The one thing that shatters relationships and ruins friendships more than any other is expectations. When we say that someone is not meeting our ‘needs’, we usually mean that he is not living up to our expectations. True needs are very few, but expectations are limitless.
When a person’s behaviour does not match your expectations, you can try to change their behaviour, or you could let go of your expectations. The first is an exercise in frustration and causes untold damage to relationships. The second is also difficult, but possible and worthwhile. Learn to let go.
1. Identify faulty assumptions in your expectations
For some reason, when we get close to a person, we start to demand that this person acts in a certain way. We reason that “if you loved me, you would…” This type of reasoning is based on two faulty assumptions:
a. That love can be defined in a certain way
b. That the other person agrees with this definition
Neither assumption is reasonable, and once you accept that your way of thinking is not the only right way, you’ll find it easy to reject the assumption and therefore adjust or even completely drop your expectations.
2. Seek to understand the other person
People show love in different ways, as explained by Gary Chapman in his excellent book The 5 Love Languages: words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, gifts, and physical touch. Someone else may speak a love language that you do not understand because your love language is different.
When you travel to another country that speaks a different language from yours, the locals may not understand what you are trying to say to them. In the same way, when someone tries to love you in their own way, it is you who may not understand. This does not mean that they are not trying. It is not their actions that you need to change, it is your understanding.
3. Observe others carefully
When you stop expecting a certain behaviour from others, you free yourself to see more clearly. You will start to observe what they actually do, instead of constantly seeing the gap between what they do and what you want them to do.
For example, if you expect your child to obey your instructions quietly and he starts to question you, you may get upset because he doesn’t meet your expectation of what a ‘good boy’ is. If you drop this expectation and listen to his questions instead, you may pick up on a specific fear he has which is causing him to resist your instruction. When you see more clearly, you can respond more effectively.
4. Recognise the consequences of your expectations
You would probably be upset if somebody loved you only when you behaved a certain way. Children who grow up with this kind of conditional love become insecure adults who try too hard to please. Spouses who feel they are not good enough for their partners may seek acceptance in somebody else’s arms.
Relationships are not transactions. If you’re in a relationship because of what you get out of it, it is a transaction. We all have needs that have to met, but it is futile to expect the other person to meet these needs. It is easy to let go of expectations once we accept responsibility to meet our needs ourselves, and are in a relationship not for what we can get but for who we can be.
5. Ask for agreement
If an expectation you have is important because it touches on non-negotiable values or morality, seek to convert that expectation into an agreement. Agreements are not expectations. Expectations exist in your own mind, often without the knowledge of the other person. Agreements are explicit verbal commitments by both parties on a set of acceptable and unacceptable behaviours.
Decide on what is non-negotiable to you. Highlight these to the other person and explain why it is so important. I’ve found that calm discussions work much better in this case than yelling matches. Be very specific about the behaviours you expect and ask if the other party agrees. Be prepared to return the favour. Once both have agreed, honour the groundrules.
If you cannot convert a non-negotiable expectation to an agreement, you’ll have to make a tough choice. You have to decide whether to let go of the expectation or the person. Personally I think that a flesh-and-blood person is almost always more worth holding on to than an expectation that exists only in my mind.
Let go of your expectations. I’m still working on this myself, but the few times I have managed to let go have been truly liberating. With one simple change of thinking, you free two people at one time. The other person is free from having to behave in a certain way, and you are free to love better. Letting go is hard, but definitely worth it.
45 replies on “Let Go Of Expectations”
[…] is another great article on living with no expectations, and it describes in steps how you can do so. A great one to read, and worth your time […]
Rather than going into the new year by sticking a ‘resolutions’ list on the fridge, I’ll display a ‘non-negotiables’ list to keep me on track:)
I have been in a stable relationship for 3 years. I know eventually i would want to get married and have children, however i am not to sure if my partner feels the same way. At times he seems to agree with my idea and other times it just feels like he wants to run away.
Is wanting to get married and have children wrong? Is that an expectation? I try to find explanation for him in terms of his fear for marriage due to his poor and abusive childhood. Yet i keep bouncing back and forth on trying to understand his needs (understanding he needs time, but how long?) and satisfying my wants (commitment).
It is not wrong to want marriage and children, but very natural. It is difficult if your partner does not want the same though. I don’t have the answer to your situation, and can only share what I have learnt for myself:
1) Trying to rationalise your partner’s behaviour is usually a sign that something is not right. Just see it for what it is and decide if you can accept that without wanting to change him.
