We all have hopes and expectations in our lives – for ourselves and for others. Others have their expectations and dreams for us.
It is worthwhile to pay attention to these expectations. Most of the time, what others expect of us will be innocuous, things we are already in agreement with, even if we are not too excited about them – such as doing our share of household tasks.
The bag of expectations holds much more than this, however. For ourselves, it contains who we want to be, how we want to live and act in the world, what we want to accomplish. These are big things and if we get sidetracked to an alternate course without acknowledging the change, there can be a big impact on our mental health – increased stress, anxiety, even depression.
It is not that we need to have every aspect of our lives planned. My colleague, Mike, gave a great example of this in his blog a couple weeks ago. Sometimes we go off in alternate directions, not knowing why or where the new direction will lead; but an awareness that we are not following our original dreams is key to being comfortable with our Plan B (or C, D or E).
Difficulties can crop up, however, when our hopes and desires get confused with our responsibilities. In close relationships (parent-child, couples, close friends, coworkers, business associates), we take on a number of responsibilities. In these relationships, we will hear, feel and sense a number of expectations.
All is fine and good when our interests and goals mesh with those to whom we are close. Expectations can be motivating. They can help direct or redirect us if we start heading the wrong way.
Yet when others have desires and expectations for us that do not match our own, trouble is often not far behind. In minor areas, “cap on the toothpaste” type issues, we may just get annoyed and accept this as part of the relationship. With bigger issues – when another expects us to live and act in a certain way – it is a good time to keep our eyes open, paying attention to our needs and desires as well as the needs and interests of those with their expectations.
Things can get muddy.
Close relationships can disintegrate quickly when clear distinctions aren’t made. Whose hopes and dreams are these? What are each’s expectations of the other? What responsibilities does each feel to and for the relationship? What do we see as being valid expectations and responsibilities? What do we see as being invalid? What are we able to negotiate? Are we comfortable with compromise?
Depending on the relationship, we may want to tell the other person with their expectations to go jump in the lake. With others, we may not want to be so blunt. At times, we may feel compelled to try to meet another’s expectations even when we do not feel a responsibility to do so. We may begin to feel guilty if we do not meet another person’s goals for us. These situations can occur on very subtle levels, and we may miss them, only recognizing we do not feel good about it.
Being aware of these situations can lead us away from the landmines. Having the conversation when expectations do not mesh can let each know where the other stands. It lets us know the importance of an issue for the other. It gives us a point to begin a negotiation that may lead to a compromise. Respecting the choices of another when those choices are not doing us harm is a good place to start. It can lead to better relationships.
Reggie E., MSW, CEAP, joined Empathia in 2005 as an EAP Counselor. Reggie has a master’s degree in Social Work as well as bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and the Comparative Study of Religion from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Prior to a career change to social work, he worked in a variety of fields, including banking, trucking and metal fabrication.