Monday, 10 December 2012

The Expectations We Place on Others

There are many times in life when we set expectations not only for ourselves, but also for the other people who share our lives.  I wrote a short story to illustrate what happens when our expectations are not met.

Sophia and the Power of Invisibility
Finally, Sophia could take a breath and stand back to survey the kitchen.  She had just finished preparing dinner and it was now in the oven cooking.  On the kitchen table that also served as the dining table, the bouquet of fresh, spring flowers she had purchased that morning were arranged in their vase.  Next to the flowers she had placed a bottle of Rioja, which was Patrick's favourite, ever since he had spent time in Spain attending a language course.  The table was set, the best cutlery and plates were out, and Sophia had even attempted to fold the napkins into some fancy designs she had seen in the internet, so that they would not be just the usual boring squares.  She placed her hands on her hips and smiled.  Everything looked perfect and ready.  It was a job well done she thought, and as she did so, she imagined with pleasure the delight she would see on Patrick's face as he walked in to the kitchen that evening.

This was no special occasion or celebration.  There was no birthday, no promotion, no anniversary.  Sophia simply believed strongly that she didn't need special occasions to cook a nice dinner or make a surprise for the man that she loved.  Any day could be, and should be, made special.  Besides which, she actually enjoyed doing this, thinking through the details, planning how to make everything right, and then putting her plans into action.  She had known that Patrick had been having a few rough days at the office, so she thought that a special dinner would be just the thing to cheer him up.  And afterwards, they would pick up their wine glasses and move to the bedroom, where earlier, she had placed scented candles and the massage oil by the bed.  She planned to give Patrick a massage to work out some of the stress of the day and then... Well, with the wine and candlelight, who knew what might happen?  The thought brought some colour to her cheeks, so she quickly dismissed it and checked on the dinner in the oven.

It was now after seven, which meant that Patrick was later than usual.  Probably another tough day Sophia speculated.  This was not a problem, she turned down the heat of the oven, went into the living room to put on one of their favourite CD's to create some atmosphere, and then sat back at the table to read and to continue to wait expectantly for him.  Now that the time of his arrival was imminent, she began to grow anxious, wondering if everything was going to proceed how she had imagined it in her mind.  Many times already that day, since the idea had first occurred to her, she had imagined Patrick entering the kitchen from the hallway, his eyes lighting up as he saw how the table was set with the flowers and the wine, and his nose would fill with the scent of the dinner she had prepared.  She would see his beautiful smile as he looked at her, she would be able to read the love in his eyes, and she would hear his words of appreciation and thanks.  That smile would make everything worthwhile.  There were days when she lived for that smile.  It was what had first attracted her to him and it gave her an incredible high when she saw it, as if her feet were no longer touched the planet and she was instead, soaring though the clouds.

She was quickly pulled from her reverie by the sound of a key in the front door.  Patrick was home.  Excitedly, she stood up from the table, straightened her dress, and waited for him to enter.  There was time enough for a last glance around to make sure she had not overlooked anything.  She listened to the sounds of him taking off his shoes, hanging his coat in the hallway closet, putting his bag down, and then the footsteps as he approached the kitchen from the hallway. 

"Is dinner ready yet?  I'm starving!", he called from the hallway before he appeared. "It's been a rough day, like you wouldn't believe and I'm absolutely shattered."

Before she could say anything, Patrick had brushed passed her and was already in the bedroom.  Sophia stood there, taken aback by the abruptness of his entry and was not sure what to say.  So she said the only word that came into her head.  "Hello."

"Hey", he called back from the bedroom.  "I hope dinner's nearly ready.  I think I'll just eat on the sofa in front of the TV with a beer and then crash out for the evening.  I'll tell you, my boss is a complete dick at times.  How we stay in business is anyone's guess.  It's certainly not from his brilliance.  I was talking to an important client on the phone this morning, real close to closing a deal, and he came in without knocking and interrupted me, telling me to hang up because what he had to say was more important.  Then he begins to tell me how Frank had been late to a meeting with one of his clients and how the client had called and complained and threatened to withdraw their account.  Then he asks me what I'd do about it?  I was like, are you kidding me?  What the hell do I care about Frank? I couldn't believe it Soph.  Seriously, what am I going to do about Frank?  I've got my own crap to take care of and a heap of it too!"

