Do Expectations Ruin Relationships?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much it is fair to hold our friends and family to our own standards. On the one hand, it is a matter of self respect to expect certain qualities from those we love and choose to spend time with. On the other hand, who are we to say how other people should behave? They probably have a perfectly good reason for their behavior, and I don’t want to lose otherwise good friends because they disappoint me sometimes.

Of course, this topic is different when you look at family as opposed to friends. Take my brother, for example. I love him without end. He is horrible at returning calls or responding to invitations. Seriously, he is deeply faulted in this way. We never know if he is going to show up to family functions. Therefore, we can’t plan for him, we don’t know what he might bring to a potluck, and we don’t know if we should cook enough for him. It is incredibly annoying. It is actually quite disrespectful of him to not consider any of this. How hard exactly is it to pick up the phone, or send a quick text or email? If I think about it, I get pissed.

Thankfully, my sister helps me keep perspective on this. How? She gets extremely angry and vents about it to me leading up to almost every family gathering. She threatens to write him off completely. She is so vehement, in fact, that I find myself sticking up for him. And I find myself coming to the conclusion that I love him, he is my only brother, and I cannot change him, so I may as well accept him as is.

Is this codependent. Am I enabling his behavior? I don’t know. What I do know is that I enjoy the time that I spend with him, and I spend a lot less time being upset if I don’t expect him to function in ways in which he just seems somewhat handicapped.

Another example. I mentioned a friend who I felt really let me down in a recent post here. After we lived in the same town and were really close friends for about 10 years, she divorced her husband and moved an hour away. I didn’t expect our friendship to change because of these events, but boy was I wrong. She almost completely fell off the grid for quite a while, and has never since been available to me as she was before. I felt abandoned and took it really personally, so much that I considered writing her off, and wondered if she had ever been my friend at all.

When she did make time for me, she was often very distracted. When my mom died, I expected her to be there for me, as she had lost her dad a few years back. I expected she would empathize and understand what I needed. I expected wrong. She actually completely blew me off for months after my mom’s death. I was hurt and pissed, and really didn’t want anything to do with her for a while.

Then, I received a condolence card from another good friend in the mail about a month ago, which was also months after my mom’s death. I was pleasantly touched and surprised by this gesture, and it made me examine how i had no expectations of this friend to be there for me. I wondered why. It’s not that I consider the other friend a better friend; I actually feel very close to the one who sent me the card. The only difference is that we have never actually lived in the same town and been involved in one another’s lives on a day to day basis. It’s a different kind of relationship, I guess.

I also remembered that this friend had also lost a parent, and I had never even bothered to ask her the details about this loss. Granted, she lost her dad as a child, but this again gave me pause and made me wonder how good of a friend I am. Would I measure up to my own standards? And why do I hold some friends to higher standards? Do I really want to write off a great, old friend just because she isn’t meeting my expectations? Who am I to judge anyway?

I realized then that I need to move my first friend into another category of expectations, which is the category for friends who live out of town. We can go for months without speaking. I don’t expect them to check in regularly, but when we do get to spend time together, it is like no time has passed. This shift really helped.

Incidentally, this friend did recently contact me, and we spent a great afternoon together. A week later, a plant that she gave me a year ago bloomed with bright magenta flowers. The plant is very low-maintenance, yet incredibly rewarding with its bright and colorful display of vitality. Much like our friendship.

What standards do you hold for your friends and family? How accepting is too accepting for you? do you think it is fair and productive to have expectations of those close to you? Let me know; I really want to hear!



6 thoughts on “Do Expectations Ruin Relationships?

  1. People can never truly live up to another person’s expectations, and loving them based on the degree to which they meet your expectations is not truly love. On the other hand, it’s fair to disassociate from someone that you have a difficult time relating to. But they’re going to be who they are, and it’s not fair to think they should change to benefit you. I heard it said once that hey, maybe if they quit smoking they’ll turn into a serial killer. Let them smoke!

