Examining her painful recovery from betrayal and divorce led to some realizations about expectations and opportunities for gratitude.
I think most of us have a long laundry list of expectations in a relationship, even more so if vows were exchanged. Is that not what a vow is, a promise to behave in a certain predictable way, day in and day out, year after year?
My expectations for my partner and my marriage looked like this:
1) My husband would be faithful to me.
2) My husband would be honest with me at all times about his thoughts, feelings and desires.
3) My husband would communicate openly to me his dreams and fears.
4) My husband would put me above all others and hold our relationship sacred.
5) My husband would always have my best interests at heart and have my back.
6) My husband was trustworthy and a “good” person.
7) My husband and I would continue on in our partnership until death do us part.
Pretty standard fare for a marriage yes? Although I do not want to wager a large sum of money on what was said nine years ago during our wedding ceremony, I am pretty sure those seven points were covered by the vows, either implicitly or explicitly.
It was those expectations that were shattered when the cheating and lying came to light, and it was those expectations that created such emotional devastation. What if I hadn’t had those expectations? How differently would the ending of that union been for both of us emotionally if there were not those cultural norms being broken? How much sooner would the relationship have ended if there was not the pressure of maintaining the vows or the obligations of the marital contract?
You might have similar expectations of your marriage; I think most people do, married or not. Any significant relationship probably has an unspoken web of expectations encasing it.
Clearly those were the big ticket expectations that I am acutely aware of now. During my marriage I wasn’t aware I held those expectations necessarily; they were completely subconscious. There were a million other little daily expectations within our relationship as well, things that fall under the heading of common courtesy like letting the other person know if you were running late.
I have only recently become aware of how much my expectations trip me up in my relationships, even to this day. Actually, my expectations trip me up daily. One current example is my relationship with my boyfriend, who works on a cruise ship and resides in a different time zone from me. He comes online at about the same time every night and that is our opportunity to touch base and connect. On the days he doesn’t come online, I get right out of sorts, and insecurities and fears run amok in my brain because I have an expectation, based on his past behavior, that he will be there for me at a certain time. When the expectation is broken, I feel let down.
By the time you reach adulthood you are operating under, at minimum, gender, cultural, and familial expectations. You could also have religious or career expectations placed upon you as well. Take a moment to think about how those expectations define your day, your activities, your intentions, your internal dialogue, and your interactions within your most significant personal relationships.
Does your wife expect you to take out the garbage because that is how her parents modeled a relationship to her, or because that is a “man’s job”? Has this ever created tension or an argument in our relationship? Is that expectation serving your relationship positively?
I see expectations as rigid rules of how someone should behave. I am the one setting those rules, and most of them are un-communicated to you. Good luck with that, I hope you passed mind-reading for beginners. I further expect you to anticipate me having those expectations of you. Is that fair to you, or me? No. What would be fair is clear communication, minimizing expectations, and the expression of heartfelt gratitude.
Is it even possible to build a long-term relationship without the seven big-ticket expectations I noted above? I don’t think that is a relationship I want to participate in. I could, however, feel and express more gratitude on a regular basis when those key ingredients are being offered to me in an intimate context. We all have that choice. Instead of expecting your partner to be happy waking up next to you in the morning, why not choose a stance of gratitude that today they are choosing to share their life with you? If your wedding vows had not created the expectation of forever, would you think differently about the daily drudgery of a marriage?
What I have learned is that without expectation, there is no disappointment. Another thing I have learned deeply is that having an expectation of someone else’s behavior can only lead to problems, as it suggests we have some control over that person. That perhaps we can manipulate the situation to a favorable outcome for ourselves based on our vested interests. When I have a moment of detachment and gratitude in my relationships I feel great peace and love about the relationship, the other and myself.
When I was an emotional rag-doll in the early months of my separation, being twisted this way and that by every new revelation that came to light, my psychologist advised me to expect anything and everything from my ex, and she encouraged me to spend some time trying to anticipate the worst that he could do. A year later when the actual divorce ugliness began, she changed her initial advice to – “expect nothing and react to nothing for 24 hours.”
These are two polar extreme responses to the issue of expectations. The rationale behind “expect anything” was to assist me in not reacting, as was the revised advice. If I anticipated something I would have my emotional response privately, and then if the situation did arise, my knee-jerk reaction would have already occurred. Although the advice seems worlds apart, both were meant to help me get control of my emotions. Expectations always set you up for an emotionally-based response. Positive if the expectation is met, negative if the expectation is not met.
It is only through detachment and mindful observation of my thoughts that I have become aware of what is an expectation in a relationship versus a wish/desire, and it is only then that I can begin challenging these expectations on their usefulness. Actor Michael J. Fox is quoted as saying: “My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations.” Do my expectations promote wellness and loving calm within my intimate relationships, or do they set me up for failure? I was in the infancy of emotional control when I was working with my psychologist on expectations. Having graduated kindergarten now, I am ready to practice detaching from expectations. I am starting to replace, “you should have” with, “I am grateful for”. You need to know my failure rate is sitting at about 99 percent right now, but practice will lead to integration over time.
Here are some gratitude-based statements I could replace my seven marital expectations with:
1) I am grateful you choose me today, because I know you have a choice about where you direct your love and energy.
2) I am grateful for this honest conversation, because I know that intimacy and connection require brave vulnerability which is not easy or comfortable.
3) I am grateful you are sharing your dreams and fears with me, and I do not judge you for them.
4) I am grateful that you are directing a significant amount of your energy into our relationship when there are so many distractions in your day.
5) I am grateful for you disagreeing with me, because I know that you challenging me promotes my personal growth.
6) I am grateful for your consistent demonstration of trustworthy behavior and loving actions.
7) I am grateful that we have today; may we be blessed with tomorrow.
How much more peaceful would your relationship be if you relinquished some of your expectations, discussed other expectations, and threw in some gratitude along the way?
To be clear, in my marriage I actively worked not to take my husband for granted, and to express appreciation. I have recently come to understand that gratitude comes from a much deeper place in my soul. Appreciation is superficial, while gratitude dwells in reverence and love.
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Photo: Author’s own