Sophia had remained standing in the kitchen all this time.  As Patrick had spoken, she had simply looked towards the bedroom and then looked back at the table.  This was certainly not how she imagined the evening!  Presently, Patrick came back out of the bedroom, now wearing a pair of loose jeans and a t-shirt.  "Hey", he said again to Sophia, who still had not moved, then swung open the door of the refrigerator, grabbed a bottle of beer and headed into the living room.  The music stopped and the sound of sports on the television floated through to reach Sophia's ears shortly after.  "Oh.  That's great", she thought.

Sophia looked at the table one last time and then, with the smile gone from her face and feeling crest-fallen, she began clearing away the place settings.  She unfolded the napkins and straightened them out, put the place mats back in the cupboard, and then took the dinner out of the oven.  She served on to a couple of regular plates, not the special set she had been planning to use, and took them through to the living room where Patrick was sitting in front of the television, the bottle of beer on the floor at his side.  They ate in silence, Patrick seemingly more interested in the game than in conversation or knowing anything about Sophia's day.  They finished dinner and Sophia took the plates out to the kitchen and made some coffee, which she took back through.

"Oh sorry Soph, I'm just going to finish this beer and crash out in bed.  I'm wrecked.  Can you try not to make too much noise when you do the dishes?  I really want to get some sleep and try to get to the office for an early start in the morning.  Try not to wake me up when you come in."

"I'll go start the dishes now", she said "that way they'll be done before you're fully asleep."  She stood and returned to the kitchen once more, put her coffee down on the side and began her chore.  She was almost finished when the television went off and Patrick came back through.

"Night", he said as he put his empty beer bottle on the side and breezed into the bedroom, closing the door behind him.

Sophia turned and stared at the door.  "Goodnight", she called.  Then quietly and under her breath she added, "I'm so glad you enjoyed your evening.  I'm so glad that you noticed the table, the wine and the flowers.  And you're welcome for the dinner and the dishes.  And by the way, my day had been pretty good actually, thanks for asking, it's just that my evening sucked a little."  She looked at the unnoticed flowers on the table and the unopened bottle of wine that still stood at their side.  "I guess there's always tomorrow", she thought.  But even with this thought she was unable to hide the sadness she felt because she knew a moment and an opportunity had been missed.  All of her plans were spoiled and in tatters.  Her heart was heavy and she knew that even if he saw the flowers and wine in the morning, the surprise had already been ruined by the events of that evening.  There was no soaring through the clouds tonight for Sophia.  This night, her feet remained firmly rooted to the floor.

In the story, Sophia set an expectation about how the evening was going to play out.  She expected to receive a smile, a look and a show of appreciation as the rewards for her efforts, and to know that she had pleased the person that she loved.  Were these unreasonable things to expect?

What is an expectation?
A search with Google provides this definition:-
1. A strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.
2. A belief that someone will or should achieve something.

So, an expectation is a belief in a future event.  They are created from our own personal belief systems, which are in turn created and maintained by everything that we perceive and experience around us, which began when we were infants and first started to understand the world in which we live.  The sphere of influence on our expectations includes: our family environment; our friends and social groups; the societies and cultures in which we live; and what we see, read and hear in the media (newspapers, internet, magazines, television, radio, movies etc..). 

One of the first expectations that we create as children is that if we do bad, then we will be punished and if we do good, we will be rewarded.  Slowly but surely, we add new beliefs based on what we observe and what we learn to be the right behaviours to exhibit in our family and society.

When we set expectations, what we are really doing is taking everything that we have learned and experienced and applying that to a new situation.  Essentially, our expectations are our own planned view of what is going to happen at some point in the future, based on everything that we know and have experienced in our lives.  They are based on our own set of personal beliefs.

Sophia had an expectation that by creating the surprise, her efforts would be appreciated and rewarded.  Clearly, her expectations were not met by Patrick's actions.  This resulted in Sophia feeling let down, deflated and disappointed by what happened.  What Sophia had done, was to create a set of expectations for herself and then to pass the responsibility for fulfilling those expectations to Patrick.  The problem was that Patrick had no knowledge of the expectations that had now been placed on him, so he could not possibly have been responsible for them.  Patrick had experienced another tough day at work and his head was still full of what had happened at the office.  He had created his own set of expectations for the evening, and he was able to meet those expectations, helped by the subsequent actions of Sophia.  Were either Sophia or Patrick in the wrong?

