Stop Holding Your Expectations Hostage

For the last year, I have spent a lot of time and energy focusing on one word in all areas of my life -


It's a word that I didn't give a lot of attention to for the first 30 years of my life. I've spent 30 years as a friend, husband, employee, and employer with my expectations all over the board. It's only in the last year that I've realized the value of that word and how focusing on it will drastically change the outcome of your life.

If you are a Debbie Downer you are might think that if you have zero expectations then you'll never be upset.  To which, I will argue - you will also not have any healthy relationships because healthy relationships have healthy expectations. (Boom. Roasted.)

Even though I am no Debbie Downer, I have lived parts of my life with no expectations, especially as a boss/leader.  In the past, if I found that an employee wasn't living up to my unexplained expectations, I would get frustrated, grab the reigns and take over whatever task they were working on. But, how were they ever supposed to know my expectations if I never explained them? Doh!

Whether you are a boss or a parent, jumping in and taking over is an easy place to arrive at. We see our children struggling with something and because we are in a hurry (or have run out of patience) we grab/finish what they are doing, because the way they are doing it is not meeting our expectations. At times in my life, I have led like this and it is a regret I have.

We can end up living life in this awkward place where we are constantly being let down because our friends, family, and staff don't know what we expect of them...because we aren't actually explaining what we expect.

Let's say... you want your spouse to do the dishes while you are out running errands, are you telling them that you are expecting that of them? Or just getting mad when you come home to a full sink?  If it's the latter, who is the person at fault in that situation?

I use to live a majority my life like that.  Reacting to unmet expectations, that were impossible to be met because I never even explained them before hand.  It is a lonely and joyless life, and one that can be so easily avoided through a little communication and conversation.  That's because most unmet expectations can be avoided with a few conversations. YOU MIGHT BE A FEW CONVERSATIONS AWAY FROM HAVING A LESS FRUSTRATING AND MORE FULFILLING LIFE! HOW AMAZING WOULD THAT BE?!?!

That's what has happened to me in the last year and my daughter June is to thank.  As June started to develop her communication skills, I realized that she understood me quite well.  Life can be hard as a toddler and there are moments that are a roller coaster of emotion for my little one.  Just a few weeks ago, Brooke sent me this photo of June collapsed in the middle of a walk, crumbled in an upset pile of toddler.

Why was she so upset you ask?

Well, her shadow was behind her instead of in front of her...

The struggle is real.

I realized that, as a dad, the more I communicated with June what was happening, and what was going to happen, the better off our days would be.

"June, we are going to change your diaper, eat breakfast and go to the park."

She would reply, "TV-DADA!"

"We can watch TV later, but right now we are going to change your diaper, eat breakfast and go to the park."

As soon as I explained what we were going to do she would, most of the time, go along with what I expected from her. And she would tell me throughout those morning activities, "TV-DAD...laaattttter."

I realized that I was explaining my expectations to my two-year-old toddler, but not explaining them to my adult wife of almost eight years, or any of my employees or anyone for that matter.  I was just reacting when my unsaid expectations weren't met.  I think a lot of us might fall into that category.

So, over the last year, I've really started explaining my expectations and asking people for theirs. Surprise! Surprise! My life has improved in all areas.

And even though it's affected all areas, I've seen the greatest effect on my marriage.  If my wife leaves me home with June, I ask her what she expects of me while she is gone. On Saturday's, I ask what her expectations are for our day off?  

And since we work together we can have extra tension in our relationship because not only do we have personal expectations, we have work expectations as well.  Now that we talk about those that tension is gone.  We know what the other one expects and we work our best to get there because we love each other and really want to.  

We are humans though and don't succeed 100% of the time, but because we are in an on-going dialogue about expectations, there is no chance for us to not understand where the other is.  If we didn't get to something because we were dealing with "shadows being on the wrong side of ourselves", we understand because we communicate about it.  It leaves little to no room for an unwanted surprise in our relationship, which means there is little to no room for an argument over that thing.  All because we've discussed, and continue to discuss our expectations.

Honestly, the first few times we really started talking about expectations with each other openly were awkward and difficult.  We both felt like we were making demands of the other person, but after we pushed through the unfamiliar area of communication, it has become second nature.  Instead of asking questions like "What are you doing today?" which often fill my wife with stress, because she couldn't tell if it was a loaded question or not, I ask, "What do you want to get out of this day?" or "What are your expectations of me today?"  Or I say something like, "I am expecting this task to be done this week. Is that doable?"

It's given us another way to serve each other, because when you know what your spouse expects you can show them love by doing your best to meet those expectations. It's freakin awesome!

My brother recently got married, but before hand his pre-marital counselor asked him, "What is the number one reason people get divorced?"  (I guessed financial issues, but I was wrong.) The reason his pre-marital counselor gave was a hard heart. I believe that unmet expectations can quickly lead to a hard heart.  In our marriages, we expect things of our spouse and when we are let down we can feel our hearts harden.

Instead of spending a little more time communicating those expectations to prevent a hard heart we secretly hide our expectations away like Gollum hiding the ring. (My preshhhious.)  We hold them tight to our chest and when they aren't met, we explode, or let a little more of our hearts harden.

Get your expectations out into the open.  Tell those you love what you expect of them, whether it's something big like not looking at porn, or something small like doing the dishes while you are out.  Communicate those expectations, with love and grace and kindness, and watch your world be filled with more joy, more peace, and more grace.

If you are holding onto your unexplained expectations like hostages just so you can hold them over your spouse's head, you are asking for a hard heart to occur. Stop it! Today. Seriously, just stop.

Let the hostages go. Let them leave before something goes wrong and you can't recover.  Today, sit down with your spouse, fiance, boyfriend, girlfriend, employees or anyone you care about, and ask them what their expectations are of you?  I am guessing you are the kind of person who would want to know and live up to those expectations.  Guess what? As soon as you know what they are, you can!

And then once that conversation is over, have one about your expectations.  Tell your husband, wife, kids or whoever you have a relationship with what your expectations are.  Eliminate the opportunity to fight later over unsaid and unmet expectations.

Brooke and I have always communicated well, but our discussions about expectations are leading us to an even healthier, more fulfilling marriage.  We will now start a conversation about expectations and end our conversation talking about big dreams, goals, and things we might have never shared because the rivers of communications were dammed off.

Break those dams open and start talking expectations. Don't wait another second.  Do it today and watch your world be filled with joy, peace and contentment.