from wounds in our life. For example, if you have had a parent who never protected you and who criticized and shamed you, you are going to choose people in your life who will always be there for you and who will accept you in all circumstances. Your expectations will grow from a deep need to be protected and loved.
If you were exposed to pornography or other sexual pleasures before marriage, you may have expectations for your spouse to perform sexually in ways in which you have been ‘trained’. Or if you had an overly controlling mother when you grew up, you may choose a partner or colleague who is very independent and ‘leaves you alone’, and your expectations might include, “If I choose an independent wife, she won’t have any desire to control me.”
If you were not allowed to be with kids and instead were expected to stay at home and tend to younger siblings, you may lack social skills that others have. If you married a very out-going spouse, you may begin to expect that your spouse will keep your social ‘calendar’ going and introduce you to friends and colleagues because you aren’t good at doing that yourself.
Family, culture and friends in your past all contribute to how you manage expectations today. When you examine your own life and how you were disappointed, hurt or unattended to, you can determine what expectations you are creating in your relationships today. These expectations serve to comfort your wounds. You can also examine what meanings or false beliefs you are carrying from your past that may be affecting your ability to speak up about your needs and desires. If you can’t express needs and desires openly with others, then they turn into expectations that may not be fulfilled. You may also learn from your past that you had many of your needs and or desires attended to. Your expectations for your adult life today, then, may be that it will continue to be that way! No matter what facts you uncover from your history, they will be valuable in helping you assess how you are handling expectations today.
A Vision For Talking About Expectations
A vision for creating a healthier emotional life is to articulate your expectations so that others have an opportunity to meet them. Unexpressed expectations often go unmet and lead to resentment. Expressed expectations lead to clarity and trust in yourself, others and God to fulfillyour needs and desires.
Sometimes others will be able to meet your expectation when you are clear about what you need or desire. Sometimes they cannot or will not. Your path to becoming a healthier person is to know you have choices about your expectation. You can ‘letgo’ of your need or desire by deciding you don’t really need it. If you can’t let it go, you could be willing to ‘pay the price’ for having an unmet need or desire for awhile. Or you may live a lifetime with not having a need or desire met if you continue to not let go. You can trust yourself to find other ways or people to meet your need or desire. And finally, you can ask and trust God to show you how he will meet your desire.
Letting go of something you want is hard to do. It means, literally, that you will no longer need your need! Under all attempts to ‘let go’ is a courageous act of surrender, for every need is attached to one of the 7 Desires.
When our children were in elementary school and we had to prepare for their school pictures each fall, we always wanted to make sure they looked spectacular! We usually bought a new outfit, went for haircuts, and got up early enough to put it all together. As they grew older and didn’t want to look the way we wanted them to look, we realized that we needed to let go of a need we had: to have our kids look‘appropriate’ so that people would think we were good parents. Underneath our expectation that they needed to look good was our desire to be affirmed for our parenting and blessed for who we were—regardless of the outward appearance of the children.
We can surrender our expectations, we can sacrifice them at times for more important priorities, or we can choose to let God and others help us find other ways to get them met. We have many choices which lead us out of the dismal place of resentment and bitterness.
If your life is filled with resentment and anger, look at how you are doing with replacing unexpressed expectations with specifics needs. Ask yourself if you can let go of your black and white thinking that only one person or one way will work to meet your need. You can get really stuck blaming that one person or that one solution when your need is not met.
You become more resourceful and confident when you have options and choices. You can learn to become resourceful by having several options if you have an important need. When you are resourceful, your anxiety decreases and your confidence increases. “I can do this”, you find yourself saying. “I don’t have to feel stuck.” Trust in yourself grows that you will be OK, regardless of whether others can serve you when you have needs and desires.
There is one final step in learning about expectations. You may become an expert in asking for what you need, but you still do not get your need met. What do you do when all plans fail to have others or yourself provide what you need? This place is called powerlessness. You can be powerless over getting a need met; you can be powerless over the way you are going about it; you can be powerless over the emotions that you have attempting to get a need met; you can be powerless over even having that need. You can be powerless over many things.
When you accept that others may not or cannot give you what you need and you accept your powerlessness in even getting it for yourself, you then grow your trust and confidence in God—the only source of life who can provide. "And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:19) We believe that God has many ways of meeting your needs. You may pray to him and find that you feel listened to. You may have a deep sense of his affirmation, blessing, and safety he provides. Remember also that God often works through other people. When you start asking God to meet your needs you may find that he doesn’t always do it in the way you expected. You may think he is going to change someone, like your spouse, your friend, or your boss, so that he or she will meet your need. It may be, however, someone else comes along to listen or meet one of your desires. Our experience, when we look back over our lives, is that we can see ways in which God brought people in our life to meet our needs in ways that we never imagined.
We encourage you to give your expectations to God and be open to the possibilities of what might happen.