From an individual view point, neither of them were wrong.  In Sophia's situation, she would clearly blame Patrick for failing to notice that she had set the table, prepared the dinner and tried to make everything special.  He didn't ask her how she was, he paid no attention to her.  Essentially, he ignored her needs.  For Patrick, he had a rough day, he was tired and stressed because he was still stewing over the actions of his boss, his mind was elsewhere when he came home.  This caused him to fail to notice the things that Sophia had done and as his mind was so preoccupied with work matters, he was unable to think of anything or anyone else.  Each of them had their own expectations for that evening, which would not have been a problem if they were two single people, but they were not.  They were in a relationship and a loving relationship can only exist when two people are fully engaged in it and are appreciative of each other.

When we begin a new relationship, we each bring to that relationship our own set of expectations and personal beliefs on how the relationship should work.  These beliefs are based on every thing that we have observed and experienced in our lives.  For a relationship to remain healthy, each person must find in the other those same sets of behavioural expectations and beliefs, or they must be prepared to compromise and change their own, in order to accommodate those of their partner and to remain in the relationship.

What can you do if your expectations are not being met?
In a relationship, if your expectations are continually not being met by your partner, then you need to ask yourself why is that happening?  It could indicate that a problem exists in either you, your partner, or in both of you.  Ask yourself if the expectations that you are setting for your partner are reasonable?  If the roles were reversed and those expectations were placed on you, could you fulfill them?  If the answer is no, then you need to rethink your expectations and lower them accordingly.  Try to set realistic expectations for yourself and your partner.  But if you find that the answer is yes, then you need to take some actions.

Firstly, always talk with your partner and let them know what the effects of their behaviour is doing to you.  Let them know that your expectations in certain situations are not being met and ask them why?  This should not be a confrontational exercise, as you may discover that your partner is in fact oblivious to your feelings and had no idea that you were feeling that way.  By talking, you create an opportunity to come to a new and deeper level of understanding of each other, which will be of benefit to the relationship in the long term.

If by talking with each other, you find that your partner does not see the problem and fails to understand it, then you really only have two choices: alter your own expectations or, end the relationship.

In the event that you decide continue the relationship and that you will try to alter your own expectations, make sure you understand why you are doing that.  Ask yourself whether you compromising yourself and your own fundamental beliefs only to please another person?  Ultimately, that will not work and the relationship will not be sustainable in the long term.  You cannot go against what is written in your heart.  It is impossible to continue a healthy and positive relationship if your expectations are continually not being met and in this situation, it is better to walk away if there is no chance of compromise or a mutually beneficial solution.  A relationship is a partnership.  It requires give and take and understanding from both sides. It is rarely ever all about just one person.  Never diminish your own sense of self-worth by compromising on who you are and in what you believe.

A strong, long lasting relationship requires each partner to show care and attention to the other, so that each knows that they are appreciated.  That is something that is reasonable to expect from your partner.  When we are able to find this level of appreciation and care in our partner, then we have every chance of participating in a rewarding and a healthy long term relationship.  Why would you wish to be part of a relationship where you are not appreciated or do not receive attention?  That is not a healthy situation in which to remain.  Ultimately, you will suffer as a result, as will the relationship and your partner.

Don't always expect your relationship to run smoothly.  Every relationship will have its bumps in the road that will need to be negotiated.  But you should always maintain the expectation that your partner will give their best to you, as you give your best to them.  To accept anything less, is to diminish yourself and your own sense of self-worth, as well as that of your partner.  If you begin to accept that which goes against your heart, then at some point along the way, you will look in the mirror and fail to recognise the person that you have become.

True and lasting love is built on reflections.  Each person must find in the other a piece of themselves, so that when they look into the eyes of their partner, they see a part of their own soul reflected.  Our expectations are an essential part of what makes us who we are, they are created out of our personal belief systems, which in turn define us.  Always give to your partner that which you would like to receive and do so freely, without the expectation of reward.  With the right partner, those rewards will come back to you as freely as they were given, and your expectations will be always be met.


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