It’s not that your standards are too high (though they might be).
What we’re trying to avoid here is the heartache, frustration, and misery that come from unrealistic expectations in relationships.
No one can meet all your expectations, even if you make them clear to the people in your life.
The problems usually come, though, with expectations you assume are universal.
When those unspoken expectations are imposed (consciously or not) on real people with independent wills, disappointment is inevitable.
So, what can you do instead?
What Does It Mean to Let Go of Expectations
Letting go of expectations in a relationship doesn’t mean anything goes or that you should let people treat you however they want.
It means you stop torturing yourself and the people closest to you whenever your expectations aren’t met.
It also means taking a closer look at those expectations and deciding whether it even makes sense to hold onto them. Ultimately, you are not the one who gets to determine what’s normal and right for everyone. Your worldview is not universal.
The more you learn about other perspectives and belief systems, the easier it gets to let go of expectations that aren’t serving you or anyone else.
The following 11 steps can get you there more quickly.
Letting Go of Expectations: 11 Ways to Accept Others As They Are
If you’re ready to learn how to let go of expectations in a relationship, you’ve already made the first important step in a better direction.
Look through the following steps and make a note of the ones that stand out for you.
Letting Go of Expectations of Spouse
Example: You’re looking forward to the weekend and start thinking how great it would be to have a date night with your partner.
When you bring up your idea, your partner tells you they’ve already committed to helping a neighbor with a project.
1. Get clear on what you really want.
Get behind your expectations to identify what you really want. Maybe the date night idea came from a desire to spend more alone time with your partner. And while going out might not be an option, you can look at other options.
Once you know what you want, you can move on to the next step and make it known to the people closest to you.
2. Communicate what you want.
Your partner is not a mind-reader, and neither are you. Problems with expectations come when you expect them to know what you want (without actually telling them) and from you interpreting their actions as if you know their minds better than they do.
Bad things happen in either case. So, be open about what you want and why. And when someone doesn’t do what you want, don’t assume you know their intentions.
3. Ask yourself if you’d be hurt if you hadn’t expected something else.
The chances are excellent that you wouldn’t react as strongly (or at all) to someone’s behavior if it didn’t clash with expectations you built up in your mind. That’s where those expectations live — out of sight and out of reach of everyone not living in your head.
Ultimately, though, it’s up to you to decide whether your expectations are more worth holding onto than your relationship.
4. Suggest your idea for a different time.
Choose a time that works for you both. And don’t use your disappointment to guilt your spouse into making time for your idea when they’d rather do something else. Be open to revising your idea, so you’re both more likely to enjoy that time together.
After all, your partner has expectations, too — some realistic and some not so much. Talk to each other and find out which expectations are worth keeping.
Letting Go of Expectations of Children
Example: You’re looking forward to having company over, but when you look at the living room, you see it’s a disaster even though you thought you asked your kids to clean it up.
The younger one got sidetracked, and the older one was struggling to finish their homework.
5. Remember, kids are people, too, with their own lenses and expectations.
Your expectations and priorities aren’t always going to match. In fact, they often won’t. And you need to find constructive ways to deal with conflicts when they come.
It doesn’t help to assume your expectations are universal or that your kids “should have known better.” Looking at the situation from a child’s perspective is an excellent place to start.
Some things are universal — or at least more widely known. Your personal expectations are not on that list. And the older your kids get, the more likely they are to challenge them.
6. Ask yourself what you might do in your kids’ place.
Put yourself in their shoes. If you had your older kid’s homework load, for example, how much time would you feel able to devote to housekeeping for the sake of appearances? Kids can prioritize, too. What would you have considered more important?
Considering perspectives other than your own is a good practice with every relationship. Don’t assume others process the world and their experiences the same way you do.
7. Stop seeing your children as human extensions of your hopes and dreams.
They have their own. Because they are their own people, separate from you and all your unfulfilled dreams. They’re not obligated to pick up where you left off. Your expectations and theirs don’t have to match up — and they most likely won’t.
Your expectations are a product of your unique set of experiences and personal takeaways. But the way you see the world isn’t how everyone sees it.
8. Suggest a compromise that respect’s their personhood as well as your own.
Talk to your kids about what you were expecting. Then listen as they articulate their reasons for doing something else. Suggest a compromise that shows you’re willing to meet them somewhere in the middle, taking their valid concerns and priorities into account.
Don’t be quick to assume, either, that any values or priorities you don’t share with them are invalid or less important than your own.
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Letting Go of Expectations of Friends
Example: Your birthday is reaching its end, and none of your friends have bothered to call or even send you a “Happy Birthday” text — let alone stop by with a surprise.
Your first impulse is to feel forgotten and unimportant. You also wonder if they’re angry with you.
9. Check up on your friends.
Focus specifically on the ones who’ve been there for you in the past. They may be going through something they haven’t told you about. Missing a birthday isn’t the most important thing. Offer your help or support if they need it. Or just be ready to listen.
Don’t check-in just to passive-aggressively shame them for forgetting your birthday. Focus on nurturing the whole relationship, which is more critical than forgotten birthdays.
10. Focus on the bigger picture.
People forget things like birthdays, anniversaries, etc., when they’ve got enough going on in their lives to keep them busy. Just because they forgot doesn’t mean they don’t consider your birthday worth remembering.
Maybe suggest a meet-up somewhere to catch up and just have some low-stress fun together. Just don’t use your forgotten birthday to guilt them into saying yes if it means saying no to someone else.
11. Revise your expectations.
The updated list should better reflect the reality of your relationships — with your spouse/partner, your kids, your parents and siblings, your friends, etc.
If you find people are frequently falling short of your expectations, take a look at those expectations before assuming the people in your life are the problem. Part of growing up is learning not to impose your limited view of reality on everyone else.
Now that you know the 11 steps for letting go of expectations in a relationship, which ones stood out for you? And what will you do differently today?