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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Don’t Take Anything Personally

the-four-agreements-1

I know I’ve mentioned recently that I have been using hypnosis to help me stop grinding my teeth. There are a lot of theories as to why people grind their teeth. The ones I have heard the most are: an unaligned bite, stress/anxiety, and repressed anger.

I think all of these apply to me, but the one I have found myself wanting to explore the most is repressed anger. Earlier in my life, I was pretty passive, and I had to learn through experience to stick up for myself. Part of this was owning my anger. I realized that anger is raw passion, waiting to be harnessed as a powerful creative force. I learned to listen to my anger, to let it tell me where my boundaries lay, to let it teach me how to protect myself from predators.

Time has passed. I have grown older, stronger, and more confident in myself. I have moved beyond individuation and into service. I felt good with myself, satisfied with my own personal quest, and decided it was time to give myself to my career and my family.

I had a baby. And I fell in love looking at his innocent face in those early days, and was sure he could do no wrong, ever. I would look at older kids, making trouble, and knew my kid would never act like that. Nope. Not my angel.

He’s changed. I mentioned before that I think he just got his 4-year testosterone flood a bit early, and I am having a really, really hard time right now. The yelling in my face, the hitting, the throwing. The, “One more chance,” pleas a countless number of times. I have been trying everything I have up my sleeve: offering incentives, using consequences, talking, asking him what he needs, giving more attention, behavior charts…I could keep going. In short, I have used everything I know except physical discipline, but I have to admit, there have been plenty of impulses to use that, too. It is only my personal pledge and plenty of willpower that stop me from going that way. And my husband, of course, who grabs the wheel when I feel myself going off course.

I don’t know if I am being too hard or too soft. Should I just never give him any second chances, maybe? Have I leaned on that too many times, so that he does not respect the limits I am setting? Or maybe I am being too hard. He’s in his room crying right now, way past his bedtime. I put up the gate and let him know that one more hug means one more hug, and he needs to go to sleep now so Mommy can unwind.

I feel so bad, seeing him stressed out and alone in his room, just wanting closeness and comfort, and I wonder if I should just let him come into my room so that he feels completely safe and supported, because, you know, that’s what the attachment parenting method preaches. And I feel incredibly frustrated because I just need some down time, and I am not getting it, because he is testing me to my core.

Back to the repressed anger and the teeth grinding. Yesterday, I was having a great day. Great mood, optimistic, productive, grateful. Last night with the little guy was a wringer. I can’t even remember right now, or don’t want to, but I ended up using every consequence I have yet to use. We are in this standoff right now, it seems, regarding who’s the boss, and I know he needs authority, but I also feel like I am breaking his spirit.

Anyway, by the end of the night, I noticed my jaw was incredibly tight. Talk about repressed anger. I can’t throw my anger at my child, I know, I need to keep a hold on it, and it is ending up in my jaw. I have been getting incredibly frustrating with this little guy who has somehow already learned exactly how to press my buttons.

And then there’s compassion. And taking a step away and seeing things from a different angle. I’ve been thinking (after he finally gets to sleep), that maybe it’s not about finding an outlet for repressed anger. Maybe it’s about not getting angry in the first place.

A while back, I read a book called The Four Agreements. I am sure that many of you know this book. One of the agreements is, “Don’t take anything personally.”

A lot of this getting angry stuff is all about me taking things personally. A lot of the stress and anxiety is about me taking things personally. In fact, I may even go so far to say that ALL of the anxiety, stress, and anger I experience is completely about me taking things personally.

A client at work likes me, or doesn’t like me, or does well, or fails horribly, and I take it all personally. I hold myself responsible for all of this, doubting that I am good enough, skilled enough, knowledgeable enough to be a resource for them. News flash: it’s not about me! And when I indulge in these anxious self-doubts, I am taking away from the absolutely BRILLIANT work that I do with these amazing, totally capable individuals.

My kid acts out, testing limits, as is completely developmentally appropriate, and I think, “He is doing this to me.” A car cuts me off in traffic, and I get pissed about them disrespecting me, instead of thinking maybe they’re just in a big hurry, or maybe they’re just generally inconsiderate, and does it really have to ruin my moment, this moment that I will never have again? Do I really need to miss this speck of time when my son will be this small, because I am busy brooding about how he is acting disrespectfully? Maybe, just maybe, can I give him limits without engaging in a power struggle in which no one can win?

So, I pledge it now, and I will hold myself to it. Do Not Take Anything Personally. Nothing. It is not about me. Even if someone has a problem with me, it’s not me. It’s just one of the traits that I exhibit. Constructive criticism is merely a tool I can use to refine my character. It is not about me. It is not about me. It is not about me.

By the way, in the middle of this post, I did finally go make peace with my son, and I think (dear God, hope!) he is sleeping.

Wish me strength, readers, and lots of patience. 🙂

Quiz: What’s your communication style?

ImageWe all have our own ways of communicating. What’s yours? Do you speak carefully and listen with full attention, or talk over others? Do you speak your mind, or hold it inside? Answer these questions honestly in order to gain some insight on your communication habits: those that help you, and those that hurt you. Take out a piece of paper and pen to get started, and don’t forget to have fun with it!

