A woman sipping coffee as she spills some on the floor

We’ve all been there. Someone let us down without even knowing it, and we don’t know what to do with the hurt. Expectations are a tricky thing. The truth is expectations unvoiced usually go unmet.

The truth is expectations unvoiced usually go unmet.

How do we maintain a healthy process for having realistic expectations and holding them with open hands? What does it look like to communicate the expectations we hold dear, while extending grace when things pan out differently than we hoped?

Here are four tips for managing our expectations this season so that we can personally thrive, no matter the outcome. 

1. Survey what you already know.

Especially with those we haven’t seen in a while, we can begin to idealize how they will act, our time together and how we’ll be treated. Distance helps us forget dysfunction, leading to shock and disappointment when reacquainted.

Before spending time with someone, ask yourself what you already know about them or the situation. This isn’t to maintain a cynical point of view but to bring reality back into focus so you aren’t as blindsided.

This simple question, “What do I already know?”, may help you recall some of the things that trigger you, preparing you ahead of time for when they possibly emerge. (People change. Yet, sometimes they don’t. You may be surprised to find they don’t fulfill any of the previously true scenarios, but if they do, you are ready.)

This simple question, “What do I already know?” may help you recall some of the things that trigger you.

2. Be who you areno conditions applied.

One of the ways we self-protect is to withhold ourselves from others so they can no longer hurt us. This isn’t a healthy practice because “faking it” does a disservice to others and is a roundabout way of squashing ourselves to convenience them. At the very least, you owe it to yourself to bring who you really are to the table, regardless of what someone else brings.

You may be surrounded by dysfunction but that doesn’t mean you have to shut down or stop being the wonderful person you’ve worked hard to become. They may not deserve it or notice it, but do your best to be gracious, positive, strong, patient, humble and quick to forgive. When we let other people determine who we will be, we are giving them too much power.

3. Take ownership.

Sometimes we are the most disappointed by unmet expectations that were never properly communicated. We comfort ourselves with the notion that, “they should know,” or “we shouldn’t have to ask,” but that just isn’t fair.

Managing our expectations in a healthy way means we are willing to take ownership for the ones we didn’t voice. Maybe you really wanted that friend to reach out and say the right thing, but when we stop giving other people the benefit of the doubt, assume the worst and resolve to keep our mouths shut and hope they read our minds—we set ourselves up for a major letdown.

Instead, if you wished your mom had asked you about your job, make a mental note to update her yourself or lead a conversation with, “Hey mom, it would mean a lot to me if you occasionally checked in about that promotion I’m after. That would be a great way for me to feel your support.” Ownership denotes maturity, which is a key to relationships that get stronger over time.

Ownership denotes maturity, which is a key to relationships that get stronger over time.

4. Choose something to appreciate.

With anyone and anything, it’s possible to have a glass half empty perspective. However, we are responsible for what we choose to see. Sure, you can’t blatantly ignore dysfunction, but one way to manage healthy expectations is to shift your focus from what is difficult and slow to change and focus on something you can appreciate.

What we fixate on always seems to get bigger. Instead, choose something good in the people surrounding you to value and release everything else. We’re all human beings, flawed and imperfect. Let’s extend the same grace we’d want to the people around us. 

Instead of allowing unmet expectations to create in us calloused hearts, let’s have the courage to take a step back and consider what we can learn and what to leave behind.

Have you ever had unmet expectations in a relationship? How do you distinguish between expectations and reality?

Images via Jason Barbagelott, Darling Issue No. 19

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