We had the most stimulating date yesterday. My husband and I used our kids’ nap time to assign responsibilities. We sat together, listed everything that needs to be done to run our household and designated his or my name by each point.
Here’s why we did it: Expectations. We all have them. We all have them placed on us. Sometimes ours are met, and sometimes we meet others’. But many times they aren’t and we don’t. And that leads to conflict.
In my experience, all known incidences of mind-reading have resulted in a 100% failure rate for the one expecting to be read. I know it’s a dead-end. And yet, as we have rushed about the past couple years with a growing family, work, and trying to maintain some semblance of relationships with others, we have allowed a lot of time to pass without discussing expectations. Of ourselves individually, of the other and of us together as a team.
We complain to each other about apparent expectations others place on us, but we had become lazy managers of them under our own roof. We each had thoughts on how things should play out, but we hadn’t taken the time to fully communicate, debate and agree ideas.
So we spent our Saturday nap-time date trying to sort things out. This involved a dual go-round of venting, listening to really understand, suggesting, and problem solving. And it resulted in a chore list with agreed-upon frequencies and (some level of) quality standards. It was functional negotiation at its best.
As kids went to bed last night and I began to tackle a few items on my half of the list, I found myself feeling happy and reassured. And it wasn’t because I love scrubbing sinks. It’s because I was on the road to repentance for my own failures in this game. Also, it was because I was able to mentally articulate and feel good about the following conclusions on expectations, for application in any relationship.
Healthy expectations have certain characteristics.
Key characteristics of healthy expectations are absolute clarity, appropriate mutuality and effective negotiation based on understanding in both directions. Whether at home or work or elsewhere, expectations set up a lose-lose proposition if they are unspoken, inappropriately one-sided or imposed without dialogue. Obviously, in select relationships – such as parent-child or employer-employee – degree of mutuality or negotiation may be limited, though ideally still engaged in order to build trust. Clarity is essential in any case.
Clarified expectations lead to security.
Healthy expectations breed security. When the standard is clear and you are able to work towards it, you have confidence. Knowing what is expected and how to achieve success is a helpful guide and can be a strong motivator. That is true for children learning obedience, employees growing in their career or citizens knowing how to live under authority. It is also very true for marriages that work as strong teams to run a family and a home.
Unarticulated expectations will always breed disappointment.
To expect behavior of someone without communicating it is an inherently flawed premise. As noted above, mind-reading has a complete failure rate. And to carry expectations without conversation is a point of arrogance; it assumes your way is best, you have all the information or your perspective matters most. It can also lead to conditional acceptance in the relationship, supposing I will feel better about you if you do what I want. When inevitably desires aren’t met, that can lead to assuming the worst of intentions. Some of us, too, are hardwired to run the opposite direction or shut down when feeling unilateral imposition of what or how things should be done. Any way you look at it, not openly agreeing expectations sets up failure.
When expectations are perceived, it’s best to address and not play games.
If you catch yourself assuming desired behaviors of others or interpreting silent expectations placed on you, it is best to sit down and work through it with honesty and without accusation. Stumbling along without communicating will only kick the can of frustration down the road until one side or the other erupts. And the alternative of placating and caving to expectations without discussion only condones an unhealthy, one-sided drama that will likely continue with increasing demands. And then lead to another opportunity for eruption. If the relationship matters, the ideal option is to name things and troubleshoot together.
Repeat the exercise for clarity as often as needed.
Expectation management in any relationship is not a static, one-and-done agreement. Needs for support and interaction evolve over time. Therefore, the discussion and agreement cycle should be repeated as often as needed and valuable to maintain synergy and open communication.
And so as I better own my newly agreed-upon responsibilities and move to the next task on my list, I am grateful for what feels more healthy, guides toward greater probability of success, minimizes disappointments, and generally stops the crazy. Until we need new clarity and hit the repeat button on redirecting expectations.