Okay, I know what you’re thinking. How can expectations get in your way of happiness? You have to have expectations to achieve more. How do your children achieve the high standards you have for them? I get that, but hear me out.
Expectations are the greatest impediment to living. In anticipation of tomorrow we lose today.Seneca
I’m not saying have low expectations for yourself, just keep them that way. Consequently, when I was younger, I had a history of being disappointed by people or events that I thought would be amazing but turned out to be a hundred percent not what I thought they would be. I would be let down over and over again by my expectations.
When I was pregnant with my third child my husband abruptly quit his job. Consequently, he was out of work for a couple of months. Finally, he found one in Ft Collins, his hometown. We would have to move.
Even so, I would be supportive, though my whole family was in Denver. Where would we live? How would we sell our house? He had it settled. He rented a house from his father’s friend that I had not seen or inspected. I expected his standards to be like mine. Mind you, I was seven months pregnant, and moving with two little kids into a rental didn’t seem ideal. My expectations were that we would have a nice rental and that his job would be flexible, like his old job. The house would work for our family. We would have plenty of money.
Boy was I wrong. I had built up this idea of what our move would look like. I had this expectation that my husband would be available and that this rental house would be nice, near his parents.
Moving: Expectation vs Reality
Again, my expectations had let me down. Turned out, the house was a college rental in the college part of town. Nowhere near the supportive family I had hoped for. The carpet smelled like cat pee and if you have been pregnant you understand why that’s a problem. The second bedroom was downstairs at the other end of the basement. WHAT??? My baby would have to be alone in the basement at night? She’s not even two!
So we went through a year with this house – the bedrooms, the smell. I felt trapped and my disappointment in my husband at what I perceived as his failure to provide, grew. My husband would not be available for us like I had expected him to be in this transition, into a new city. I had unrealistic expectations of him.
As a result, our marriage began to break down. I held him responsible for how I felt. How fair is that?
This fighting had a trickle-down effect. By the time our third child arrived, we were fighting every day. We had to move our sweet, almost two-year-old downstairs. Then our newborn had to have a bed in our closet because the rooms in this horrible house were so small there was no space for a bassinet. I didn’t like him anymore. I could hardly look at him.
Alternately, I knew I loved him. But I felt so let down that everything he did became a disappointment.
Obviously, I let my expectations lead me to a place where my husband could never match them. At that point, he could have done everything right and I would have blamed him for my unhappiness. I wanted what I wanted and the reality of the situation would never measure up.
My expectations let me down again.
How do you overcome it all?
For us, it happened one night. He touched me and I flinched away. I brought up counseling a few times and he had always shut me down. This time he finally agreed to go. We needed to get real professional help and we needed to do it on a budget because we were also broke! We found that CSU had a great program where you could see one of their students, under the supervision of a professor, on a sliding scale.
In our first session, we sat almost silent. Too angry to break into the problems. But, we persisted. We talked about our money troubles and fought about it after we left. My husband isn’t one to let people in or to let people see him struggle. I found out he was as worried as me.
For example, our therapist took us through many exercises to help us find out for ourselves where we stood and what we needed from each other. I found out I needed to be heard and listened to. He needed to feel loved and also heard. We learned how to stop interrupting each other and listen before we formed our responses. In one particular exercise, she had us “discuss” a topic we were having trouble with for just one minute. At the end of the minute, she told us how many times we had interrupted each other. I can say with confidence it was more than thirty times. Ouch! This was just one of the skills we walked away with from our great CSU counselor.
What I learned!
In this process of self-examination, I stumbled across a real truth about myself. I crave control. I want it in all things and in all people. My children, my husband, my activities. Could this be any more toxic? I had taken the control I wanted and put that expectation on everything around me. That took its toll on my health, my marriage, and my children. I wound up with postpartum depression and thank God my husband is a good man who supported me through this time.
We had about six sessions of counseling and what I took away from it will last me a lifetime. When I feel myself slipping, I take a step back and remember what we learned all those years ago. My marriage has never been stronger. This year we will celebrate our 22nd anniversary. I can’t believe it!
As a result, I have taken up Stoicism. It is a practice of managing your response to situations. Look it up. I am telling you it will change your life! I also discovered the idea of putting your expectations on someone else has detrimental results. For one thing, no one can live up to an ideal. Another person could never be responsible for your happiness. What you want them to do is on you and you alone. You can only manage yourself and what you expect to find. So, let go of what you think will happen and just let it happen. Life is more fulfilling and exciting that way. Release the expectation and enjoy your life!
Just keep in mind: the more we value the things outside our control the less control we have.Epictetus
You may also enjoy this The We Spot article: The Heaviness of Our Own Expectations Can Weigh Us Down.