I used to think that having expectations in relationships was needy or selfish. Unfortunately, that line of reasoning led to a lot of sadness and heartbreak. I am now certain that setting specific (and high) expectations is essential to healthy relationships and a happy life. I’m the only one that is able to say what I need and deserve in my relationships.
Now, I understand that expectations are tricky.
As Shakespeare rightly puts it, “Expectation is the root of all heartache”
But as my beloved Maya Angelou (we talk about her a lot, huh?) stated, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them”
What do these two statements have to do with one another? Let me try and illustrate.
If I’m in an intimate relationship with someone and they don’t treat me with respect but I expect them too (which makes sense, right), I’m going to be upset.
However, how many times I’m upset depends on whether or not I really pay attention to how they treat me. And if I am honest with myself about how they treat me and how it makes me feel. The honesty part is critical.
If I expect you to treat me with respect and you don’t, I owe it to myself to believe that your actions represent how you feel about me.
This reconciliation is really hard for a lot of people (including me). We want to believe that if we were different or we were less needy (or we were prettier, smarter, skinner, etc.) they would treat us better. I don’t believe that to be the case. If someone does not love you just the way you are (flaws and all) do both of you a favor and walk away from the relationship.
You deserve better and the other person deserves whatever it is they are looking for. We must be vigilant about the practice of setting and establishing these expectations on a regular basis.
No one has the right to belittle you, cut you down, or disrespect you. I don’t care what what mistakes you’ve made in your life. It is never acceptable to be ignored, criticized, shamed, mocked, or made to feel bad about yourself for who you are.
The reason these expectations are so important is that the actions of others affect how we think and feel about ourselves. If someone cuts me down and I don’t establish healthier boundaries with that person I start to believe that there is some truth to what that person is saying or doing
“Maybe I don’t deserve to be treated well”
“Maybe there is something wrong with me.”
That’s how we are able to rationalize maintaining these relationships. Again, this is where being honest with yourself is critical. I think some of us rationalize being treated poorly long after our self-worth is affected. And, I know this is especially challenging in family relationships.
Sometimes the other person doesn’t realize that you feel like you are being treated poorly so it might help to say
“Hey, it hurts when you say _____”
“Hey it’s not funny when you tease me in front of other people”
I know that saying those things takes a lot of courage but if the relationship is important to you it might be worth a try.
Again, the world is shades of grey. This is not to say, I expect all my interactions in my relationships to be perfect. I have bad days and say or do things that are not always consistent with who I want to be. My partner and my friends are allowed to have bad days and act accordingly. And I surely, don’t expect everyone in the world to treat me with respect, that would be delusional. But, I do reserve the right to limit my inner circle.
My expectation is to being treated with respect on a consistent basis and I get to define what that means for me.
As I read the sentence above, I am sad that I ever thought that expectation was too much.