It occurred to me today that we’re all at least just a little bit broken. Life circumstance, experience, or nurturing cause us to have parts that we hide from others. Every day we get up, put our best faces on, and go out to take on the world. But underneath the surface is always some nagging thing that tells our whole story. More often than not, it is those things – the things we don’t often speak of – that shape how we approach work, relationships, and even opportunities for ourselves.
I was recently watching an episode of the Showtime series Billions (which I could go on and on about – such a smart show). The billionaire says to his therapist, “People withhold crucial information all the time. We learn to manage our expectations about those closest to us, don’t we? So they don’t turn into mistrust or paranoia.”
Is that true? Do our closest relationships rely on how well we manage our expectations of others?
I think it is fair to say that every relationship comes with expectations. What’s an interesting think-about, however, is how those expectations get developed and agreed upon. For example, I think it is the rare couple who actually sits and outlines expectations when a relationship is in a healthy place. Instead, conversations about expectations usually happen when one person hurts another – intentionally or not. It is in those moments of hurt that someone says, “I just expected more.”
Why is it that we so often talk about setting expectations at work, but rarely talk about them in a relationship? Maybe in love we just take some things for granted because they are the socially acceptable doctrines we think we need to believe and accept. Things like monogamy, honesty, reliability, and loyalty are just sort of assumed expectations in a relationship. But should they be? The answer, I think, depends on the needs of the people in the actual relationship.
My point here isn’t to debate what kinds of qualities each partner must bring to a relationship. Rather, it is to suggest that every relationship is different; and the needs of people are wide and varied. I have been on the receiving end of the statement, “Your expectations are just too high” on more than one occasion. And in those circumstances, maybe my expectations were too high for the other person to meet. I think we get so wrapped up in trying to be everything to everyone that we rarely stop to actually think about or verbalize what we need from someone else. Most dangerously, we impose the golden rule of “do unto others” in many situations where the other person’s needs are dramatically different from our own. Never would I suggest that a person compromise the things that are truly important to them for the sake of a relationship. Instead, what I often wonder is if a failed relationship would have stood a better chance if a conversation happened long before the let-down did.