The Problem of Expectations - Chantell Glenville

Have you ever booked an expensive hotel that you thought was going to be wonderful only to arrive and be disappointed? Have you ever had a friend let you down and not support you as much as you wished they would? Have you ever fought with your partner about the washing up?

Expectations caused all of these problems.

Our lives are full of expectations. We hardly ever don’t have expectations as to what a situation will be like or what another person will do.

And those expectations cause us heartache, anger and sadness.

The higher the expectations the worse it is.

For example when booking an expensive hotel example, you expect it to be wonderful as you’ve paid more than you usually would. Your expectations are really high. You expect everything to be perfect. Which is much more likely to mean you’re going to be let down. There aren’t a lot of things that are perfect.

We talk about parents putting unreasonably high expectations on their children but what about the ones we put on the other people in our lives and external situations, both of which are completely outside of our control. We can book a nicer hotel in the hope that it will be perfect but we can’t control whether it will be on not, that’s down to someone else. We can choose friends who we think really care about us and have our best interests at heart, but we can’t control whether they support us in the way we would like to be supported. We can ask our partner to do the washing up be we can’t control whether they do.

Only once we accept this can we gain any semblance of control over whether we feel disappointed, angered or sad in our daily lives.

I used to live with an ex-boyfriend and I got almost continuously pissed off with him for the fact he didn’t do the dishes. He worked very different hours to me so would be at home during the day while I was at work. That meant when I’d leave the house in the morning it would be looking tidy and clean and then when I arrived back home in the evening it sometimes looked like a bomb had hit it. They’d be mess everywhere but I expected to come home to find the house the same way as I left. There were only two of us living there. I wasn’t living in a big house share any more, like I had when I was younger, so I EXPECTED to come home to the house the same way I left it in the morning. It caused a lot of issues in our relationship. But it wasn’t my partner’s actions that were actually the problem. It was my expectations. If I hadn’t expected the house to be the same way I left it when I got home I wouldn’t have been angry when I got home to find it wasn’t that way. I thought my expectations were reasonable. But they weren’t as even after this situation having occurred multiple times I didn’t change them.

I was disappointed each time because I expected him to act a certain way but he’d never shown me any indication that he was going to actually act that way so in fact my expectations were unreasonable.

After we broke up (I know you didn’t see that one coming did you) I moved into a house share with three guys. While women can be just as messy as men it did occur to me before moving in that there was probably a high chance of the house being a shit tip constantly due to the gender of my new housemates. As a result before I moved in I accepted that I wasn’t going to be living in a tidy house. I accepted that if I wanted to live with those people I had to adjust my expectations to match the fact that the house was probably going to be a bit of a mess most of the time. And I did. I accepted the most likely reality of the situation that I was moving into.

I loved living with those three guys. Yes the house was messy most of the time. There were usually unwashed plates at least somewhere and the kitchen counters weren’t exactly clean. But I didn’t care. Not once did I get pissed off since, I had adjusted my expectations. If anything I was pleasantly surprised since I’d set my expectations to be that there would be LOADS of mess and my housemates were really quite tidy in comparison to what I’d been expecting.

But you see the difference in those situations? My expectations before were causing me to argue with a man who I was in love with about untidiness and yet I then managed to be completely fine with the same actions and situation from others.

I didn’t change. The mess didn’t change. My expectations just did.

Things bother us if we expect something and then don’t get it. That makes it feel like we’ve been wronged. If you set your expectations to be more in line with reality however you’re much less likely to be disappointed.

Expectations vs Reality

Think about what areas of your life your expectations might be harming?

Are you expecting your partner to be perfect? Because I can tell you now, they’re never going to be. You’re setting yourself up for disappoint if that’s your expectation. That’s not to say they shouldn’t be wonderful. I don’t want to be with anyone even remotely less than a wonderful human being however they will not be perfect, just as I am not.

Or are you constantly disappointed by a friend arriving later? I’m sorry to tell you but that’s probably going to continue to be the case unless you change your expectations. They’re not likely to magically decide to be a punctual person all of a sudden. You are choosing to continue to be friends with them. Are you ok with them as they are, a flawed human being who may not always do everything as you want them to, or not? Do you love them enough to be ok with the things that you perceive to be their flaws? Bear in mind they might not see that aspect of their personality as a flaw. It might be something they love about themselves. As Dr Steve Peters points out in his wonderful book The Chimp Paradox you’re actually the one with the problem in a situation like this as you’re the one imposing your expectations on the other person.

Your expectations are causing most of the disappointment and frustration you’re facing in your life. That’s because there’s almost always a difference between our expectations and reality.

Changing our expectations can be hard. They’re so ingrained in how we navigate our way around life however:

    • If you want to achieve anything in life you have to accept that at times you will fail.
    • If you want to have good relationships you need to accept that people aren’t perfect.
    • If you want to move away from frustration and disappointment you need accept that sometimes life is going to be hard and it isn’t going to go exactly as you would like it to.

I expect great things in my life but I also accept that I can’t control whether others or any particular situation lives up to my expectations.

“Expectation is the root of all heartache”

William Shakespeare