When I returned home for a summer after having studied in Scotland for a year, my mother grew anxious when I would stay out late enjoying friends I hadn’t seen in a while.
I reminded her that I had become accustomed to living on my own in another country, and had learned to love the independence.
She reminded me that I was under her roof again, and needed to be courteous of her frequent bouts with worry. I told her that I was an adult now. She told me that she is — and will always be — my mother, and that’s what mothers do.
Looking back, we were both operating with certain expectations that had gone unmentioned.
She expected me to abide by my high school curfew of years earlier.
I expected to live independent of maternal oversight. We both learned something about each other and about holding on to expectations.
Expectations can pose a grave danger to some relationships, often becoming a burden to others, and cultivating disappointment in you.
We sometimes have an almost addictive tendency to want to control others, which usually stems from a desire to change them, often into some thinly veiled version of ourselves.
Of course, it is impossible to control or change someone other than ourselves. And it is liberating to quit trying, if ever we would.
When we let go of the unrealistic expectations that plague us and our relationships, and when we more properly manage and communicate the ones that are necessary for us as parents, employees, citizens, and spouses, we discover how heavy that burden had been, and we are free.
Truth be told, we all deal with this.
Sometimes we feel weighed down by the expectations placed on us by others; sometimes we are the ones burdening others with our expectations of them.
You’ve tried that long enough. It doesn’t work. Why not try something different?
For starters, let them go. Get rid of them.
Free yourself and everyone in your life from the anxious strain you inadvertently place on yourself and others by holding on to those pesky expectations which don’t do anyone any good in your sphere of personal relationships.
When you quit expecting others to measure up to your definition of “good enough,” you set them free to be who they are so that you can accept them precisely that way — as they are! In turn, others are more likely to accept you as you are, too, freeing everyone to be authentic and accepted all at the same time.
It’s all well and good to say “let go,” but how do we do it?
First, as in all things, you need to know what you’re dealing with.
So, pick a person in your life, perhaps someone who occasionally frustrates or disappoints you, and write down (literally) all of your expectations of that person.
Be honest. Be thorough.
Let the list expand to include all of your spoken and unspoken expectations.
Second, once your list is fairly exhaustive, review each item, crossing out all the expectations that you have of that person that you yourself have failed to fulfill completely.
For instance, if you expect your friend to meet you for your weekly coffee date with precise punctuality, but you yourself have been a few minutes late here or there, then you should cross off “I expect her to always be on time.”
We shouldn’t expect something of others that we cannot always expect of ourselves. This is one application of the golden rule.
Third, with what remains on the list, remind yourself: Just because you can fulfill your own expectations doesn’t mean that everyone else can.
So, try to consider the expectations from the other person’s perspective.
If your spouse’s employer requires her to attend meetings frequently, she may not be able to freely text you about her estimated time of arrival at home for dinner. You may have the freedom to communicate, but she may not.
Scratch off the list any items that fit in the “Just because I do doesn’t mean they can” category. Your list should be growing shorter now.
Next, ask yourself: “Is this absolutely essential?”
If, on a scale of 1-10, it doesn’t rate a 9 or more, than cross it off; it is inessential and therefore expendable. Let it go.
Finally, do something kind for yourself and for the other person in your life: discuss openly with them the remaining expectations on your list, and discern together which ones are legitimate and which ones seem unrealistic to one or both of you.
In fact, try to be the first one to say that your expectation is unrealistic.
While this may seem an odd kind of conversation to have with a spouse, a family member, or a friend, it can bring tremendous freedom to the relationship, rendering it more intimate, flexible, and spacious.
Communicating your expectations avoids the trap that is set by all the unspoken requirements that we may be living with.
Open communication is always a gift to any relationship, especially when it is marked by compassion and rooted in love.
However, what is even better than communicating our unspoken and unrealistic expectations to the people closest to you is ridding yourself of them altogether.
Once you have done so, your relationships will expand mightily, becoming stronger now that they are out from under the weight of your anxious need for others to be or to do a certain something in order to fit inside your worldview.
So often, we expect others to change so that we get to stay the same. Think of all the energy you currently spend requiring others to fit inside your expectations.
Now, what if you spent just one quarter of that energy on yourself instead. Can you imagine the strides you would make toward self-improvement?
Your expectations of others may be damaging your relationships.
Worse, they may be hurting you. Let go.
Try to be understanding and accepting of others as they are.
And enjoy the freedom that comes as others begin to accept you that way, too.
Dr. Jonathan Eric Carroll, KLPC, NCPC, NCCE, is a state-licensed mental health professional, is an ACPE psychotherapist, and is the Founder of The Clinic @ The Montgomery, a center for therapy, parenting coordination, custody evaluation, and business consulting in downtown Owensboro. Dr. Carroll serves also as the Grief Therapist for 10 funeral homes in the region. Visit www.themontgomeryclinic.com.