  2. This can be really tricky. I think it’s fair to have expectations about how we wish to be treated. I also think it’s important to accept people as they are. Some things are deal-breakers, others deserve a compromise, and the rest need to be accepted without discussion or resentment. For me that’s easier said than done – but that’s my ideal…Great post!

  3. Oh. My. God. I have been trying to write this post. I actually started trying to write it today and I was going to keep working on it over the weekend and I was hoping that I would have it ready for Monday.

    And then you went and wrote it for me.

    I’ve been thinking about this so much lately, the standards that I hold my friends too and wondering how I would stand up to my own standards. I know that I felt VERY disappointed in the ways my friends dealt with my loss and then infertility. By the time I was done building my family I had basically written them off. I still keep in contact but the correspondence feels hollow to me. I have almost no expectations of them and while that is good in that I never feel let down, it’s also bad because I can’t invest myself in those relationships without expecting a similar investment from them… so they seem to wither and sometimes falter and they don’t provide much for me in terms of caring or support.

    And then recently a friend had a really bad blow at work; she has worked for a politician for over ten years and said politician had run for a big office and not only did this politician lose but lost by a landslide and I knew my friend would just be devastated and I wanted to reach out to her and I didn’t really know what to say. So I called and I tried to reach out and there were so many points in the conversation where it was clear that I was saying the completely wrong thing and I felt so bad because I knew I was bungling it all up, and I started to kind of shut down because I didn’t want to mess up even more. Since then I’ve wanted to ask her how she feels about all of it, kind of check in on her, but I’ve been too scared to say anything because I don’t know if she wants me to, so I just wait and hope she’ll say something first and assume that if she doesn’t that means she doesn’t want to talk about it.

    And then I was thinking that maybe that is exactly how my friends felt after my ectopic, or during my struggles with secondary infertility. Maybe they didn’t bring it up because they didn’t want to bungle things, or didn’t know if I wanted to talk about it, so they just didn’t say anything at all, expecting that I’d bring it up if I needed to. Except I never did bring it up, either because I was also worried they’d say the wrong thing (and make me feel worse) or I thought they didn’t want to hear me talk about it any more. It was a really eye opening for me and it made me wonder if I’d been pushing my friends away for the wrong reasons.

    Lately a friend of mine has had a big, positive change in her life that has made her really busy and as a result she has really fallen off the grid. This happened at almost exactly the same time as I had a second child and was home a lot and wishing my friend were more available. The fact that both happened at the same time has really compounded the feeling that I’ve been abandoned in a way. I know that is not what has happened, but sometimes it really makes me sad, and the sadness makes me want to put even more space between us, so that it doesn’t hurt so much that she’s isn’t really around anymore. I’m trying really hard to not let myself do that, to push toward her instead of away, because I know that she is a great friend and my life would be crappier without her in it. And while I wish I could see, and talk, to her more, that doesn’t mean I should step away entirely, even if it is to try to protect myself. Instead I’m consciously making myself more vulnerable working on our friendship and expecting more from her instead of less. We’ll see how it works.

    Anyway, sorry I wrote a novel in your comment section. I’ll probably use some of these paragraphs in my actual post. I can’t believe you wrote about this, almost EXACTLY what I’ve been thinking about. How strange and wonderful. The blogosphere is indeed a very small place.

  4. I seem to send out about 20 emails and phone calls for every 3 I get back. I don’t have any answers… just the standard “expectations are resentments waiting to happen.”

  5. I love this post! I think expectations really do get us into trouble from time to time. Mine are too high pr at least have been and I find this causes great issues in my romantic relationships. I am getting much better (or at least I’m trying to!) at just chilling out a bit and just trying to accept others for who they are and respect their choices even of it wasn’t a choice that I would have made. Mostly their failing to meet my expectations has very little baring on my life so why go crazy about? A great thought provoking post 🙂

  6. Happy New Year 🙂 I love what you wrote. How we hold people to certain standards. I’ve struggled with this over time but lately I’ve realized it’s best to enjoy what you have and not take things too seriously. These issues are so petty in the grand scheme of things but it’s hard to keep that in perspective. Still, it’s not a bad thing to try out. Hoping to get better at it this year. Have a blessed year!

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