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!

 

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