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Everyone has expectations about all kinds of things. Expectations are the ideas we have about how things should go in a given scenario. We have expectations about relationships, our career, the morning commute, how clean the home should be, and many other things. Despite how prevalent expectations are we often don’t realize that we had them until they’ve gone unmet. Have you ever excitedly moved in with someone only to find that you’re continually frustrated and don’t even remember why you decided to live together? Have you ever gone on vacation with another person or group and felt annoyed about how things went? Chances are that what you were experiencing was a disappointment due to unmet expectations. If you look back on what upset or frustrated you in many situations, it’s usually that you had an idea of how things should go or how others would respond that just didn’t happen. Simply put, you had expectations that were not met.

Identifying Expectations

Expectations are neutral, meaning they’re neither good nor bad. What matters is that you take responsibility for them and find healthy ways to respond when they go unmet. The most important step in taking responsibility for your expectations is recognizing that you have them and clearly identifying them. This requires that you be proactive and it will save you frustration in the long run. For example, think about your upcoming weekend and whatever plans you may have. What do you hope things will be like? If you’re planning to spend the day at home, what do you want that to look like? What are some things you want to get done?

 Managing Expectations

Another important step in taking responsibility for expectations is making sure they are realistic. Take an honest look at what you are expecting and ask if it’s reasonable in the timeframe you want or from the person you are placing those expectations on. If your expectations are not realistic, what adjustments can you make? Do you need to allow more time or limit the number of things you are asking for or looking to accomplish? I call this process managing your expectations. When you appropriately manage your expectations you can minimize disappointment as well as respond in ways that you feel good about.

Clear Communication
Once you’ve identified your expectations, it’s important to communicate them clearly to others using assertive communication. Assertive communication means clearly and confidently expressing your expectations while also respecting the other person and the different ideas and expectations they might have. Clearly communicating your expectations, needs, and desires are your responsibility. Life would be simpler if others could read our minds but that’s not the case so you can’t expect others to know or be accountable for what you don’t communicate. State what you want clearly and with a confident, respectful tone. Use “I” statements, be honest, and don’t make judgments or assumptions about the other person. After you’ve done this, give the other person time to respond and invite them to share their ideas or expectations. Once both individuals have been able to express their expectations and feel understood, then you can work together to come up with a plan or solution that works well.

 

A Healthy Response When Expectation Go Unmet

Disappointment when it comes to expectations is inevitable. Even when you use assertive communication, all of your expectations will not be met all of the time so you need to be prepared to deal with disappointment. Recognizing that your expectations are just that, expectations, and that they are your own can go a long way in helping you deal with disappointment. It’s also important to practice acceptance of your inability to control all outcomes and situations. Identify the feelings you have when your expectations are not met. Some common feelings are sadness, hurt, anger, and fear, just to name a few. Accept those feelings and find helpful ways to express them, such as talking with a friend, journaling, crying, or going for a run. Disappointment can be an opportunity to practice assertive communication. Use “I” statements to talk about what you are feeling and don’t make generalizations or judgments about why the other person did not meet your expectations. Use this as an opportunity to understand and be understood, in order to avoid a repeat of what happened. Disappointment can also be a learning opportunity. Did you fail to clearly communicate with others involved? Could the plans you made be improved? Were your expectations unrealistic? Learn from this and use that next time you’re faced with a similar situation.

If you’re looking for help with expectations, communication, or dealing with disappointment, I’d love to help. Call me today!

Written by therapist Ndunge Marquardt

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