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Doing Right By Each Other's Expectations

Kate Lyons Blog: Mod 7 – Expectations

If I had to condense the end of every relationship I’ve had, it comes down to failed expectations. More specifically, failed expectations that I didn’t communicate to my partner.

Here’s the tricky part. If my partner wasn’t meeting my expectations, I so often pushed aside my disappointment and hurt until either I convinced myself it was ridiculous or until it spilled out of my lips like a tidal wave. I danced around saying exactly what I wanted and why. If I needed something, I might say it clearly once, but it was rare, and I kept telling myself not to repeat it, not to nag, not to ask for more than my partner could give. But why?

I had a bigger expectation, beyond anything I expected of my partner. I went into every relationship expecting to be disappointed, expecting to be hurt, expecting to be left. I began every journey telling myself to be prepared for when it ended, to protect my heart so when things fell apart I could still pick myself back up and carry on as if it never happened.

I expected that even if I found the best possible match who loved me as much as I loved them, I would still lose them. Inevitably, no matter what I did or how much I tried to make things work. There would always be a fatal flaw that would break what we made together.

I expected cracks to turn into chasms, and I was never disappointed.

But now, I’m starting to realize that the cracks only became chasms when I gave up. When I stopped hoping we could work things out, my despair made sure we never did. When I closed off my own heart to protect it, I only prolonged hurts that my partner and I could have healed together. I was lucky that my partners wanted to repair cracks as they came up, wanted to keep growing and learning together. But in the end, it was my own fear that got in the way. By clinging to my fear, I interpreted disagreements as a lack of compatibility rather than an opportunity for understanding.

So, there’s my first big lesson for this module. Don’t start a relationship expecting it to fail. If one of you thinks it’s a one-way train to heartbreak, chances are that’s what will happen. Take some time and identify your core expectations. What do you expect from a relationship? How do you expect you and your partner to grow and change over time? Pay attention to whether you expect to grow together or grow apart. You both need to take a good hard look at what your core expectations are.

Core expectations likely tie into your core values. One of my core values is empathy, but one of my core fears is my partner never extending their empathy to me. To others, sure. But for some reason, I’m terrified I’ll be the exception. My core expectation became that my partner would always hit a breaking point and leave. But in truth, the person leaving was always me, and it was always when I was convinced myself that my partner’s empathy for me had run out.

Now, imagine if I had challenged my pessimistic core expectation. If I had looked at my partners’ good qualities and trusted that we could work through our differences and grow thanks to the contrast, I think things might have turned out differently. Framing matters.

If you’re in a committed relationship, make sure you keep committing to each other as long as that continues to be the best thing for both of you. Try to look at your disagreements and differences as opportunities to challenge yourself. Try to seek understanding instead of turning away in anticipation of a worsening argument. Take time to breathe as you need to, but return to the conversation as much as it takes to understand each other. You may not agree, but if you can come to respectful understanding, you’ve both done right by your partner.

Here’s the thing. That only works if you both commit to it. You both have to be striving for understanding and compassion and respect. You both have to commit to each other, again and again, every day. By making that commitment you can each create the core expectation that no matter your disagreements, you will work through them together. As partners. As a team.

Commit to being brave enough to have the tough conversations and brave enough to step away when you need to recharge. Be daring enough to talk about your values, your fears, your expectations – even if you have the nagging fear, like I do, that you will be disappointed. Especially then.

Expectations are scary things precisely because they might not be met. But commit to talking through your expectations up front. When you feel your partner didn’t meet an expectation, try to talk to them about it. If your partner comes to you about a failed expectation, commit to listening, apologizing, and finding the best resolution together.

Take a deep breath. You’re a team. You’ve got this.

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