Unfulfilled Expectations

The source of all frustration is unfulfilled expectations.

Author Unknown

“Things just aren’t working out,” he said. “We’ve got all these issues.”

“What issues are we talking about?”

“Apparently, I’m not living up to my end of the bargain.”

“And by ‘bargain,’ she means your responsibilities within the relationship?”

“I guess.” He shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “It seems no matter what I do, she’s upset.”

Let’s face it, we’ve all experienced not living up to someone else’s expectation and we’ve all had people in our lives who failed to live up to our expectations of them. It seemed to me that my companion and his partner were suffering from a classic case of unfulfilled expectations. Unfulfilled, principally, because they had seldom been shared, discussed, or clarified.

Take a relationship – any relationship, personal or business – and think about the expectations you bring to the table. Grab a pen and paper then begin compiling a list of all the expectations you have of your spouse, employer, friend, or colleague. Once you’ve completed the list, ask yourself just how many of these items you’ve discussed – not just to colleagues around the water cooler, but with the person or persons directly involved in the relationship. If the answer is all or most of them, great. If the answer is few or none, consider the reasons why.

Chances are your expectations hang in a thick fog of assumption. That is, you assume the other person knows or should know your expectations but, in reality, he or she may have no clue whatsoever. Though we may not admit it or even acknowledge it consciously, we often prefer ambiguity, and for no other reason than the belief that a lack of clarity allows us to assume a lack of responsibility. Essentially, if we stay vague, we cannot be pinned down or held accountable and thus avoid a painful confrontation that may result from an open airing of views.

I remember a friend complaining about his spouse not fulfilling his ‘needs,’ as it were.

“All right,” I said, taking out my pen and reaching for a napkin. “Let’s have ’em.”

Within a few minutes, we had a list of his expectations on paper.

After confirming that my list represented an accurate accounting of his needs, I posed the question, “How did your partner respond when you presented her with your list of needs?”

My friend’s response was, not surprisingly, an open mouth and a blank stare.

In my experience, many of our personal and business relationships lack a simple, yet essential component to ensure their success: clarity. Without clarity, we are left to assume that all is well. You’ve probably had a job or been involved in a relationship where the modus operandi was “assume you’re doing well until you hear otherwise.” Think about how frustrated you felt when someone accused you of not keeping up your end of the bargain. Unfulfilled expectations damage relationships and affect how we feel about ourselves – our level of self-esteem.

Clear and reasonable expectations move relationships forward adding an element of accountability. Unclarified expectations in relationships are like an unwritten law: one can break the law without knowing it exists, yet still have to face the consequences – frustration, disapproval, or worse, the end of the relationship.

All parties involved in a relationship need to take accountability for its success. When interacting with your partner or children, make sure that everyone is clear as to what the responsibilities, expectations, and consequences are and allow room for safe and honest communication. At work, if your employer appears to have expectations of you that seem unjust or simply unattainable, speak up. As an employer, ensure you roll out your expectations clearly when hiring or reviewing performance and allow room for an open and honest airing of concerns.

Remember, an expectation is a living thing and will need to be addressed and readdressed on an ongoing basis to ensure clarity and avoid hurt feelings, anger or frustration. Get clear about what you need or expect from a relationship and then let the rest of us in on the secret.

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