2) Expectations are unfair only if he is unaware of them. If you have communicated your desire to him then it is no longer an expectation in the sense I meant in this article. It’s just that you both cannot agree on something very important to you.
3) Usually you already know the right thing to do, deep down in your gut. It’s not always easy to act on this feeling, and we can go into denial and rationalisation. I’ve learnt to listen to my gut.
All the best, Mandy. These situations are never easy. Remember that unless you take care of yourself first and are truly happy, you cannot make anyone around you happy either. My heart goes out to you.
sorry the post is long I did not know it was this long.. but just needed to get it out.. lol
Omg thank you for this post! I actually do not have high expectations, at least not anything I can think of.
My boyfriend on the otherhand has way too many expectations and has goals. His goals are reachable, yet it’s a bit unrealistic or way over the top. He wants to have a nice car, a Porsche, make money, work, work work to get the things he want, a nice house, live an expensive/luxurious life, have maids. I was like wow… I just want a simple life and a family. I don’t need to have all these nice things. I just want a loving and understanding husband, but he wants to have everything. How do you deal with people who expects so much and has so much high hopes, dreams and expectations. Sure he can meet these values, but too much expectation turns into burden and headaches. he expects me to fulfill his needs. But these are his needs, not mines. How do I share this post with him. I;m scared he might not understand it because he has too much expectations. I actually thought for second that he was traditional until I read this post that he has way too much expectations.
It’s like he tells me to make sure I say hi to his parents when I walk in the door. His mom his hostile and its hard to talk to her when she doesn’t try to talk to me. Another time, he took my phone away because I took it out to check the time and just read messages,, it was just briefly and he kicked me lightly and took it away. He told that this was disrespectful to his cousin’s friends since I don’t know them. Today I did not finish my steak and he moutht o me that I should take it to go because it’s the first time I’m eating out with his sister and his sister does not like it when people waste food. But his sister seems ok with it, she was like I don’t think she would want to take it to go. What you want her to take it home and heat it up even I won’t do that. Though his sister may not like it, but she won’t expect much from me to take it home since we’re two different people. I think its him who always overthink what people will think or say and I think its him who expects me to take the steak home.
I think all these expectations like you said I all in his head or he was raised by his parents to act this way. It’s like when he’s around his relatives, he can’t say Oh I have to leave because I got something to do. He tells me we will have lunch, but then end up having lunch with his relatives because they won’t let him leave. I think its all in his head that they won’t let him leave because if you told them nicely that you really need to go because you need to be somewhere. I think they will understand. It’s like he rather make me wait then to tell his friends or relatives that he has to go which I think it is completely not fair to me. All I expect of him, is to give me an update and let me know and don’t tell me I’m eating lunch with my relatives and I can’t leave when he told me we’re having lunch. I don’t like it when he tells me last minute.
No worries about the long comment. In fact thank you for sharing so much of yourself here. It takes a very special person to do that so openly, and shows a refreshing and much appreciated faith in humanity and the world at large.
It sounds like you have given great thought to your relationship and can see it for what it is. Only you can decide what is best for yourself, and usually what is best for yourself is also best for everyone else. I’ve learnt to trust my gut in these situations, and can only suggest that you trust yours.
Wishing you happiness in life, because you sure deserve it.
I really liked your statement “It is easy to let go of expectations once we accept responsibility to meet our needs ourselves, and are in a relationship not for what we can get but for who we can be.” I’ve been in graduate school for the last three years, and making ends meet on my own has been impossible between tuition rises and cost of living rises. The last three years, I’ve been so angry at myself and feeling so guilty for what I feel is taking advantage of those around me, my sister’s paid my rent several times, I owe my mother almost a thousand dollars, my fiance has rescued my checking account from being closed due to overdrafts at least twice. I’ve been unable to meet my own basic needs, and I feel guilty that every close relationship I have has turned into a transaction, and I am frustrated with being unable to perform my half of the transaction and pay it back. I graduated in May and secured a job, but the licensing process for my state has me sitting at home watching TV for the last two months, and even McDonald’s won’t call me back for work in the meantime. I don’t know who I am as a part of any relationship anymore without being the bum asking for money for toilet paper or feeling bad about not being able to pay it back. I feel like my happiness depends on my starting my job and completing the numerous transactions, my guilt and self directed anger is based on what I can’t give back to those people.
What advice would you have for self forgiveness? Self re-discovery in the wake of long term personal hardship? What about changing expectations about myself?
I enjoyed your post and I’m glad I stumbled on your blog, thank you very much.
