Expectations. Everyone has them. We expect the car to start when we turn the key, the refrigerator to keep food cold, the vending machine to give us what we paid for and the light to turn on when we flip the switch. They are all around us, compelling us to trust them to do what we think they should do. But what happens when things don't go the way we expect? We can become frustrated, annoyed, disappointed and even angry. When we start to bring our expectations into relationships, they can have similar emotional results on us and others involved.
This past year, I was becoming disappointed, easily annoyed and discouraged with many of my friendships. It took me a while to recognize that the reason for this was directly linked to the expectations I had for them. Only after this was I able to identify the deeper issue: selfishness. This quickly becomes a cancer in relationships, ready to snatch any piece of goodness out of them as it hides behind expectations. Since making this connection, I have been able to identify my own secret expectations and recognize that they are unreasonable.
1. Secret Expectations
Expectations begin to form themselves as we grow closer to the ones we care about. It doesn’t take long before we are familiar with their schedules, personalities and how we are typically treated by them. Somewhere along this process, we become used to the “way it is” and start to expect it. Our relationships continue to develop and this little grain of expectation nurtures itself into an assumption that because they “know you,” they will know how you want to be treated when you’re exited, moody or having a rough day. This can progress then to an assumption that they will be able to automatically know what we’re feeling. Body language doesn’t always read the right way. Without communicating verbally, we can’t assume that our friends will know exactly what is going on in our heads. Then when they don’t respond the way we think they should, we will become disappointed and frustrated with them. This is where the selfishness comes in. Here the focus is no longer on what we can do for them, but on what they can do for us, even though we don’t tell them what that is. This is dangerous in any relationship because instead of fostering love and respect, it festers frustration, loneliness and bitterness. Secret expectations will destroy as they breed selfishness in our relationships.
2. Unreasonable Expectations
Once we recognize our hidden expectations, we can start to see that many of them are unreasonable. For instance, we want them to read our minds, know how we’re feeling and respond the right way every time, when the “right way” shouldn’t always mean the way you want to be treated, but the way that’s best for you to be treated. That’s unreasonable, and a selfish way to think, but it’s easy to excuse and disguise. After we identify the expectations we have in our relationships, we can easily fall into the comparison game (I did). We begin to weigh our deeds against theirs and make that the basis for who is in the right, but that isn’t loving, that’s business. There should be a give and take in relationships, but once we start balancing the equation, we start doing things because we feel an obligation to, rather than because we want to show them we love them. This will harm relationships as it distorts our motivation to show care for the people that mean to most to us. It reverses the emphasis from looking for opportunities to express love, to looking for someone who will satisfy our demands. It’s such a drastic change that can happen without our even knowing it, and that is why it is so dangerous.
When I began to recognize the expectations I had for people in my life this year, my selfishness hit me like a brick to the head. There I was, professing to be a follower of Jesus Christ and forgetting about His two greatest commandments: first, to love God with all of my heart, soul and mind, and second, to love my neighbor as myself (Mathew 22:37-39). I was looking for people to love and accept me instead of looking to love others, when I am already loved unconditionally by God who adopted me into his family (Galatians 4:7). By living a life ruled by expectations, I was ungrateful for all the love that God gave me every single day. I don’t claim that I have completely changed since I recognized this problem. But, since I’ve been able to identify it, I am able do something about it.
“If it’s important you’ll find a way. If it’s not, you’ll find an excuse.” -Ryan Blair