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 Smadar Prager, CGP
 Psychotherapy, Counseling & Guidance 

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When Expectations Differ

Posted on May 31, 2016 at 1:30 PM

Mr. and Mrs. H. have an endearing habit. Every morning, they sip tea together and chat a bit before each turns to his/her daily routine. Their favorite location is their small kitchen table located next to the big window which overlooks the greenery outside and the neighbors’ houses. For the past few weeks, every time their neighbor comes out to hang her laundry, Mrs. H. gets this look in her eyes. She clicks her tongue and says in disapprovement, “Can you believe her? Can’t she see that her laundry is dirty? I do not understand why it is so hard to wash your laundry properly! Maybe she needs a few lessons from me.”

 

One morning, as they drank their tea and gazed outside, Mrs. H. sharply straightened in her chair and opened her mouth in surprise. “Look, look!” she said. “Finally! Her laundry is clean!”

Mr. H. very calmly replied, “Oh no dear. I just cleaned our window.”

It is always the same story. Sure, there are different players and other scenarios, but it’s always the same. We see faults in the other person, and never in ourselves. She fell in love with him because he was so caring and loving, and only wanted to make her happy and feel good, and now she can’t stand him because he leaves her no room to breathe; he is always there, suffocating her.

He fell in love with her because she was so lively and energetic and risk-taking, and so different from all the others, and now he can’t stand it; she is never home, she is always out doing something, and she doesn’t take care of him or the children the way he thinks that she should.

She fell in love with his calmness and now she can’t stand his indifference. Or he fell in love with her quietness and now he can’t believe how quiet the house is. It’s like living all alone.

What is happening here? How come the same person they fell in love with is the one that now drives them crazy, or leaves them feeling hurt or alone or neglected?

Well, it’s all the expectations’ fault. Like everything else in life, expectations, too, surely have their advantages, but they also have a problematic side. This side usually comes into play when our expectations do not match the other person’s realistic capabilities or nature, or if our expectations do not line up with someone else’s expectations, someone with whom we are required to collaborate or spend our lives with. Another possible way for the problematic side of expectations to raise its head is if we think that everyone should uphold, or actually is upholding, the same moral values as we do. Or if one only sees the other’s deficits or limitations, while thinking that they themselves are perfectly okay (or even perfect) in comparison.

Each time we cross paths and interact with another human being, we are in a relationship. And every time a relationship is formed, a clash of expectations occurs as well. It’s like two currents in the sea that meet up from different directions; a splash or a whirlpool is bound to happen.

When we fall in love, and when we fall in love with a certain quality in the other person, we do not expect that one day this exact quality will be the source of our pain.

We need to understand that each quality exists on a continuum. It is neither good nor bad. It just is. It’s the interpretation that we give to the meeting point of that specific quality with ourselves that determines whether it will feel good or bad.

A piece of chocolate cake, for example, can be so delightful, but guess how you would feel after the fifth or the seventh piece?

Nothing had changed with the chocolate cake. It’s only your perspective that’s changed.

When you found your spouse, it felt like connecting two pieces of a puzzle. Finally, the one you were waiting for. At last the one that completes you. He finally found someone that yearns to receive all that he has to give, and she finally found that giving one. She finally found a strong man, and he found his delicate flower at last. We are so amazed by the fact that the other fits us so well, complements the absence, and perfectly fills our gaps, that we think that the other simply knows us so well, can read us even without words, and supplies us with our deepest desires almost telepathically. At the same time, we are on cloud nine because this perfect person also finds us flawless.

The problem is that we expect this to continue forever and ever. But once what was lacking is no longer in such dire need of being filled, we do not need the other as much as we once did, or with the same amount of intensity. But that doesn’t mean that the other person is also at the same stage of his or her personal development; he or she might not want to end the original perfectly synced exchange. We expect our spouse not only to telepathically know that, but to also know the exact dosage that we need, the same way it used to be in the beginning, and back when we were babies when our mother knew when to change our diaper, or carry us, or give us food whenever we needed, without us even saying anything. We expect that this telepathic understanding will continue even if we changed and are now wishing and desiring other things for ourselves.

Instead of looking within and working on ourselves, we turn outward and expect the other person to change. Instead of talking to our spouse, we start sending all kinds of hints that he or she doesn’t really understand. The more hints we send out, and the more he or she doesn’t respond the way we expect them to respond, the more hurt we become, and angry and frustrated. And to stop the pain, we lash out and hurt back, thinking that if the other person would be hurt enough, they’ll understand just how it feels and stop hurting us. And a horrible cycle begins. (This process is mostly done on an unconscious level when we aren’t really aware of why exactly we are doing what we’re doing. At this stage, a couple would greatly benefit from some professional help.)

A couple might realize they are in a vicious cycle, but they have no idea how they got here and how to get out. Each points a finger at the other, each blaming the other. But recognizing the existence of the cycle is actually the key to break out of it, because you can only fix what you see. All that is really needed now is to understand that you got caught up in the expectations cycle, and once you do – find the courage and talk about it. Be brave enough to take 100% responsibility of your 50% share in this relationship, and stop expecting the other person to change for you. Do it yourself.

Trust each other and reveal each other’s deepest needs. Let the other person know what you expect them to be for you. Hear if it is at all realistic and or possible, and be there for each other in the same way you have been in the beginning. Only now, it will be in a much more mature way, a way in which you communicate with each other and do not expect the other to telepathically know what you need and then magically supply it.

Start here. Understand that no one is really perfect; we are all full of flaws. And then simply start doing for the other what you wish the other would do for you: stop hurting the other person. And the rest would follow.

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Originally published in the Jewish Press Mind Body & Soul insert on May 27, 2016

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Categories: Self Growth, Relationships

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