Sounds like you’re in a difficult position and I don’t pretend to have ready answers. Blaming yourself won’t yield any positive results though. Maybe you could work on cashflow management, though I know it’s easier said than done. Some older posts on this blog may be useful, and if they’re not then just ignore them 🙂
Manage Your Money
How to Increase Your Cashflow and Wealth
Try A Weekly Cash Budget
Wishing you all the best. Just remember, no matter how long the night feels, the sun always comes up tomorrow!
I was almost about to break up with my boyfriend becoz of unfulfild ‘expectations’. . .thanks to lord nd one of my facebook friend who shared dis blog. .i cud reevaluate myself and my expectations
I am trying to let go of my expectations of people and I have people around me who tell me to fight for my rights etc. I was getting very upset because of these conflicting thoughts. I stumbled upon your blog. It really helped me 🙂 Thank you.
An interesting post Daphne and something that I’ve grappled with for a long time. I’ve learnt not to have expectations from acquaintances, but I really struggle to see how you cannot have expectations from close friends. If you cannot – then what is the point of the friendship and what binds it together? If you’re going through a crisis – is it valid to expect a close friend to give you as much support and understanding as they can? If they don’t – whose fault is it? Yourself for allowing you to have expectations, or the friend for failing?
i usually have a lot of expectations for my birthday since i was a child; but it always so happened that my parents never gave me the celebration i had wished for, at times i even had to force them to celebrate me as i thought that would at least give me some happiness. but as i grew up i had started letting them off from these expectations of mine and then i got into a relationship where i gave in my everything, i love the person with all i have and he loves me too. he tries to express his language of love and i understand it too but it is difficult for him to understand that why my expectations are so important to me and difficult for me to accept that why his language of love is different, n is it different or is it that the love i share with him is still not enough to make me important enough for him to earn me some surprises and happiness on my birthday?. may be there is somewhere or the other my fault in expecting from him to celebrate my birthday in a certain way. we are in a relationship for 4 years now we got chance to celebrate my b’day together only twice and it was always i who took all the decisions of how the day is to go. unfortunately we have celebrated his b’day together only once but i have always tried to make him feel special in his way on each of his birthday later when we have met or over the phone.i also have tried to show him what happiness surprises bring in ones life and that they give us memories for lifetime.i don’t know how much he understood me but…. finally i have decided to let go off it after reading this. actually i have been wanting to do this since long but i was not able to as certain immature people around me always kept insisting on me to not let go, that had made my way difficult. but this piece has soothed my mind and put my soul to solace .
thank u a lot for this
Yes it’s painful when we live with unfulfilled expectations, though this is a very natural human condition. Since you have tried getting your expectations fulfilled with less success than you wish, I hope that letting go of the expectations will bring you more peace and happiness.
Thank you for sharing, and take heart that this is an ongoing learning process. Even today, I have to remind myself whenever I find my expectations up, and try to remember that others are not obliged to live up to those expectations that I unilaterally created.
All the best to you!
Wow, this is absolutely wonderful. I stumbled upon this cause I’m trying to let go of expectations more and more. I did this with my mom and it transformed our relationship! I invite you to read : http://mamasworldview.blogspot.com/2011/06/acceptance-and-understanding.html
Good points…thanks for your comments.
I had an unfortunate incident happen with my sister. She called to tell me that she was euthanizing her dog after a 2 month illness. The way she was speaking, I asked a couple of questions to see if I could offer some other choices and she adamantly said no and then cried that I was not supportive of her decision and hung up on me. I was very upset as I had not done anything except try to explore another option. The death of an animal is a highly charged issue for me but I did not verbally judge her decision on the phone. I drove to her house where I was met by her sneering husband telling me that because of me, my sister had been crying ever since we got off the phone, she didn’t want to talk to me and he also asserted that I was unsupportive and then he slammed the door in my face and locked it. Now I was even more flabbergasted. I was going to leave and then I decided I must talk to my sister so I went back to the house and overheard them cursing me..”F— her!” Then my sister came out and proceeded to yell at me that I was not supportive of her decision and she knew she should not have called me. Later she said that if I really loved her, I would have said and done “x”. Unbelievable. I don’t know what to do but this post is maybe something I could incorporate in a letter to her. I paid over $800 toward her vet bills and spent time researching the issue because I wanted to help her and her dog. She and her husband treated me like I had done something heinous.
