Dealing with unrealistic expectations is an issue affecting many people. Sometimes we feel burdened by the expectations placed on us by others. Sometimes we are the ones who place unrealistic expectations on those around us.
How do we get rid of these unrealistic expectations? First we have to identify our expectations. Then decide which are unrealistic and let go of those expectations, Finally we have to manage the expectations that are reasonable.
“When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.”
– Donald Miller
1. Start with your own unrealistic expectations
Before we can ask others to drop their unrealistic expectations of us, let’s deal with our own unrealistic expectations first. This gives us the moral authority to ask others to do the same, and we can show the way only when we’ve walked down the path ourselves. So we are going to start with you, and get rid of some of the unrealistic expectations you may have of another person.
2. Choose one person of whom you have unrealistic expectations
The person you’re likely to have unrealistic expectations of is the person closest to you. This could be your parent, spouse, sibling, or co-worker. For this post, I’ll use the example of someone having expectations of her husband or boyfriend since romantic relationships create many unrealistic expectations.
3. Identify all your expectations of this one person
Write down all your expectations of this person. Start each sentence with “I expect him/her to…” Keep the sentences short and sweet; there is no need to justify each expectation. Let the list grow as long as it needs to, as it’s important that you realise how many expectations you have about this person. Here’s an example of what your list may look like.
4. Apply the golden rule to each expectation
When you feel your list is reasonably comprehensive, go through the list and cross out any which you have not 100% fulfilled yourself. Surely it is unrealistic to expect another person to live up to expectations that we ourselves cannot fulfill. So if you’ve ever been late for an appointment, then is it unrealistic to expect him to always be punctual. If your attention has ever drifted during a conversation, then it is unrealistic to expect him to be fully focused all the time. After crossing out these unrealistic expectations, your list may look like this.
5. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes
Just because we ourselves are capable of living up to certain expectations doesn’t mean another person can. If he earns less than you, it is unrealistic to expect him to support you if you decide to quit your job. If his job requires him to attend meetings or perform surgery or travel, he may not be able to call you to let you know he is running late. This will pare down your list even more.
6. Remind yourself of your unrealistic expectations
By now, your list should have only a few items left. You can highlight these in another colour for easy identification. These can be considered reasonable expectations, and we will deal with them in the next post.
For now, remind yourself of the unrealistic expectations that you want to get rid of. One way is to display the list where you can see it when you most need to. For example, if you tend to fume because he’s late for dinner, display this list near the dinner table. Or if you often toss and turn in bed waiting for him to apologise, put this on your bedside table.
7. Talk openly about your unrealistic expectations
This last step is optional, but can go a long way toward mending a stressed relationship. If you have been giving him grief about being late for dinner, find an opportunity to tell him that you realise it is unrealistic to expect him to always be punctual. He will feel relieved that the burden of your unrealistic expectation has been lifted from his back. Your example might also inspire him to do the same for you. Be careful not to expect him to reciprocate though. That only creates more unrealistic expectations, which you’ve been working so hard to get rid of!
Read this first-person account of how Tina decided to drop her expectation that her husband be always on time for dinner. Getting rid of this unrealistic expectation resulted in both of them being happier!
Here’s another honest sharing about how Emily stopped expecting her boyfriend to be the perfect Christian, leading to a relationship that was the best two years of her life.
Do you have any unrealistic expectations that you’d like to get rid of, or that you have already dropped? Share in the comments or on the Facebook page!
This is Part 2 of the 4-part Managing Expectations series: