How Expectations Influence Relationships

I recently got the opportunity to meet my own life coach with whom I worked for a year. It's rare to have this opportunity, especially because he lives half a world away. But somehow, fate brought us together face to face. Our relationship started as one of coach-client but as we got to know one another, it turned into friendship by the end of our coaching sessions. During that time, he created a space for me in which I was able to open up in a way I never considered possible, to become vulnerable and brave, to become more and more myself. It was such a privilege to be allowed to do that. In return, I received support, unconditional acceptance, encouragement, and I got challenged when I wanted to step away from my own authenticity. All in all, what I received was what all great coaches have to offer: a safe, open, trusting space where I could be what I couldn't really be anywhere else up until that point: truly me.

So why am I telling you all this? Because after a year I got to meet him in person. And I was faced with this interesting dichotomy: he was a stranger in the sense that I actually never met him, and yet he knew me in ways that very few people did. Within minutes of being in each other's company, we felt as if we have always known each other. The time spent together, which was only a few hours, felt like minutes. When I left, I felt such a warm, light, and great feeling as if I made a friend for life. On the way home, as I was gleaming with joy and happiness, I asked myself: why am I feeling this way for having met this person? What was about the relationship that made me feel this way?

It took a little time to come up with the answers but I was sure of them. In the coaching relationship the year prior, as well as in the few hours spent together, there were no expectations. He didn't want me to be anything else other than what I already was. There were no demands or assumptions. And the interesting thing that I noticed after I left was that I felt the same. I didn't expect anything other than who he was and what happened. What transpired in our meeting was simply the joy of being with another human being, and how easy and effortless that was when there were no expectations. 

These realizations intrigued me and they got me thinking about our personal relationships, especially to those very close to us: our spouses, children, partners, friends and parents. They are the ones who know us best, the ones we spend most of our time with, the ones who see us at our best and at our worst. How come these intimate relationships are often laden with heavy emotions like guilt, anger and disappointment, even when we love the other person with all our heart? I look at my own relationships and the answers became obvious: expectations. I expect my husband to provide me with certain things and to behave in a certain way towards me. I expect my children to listen and follow directions. I expect my friends to understand me and support me. I expect my mother to love me unconditionally.  What happens to these relationships when these expectations are not met? They start eroding at the joy and happiness that can be present. With my coach, the heavy blanket of expectations was not present. We saw and accepted each other as we were. It's as if smoky and dark glasses were removed from our eyes, and we saw clearly. And it was easy and light. And the other shoe dropped. I wanted that in all my other relationships! How could I get it?

It was an awareness that made it clear that I needed to start looking at my close ones without expectations. How can I see them for who they really are and not for who I want them to be? Is that possible? It is but what is required is vigilance to catch myself when I lock them down with expectations. Then I can stop and get a glimpse of their true selves, I can pause and appreciate who they are. And then repeat. Again and again. My hope is that by doing that, one day (hopefully in the very near future) all I see is the beauty, the flow and the easiness of the other.

So, do you find yourself in a similar scenario? Would you like to feel the joy and happiness that can be possible when you allow others to be who they really are? If yes, you can start by answering these questions:

  1. Who do I have expectations of in my personal relationships? Please include yourself.
  2. How do I expect them to be in my presence? How can I notice what that does to them?
  3. What do I expect of them? Start a list.
  4. How can you start reframing these expectations in a way that is loving and supportive of your close ones?
  5. How can I start getting glimpses of their true selves?
  6. How can I sustain the practice of letting go of expectations in the long run?