Sorry to hear about the situation you’re in. It’s tough when you’re trying to help but are not appreciated. Most people react badly when they perceive that we have judged them and are trying to show them a better way. I guess only you will know whether you offered the suggestions out of an initial judgment that what your sister intended to do perhaps wasn’t the best option.
I’ve also found that when I expect others to react a certain way to my suggestions, I’m often disappointed as I too have set up expectations. I hope you’ll be guided by love and wisdom in dealing with your sister.
[…] often provide a time for expectations, especially in the gift-giving department. If you can let go of the material and remember the spirit of the season (better to give than receive), then you might […]
Awesome work!!!! I was so frustrated all these days becaouse of expecting things from my best ever friend. This one was thought provoking.
But personally I think that one can live zero expectations. Everyone does expects something from his/her close ones.
Perfect ! Nicely said bro… ! Keep up the good work!
I found this article to most en-lighting expectations puts not only pressure on the individual but yourself causing negative results for all….
[…] order to really enjoy the cuisine you’re tasting, you have to learn to let go of your expectations. While eating something composed of pigeon like squab might seem strange to […]
I had to learn at age 52 (soon to be 53)that “expectations” keep me bitter. Yes, we should have some “expectations” – but some things we need to let go off when the other person does not fill them. Now I am teaching my only child, 24, a girl this “secret” in the hopes of saving her wasted years of bitterness. Great subject!
Your daughter is fortunate to have you to show the way. My mother once shared with me that after disappointments in life, “we can become bitter, or we can become better.” I never forgot that, and know that I too am fortunate to have a mother’s wisdom. Thanks for sharing yours here!
What an awesome post, I love it-very spot on. I wasn’t even looking for anything when I ended up here. I have been fighting with my fiance’ a lot lately and I know how to fix-I NEED TO LET GO OF EXPECTATIONS! Thank you…
Glad you found the post helpful. All the best with your fiance!
Willing to Change,
I’m not sure about your situation, but is it enough that she replies if you initiate the calling and emailing? Sometimes we would like others to express their love for us in a certain way, forgetting that this ‘language’ may be foreign to them, and they can speak to us only in the ways they know how to.
My mother isn’t an emotional person. She never calls or e-mails me even though I’ve moved to another country. She’ll never change. I want to let go of my expectations from her but it’s very difficult. I know she loves me but she has difficulty expressing herself due to her upbringing. I’ve tried negotiating with her but she doesn’t get it. Any suggestions?
Yup! Letting go is indeed something which is very difficult do soometimes! Yet you would be amazed at the results it produce when you finally learn how to let go of certain stuff!
What a lovely post! Thank you for sharing this.
I think you need to clarify this these words under 5. Ask for an Agreement-Personally I think that a flesh-and-blood person is almost always more worth holding on to than an expectation that exists only in my mind.
I don’t think the person is worthwile holding on to if there is physical and emotional abuse.
It’s really a wonderful post!! Thank you Daphne! I found this site while looking for personal creed writing. And this post came in time. I was having a cold war with my husband, as he didnt meet my ‘expectation’. Now I realise: is better to let go my expectation tahn to let go a flesh-and-blood person which is almost always more worth holding on to. I almost ruin my relationship, had I not read this. Thank God, Praise the Lord.
Your comment made my day! I’m so so happy to read that you decided to let go of your expectation, and hold on to your husband and your love for each other. Indeed, thank and praise God!
I truly find this post to be very helpful. I’ve read it multiple times and used it a little cheat sheet every time I need to have my head whacked up side a bit! 🙂
Thanks for writing such a beautiful post!
Thank you for leaving a comment. I’m always gratified when I know my writing helps someone, even just a little. You know, I myself re-read this post quite often, when I need my own head whacked up too!
[…] The single most important step on my journey to happiness was learning to let go of expectations. Expectations – of ourselves and other people – set us up for disappointment, frustration and […]
Thank you! My favorite part, because it is so well put is:
“We all have needs that have to met, but it is futile to expect the other person to meet these needs. It is easy to let go of expectations once we accept responsibility to meet our needs ourselves, and are in a relationship not for what we can get but for who we can be.”
Thank you for this lovely comment. I appreciate it very much, especially your letting me know specifically which words appealed to you. I can learn from this!
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Catalyst, thanks. I agree it’s hard to let go of expectations. Most of that post was targeted at myself because I needed someone to knock sense into me that day and I figured why not me?
Good to know someone else agrees with the thought process. Enlightenment, here we come! 😉
Great post Daphne.
I think it is truly difficult to be in a relationship without expectations – because it usually results in mutual dependence of some sort.
Looking forward to your other posts.