Often people experience more disappointment in their most loving relationships than in any other connection.
This can be disconcerting and even heart-breaking. For if someone truly loved us, shouldn’t they be able to avoid hurting us?
It is also a counter-intuitive experience. Really, wouldn’t it make sense to get along the best with those we care about the most?
I believe one of the main reasons why personal, intimate relationships are often more difficult to navigate than professional relationships comes down to a simple distinction: expectation vs. agreement.
I first learned about this distinction from author and motivational speaker, Steve Chandler, as a way to navigate the coaching relationship with a client. However, it quickly became apparent to me that it is also useful for every other personal relationship we have, whether with friends, parents, or our significant other.
Simply put, we can either have expectations of others or create agreements with them.
In a professional relationship, we often have relatively clear agreements. For instance, an employee agrees to spend a specified amount of time working on behalf of an employer, who in turn agrees to pay a certain amount of money.
While both sides in a professional relationship may still have un-expressed expectations (for instance, the employee may expect a raise or promotion in due time), the parameters of the relationship are defined by an explicit agreement.
Agreements are mutual and explicit. When we have an agreement with someone, both sides know what they can legitimately expect from the other person.
Our personal relationships, in contrast, are widely governed by expectations.
We may, for example, assume our friends will be happy to help us move (that’s what good friends do, right?). Our parents may expect us to visit with them ever so often (isn’t that what good children do?).
The one thing we can do to experience more happiness in our relationship is to learn how to navigate expectations more skillfully.
The problem with our expectations is that people oftentimes have wildly differing ones. In fact, the more authentic and free our society becomes, the less we can assume that we know what others expect from us.
For instance, a century ago it was much clearer in the Western world how the different genders would interact with each other during courtship and in relationship. It was also clearer how children would behave towards their parents. Nowadays, we are free to find our own way, a freedom that comes at the price of confusion.
While some expectations continue to be widely shared in society—such as the presumption that our partner will not date other people—many others are less apparent.
For instance, a woman may expect that a man who genuinely loves her will explicitly tell her he loves her every day because that is what she observed in her parents when she was growing up. Meanwhile her partner, who grew up in a less emotionally expressive household, expects that she will understand that driving her to the airport in the middle of the night is his way of saying “I love you.”
Our expectations are generally un-spoken, un-expressed, and the person affected by them is often not even aware that we have them (and vice versa). This makes them so difficult to handle.
Meanwhile our culture romanticizes expectations. To prove true love, our significant other is supposed to simply know what we want from them, and act accordingly. Given how different we all are, this would basically require people to develop telepathic skills in order to have a happy relationship.
I believe there is a more mature (and realistic) way of making relationships work. It includes the following steps:
- Become aware of your own expectations: Oftentimes, people are not even aware of what their expectations are. All they know is that they somehow feel resentful towards, for example, their romantic partner. If this happens to you, dig deeper and you may find that your partner has violated one of your expectations. For instance, when it comes to planning your weekend, you may expect your partner to watch a movie with you. When your partner then spends the weekend doing other things, you may find yourself feeling resentful.
- Verbalizing expectations: Once you are aware of your expectations relating to a specific event, verbalize them to your partner. Ask your partner to do the same. While you may, for instance, assume that you will watch a movie together, your partner may have the expectation of having time to meditate and catch up with friends on the weekend. Depending on what your expectation is, verbalizing it can be scary. Sometimes expressing an expectation of ours can make us feel vulnerable and tender because the other person could say no. Still, taking emotional risks of this nature can both lead to deeper intimacy and to getting your needs met.
- Come to an express agreement: Make an express, clear agreement relating to the specific event. In our example, both of you could agree to set aside time for meditation, for talking to friends and for watching a movie during the weekend.
The more we engage in this simple practice, the more we can enjoy mature relationships with those around us.
If you would like to improve your relationship, please also check out my free energy healing call on love and romance here.
Author: Bere Blissenbach
Editor: Travis May