Expectations: They’re Like A*holes.
Expectations are like a*holes: we all have them. And just like a*holes, they are not inherently bad or good, they just are. However, when we decide other people should meet our expectations that they have not consented to, we tend to become frustrated, hurt, and resentful. Not exactly conducive to personal satisfaction or happy relationships.
“But wait!” I can imagine you saying. “I need my expectations! Without expectations, other people will just do whatever they want!” Well… I hate to be the one to break it to you Sweetheart, but other people are going to do what it is they want to do, anyway. That is, unless you have mutually agreed otherwise. Because it’s my job as a Life Coach and advocate of people living exceptionally satisfying lives, I think it would be helpful for me to distinguish between three diabolically different concepts that we tend to lump all together, so as to support you in getting your needs met in a way that doesn’t disempower or shame you or others. They are:
Personal Conditions of Satisfaction. Conditions of Satisfaction are qualities that you decide are important to you. These are requirements and deal breakers that you define in alignment with your personal values, and do not require anyone else’s consent. These tend to be black and white; either the external circumstance meets our conditions of satisfaction, or it doesn’t. No judgement or blame needed. Here’s an example of some of my conditions of satisfaction for a romantic partner: Open to marriage. Kind. Financially responsible. Congruent social and political values. Monogomy. Sexual compatibility. Robust communication. Deal breakers: Requires children. Narcissistic. Judges or discriminates against marginalized people or groups. Conditions of satisfaction are the foundation to consistently choosing situations and relationships that meet our values and needs.
Mutual Agreements. Mutual Agreements are actions or conditions that we and others consent to together, without coercion or manipulation. These may include verbal or written contracts, promises, or other arrangements, and require clear communication and approval by all parties involved. We may agree to assign favorable outcomes or negative consequences depending on whether agreements are kept. For instance, if my partner and I have opted into an exclusive, monogamous relationship together and one of us acts outside of that structure, we are out of integrity with our agreement, and there are likely to be consequences. Mutual agreements are the brick and mortar of trust and responsibility in relationships.
Expectations. Expectations are “shoulds” that we assign to other people or circumstances without their permission. They tend to be a breeding ground for resentment, disappointment, and an unhealthy power dynamic in which we are “right” and others are “wrong.” For example, if I have an expectation that my partner spend every evening with me, and he does not share and/or hasn’t willingly consented to spending every evening together, the outcome when he opts to spend an evening in some way other may be that I feel angry or dismissed, or that he feels controlled or confused. In this way, expectations are like dry rot for sustained harmony within relationships and the world around us.
As you contemplate these three distinctions, consider which areas you already consistently practice, and which could benefit from further exploration and practice. I welcome your thoughts, questions, and experience. Please feel free to post a comment below, or email me here. And as always, if you notice some light bulbs going off, I’m open to having a conversation intended to support you in getting your needs met, and living an empowered and deeply satisfying life. Email me, and we’ll do just that.