1. Your best friend in the world has been showing up perpetually late almost every time you make plans, and your patience is wearing thin. You:
A)
Grin and bear it. You figure she must be busy, and besides, you can always find ways to busy yourself while you wait.                                                           B)  Send her a text asking where she is every five minutes until she arrives, when you give her a piece of your mind.                                                                         C) Communicate to her that you feel like she doesn’t value your relationship when she habitually arrives late. Tell her that you prefer not to spend your spare time waiting for her, and ask her if she can make more of an effort to show on time.                                                                                                  D)  Purposefully make plans for noon when you know you can’t be there until 12:30. Let her have a taste of her own medicine

2. For the last five years, your family has convened at your sister’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. The holiday is nearing, and you haven’t received an invitation. What do you do?                                                                                                 A)  Wait until you hear from her. You trust it will all work out.                                                 B)  Send an email to the whole family. Announce you will host this year, as no one else has offered, and assign each family member a dish to prepare for the feast.                            C)  Call her, and offer to host it this year if she would prefer to take a break.                       D)  Whine to your friends about your lack of Thanksgiving plans until you finagle a back-up invitation to another dinner, just in case.

3. A project comes up at work that you feel is perfect for you, but your boss assigns it to someone else, which leaves you feeling disappointed. You:                                                 A)  Say nothing, and keep working hard. Someone is bound to notice your talent eventually.                                                                                                                              B)  Confront your boss and demand to know why you didn’t get the assignment when it’s obvious you’re the perfect candidate. You’ve done your time after all, and you know you deserve it.                                                                                                                              C)  Ask your boss what you need to do differently in order to be considered for future projects like this one.                                                                                                             D)  Stop working so hard. If you aren’t going to be given opportunities to advance, why bother?

4. Your significant other wants to know what you want to do for your upcoming birthday. How do you reply?                                                                                                                 A)  “Surprise me!”                                                                                                                   B)  He doesn’t even have to ask! You already gave him a sheet of paper with information for the spa resort you’ve chosen for the weekend, a detailed itinerary of your activities, and a list of what to buy you for a birthday gift.                                                                             C)  “I’ve been wanting to get away for a weekend, maybe a bed and breakfast, but what do you think? Can we afford it?”                                                                                            D)  Tell him whatever he wants to do is fine, and then give him the cold shoulder when he doesn’t plan it the way you wanted.

5. Someone cuts in front of you in line at the airport ticket counter. You’re in a hurry and afraid you may miss your flight. You:                                                                                       A)  Attempt to diffuse your seething anger by telling yourself they must be in an even bigger hurry than you are.                                                                                                                    B)  Take a step closer to them, glare, and exclaim, “Oh, hell no!”                                        C)  Politely direct them to the back of the line.                                                                      D)  Silently glower.

6. You’re at a party, when you spot an acquaintance that you simultaneously admire and feel intimidated by. Do you approach or keep your distance?                                                A)  You keep your distance. When they don’t approach you, you decide they either didn’t recognize you or didn’t see you.                                                                                            B)  Immediately approach them, remind them of how you met, and entertain them with stories about your boyfriend/cat/boss/toddler for the rest of the evening.                           C)  You wait until they don’t seem deep in a conversation with anyone, then approach and remind them of how you met. You work into the conversation the thing you admire about them, because you know everyone loves a compliment.                                                      D)  You wait for them to approach you, not wanting to appear to eager. When they never do approach, you write them off as stuck-up, and decide you’re too good for them anyway.

7. One of the seemingly most solid couples in your close group of friends suddenly splits, because she cheated on him. Your initial response is anger towards her, and sympathy for him. What do you do?                                                                                                            A)  Only spend time with her if she calls you to make plans. It’s hard to place your feelings to the side, but you know it is not your place to judge, because no one can see inside of anyone else’s heart.                                                                                                                  B)  Call her and let her know that you find her actions disgusting.                                       C)  Call them both, and let them both know you are here if they need any support. Let her know your emotions, but listen to her side of the story and try to understand.                     D)  Stop returning her phone calls and emails. She’ll get the message eventually.

8. Your in-laws come to stay for a week once a year, and during this time, your mother-in-law is constantly telling you how to raise your kids. You:                                                       A)  Let her have her say, and maybe even try putting some of her advice into practice. She’s only here once a year, after all. You can put up with it for that long.                            B)  Snap at her that you are the mother and you will decide how to raise your own kids.   C)  Gently suggest that, while you appreciate her advice, you have your own ideas about parenting. Offer her literature that explains your parenting methods.                                   D)  Hint to your husband that his family may be more comfortable in a hotel when they come to visit.

9. Have you ever been in a physical altercation?                                                                  A)  Never; at least I never fought back.                                                                                    B)  Yes, I used to fight a lot. I have enough of a reputation that people know not to mess with me.                                                                                                                                     C)  I fought with my siblings and/or best friends once in a while as a kid.                            D)  Generally, I am very calm and would never start a fight. But, there have been a few occasions when I’ve lost it and lashed out when someone made me really mad.

Scoring: Tally which letter you chose most.                                                                             If you chose mostly A, you’re a Peacekeeper.                                                                      If you chose mostly B, you’re a Warrior.                                                                                 If you chose mostly C, you’re a Diplomat.                                                                             If you chose mostly D, you’re a Martyr/Sneak Attacker.

 If you’re a…Peacekeeper: You are very intuitive and have a special gift for making others feel comfortable. Your generous disposition allows you to think of others before yourself. You have the ability to go beyond yourself and the everyday grind, which results in an aura of peace that surrounds you and your loved ones. People come to rest in your haven.

Constantly tuning into others’ needs may leave you at a loss when it comes to understanding your own. With no clear signal from you, loves ones are left in the dark when it comes to supporting you. Furthermore, if you are not careful, you could attract freeloaders and abusers into your life that take advantage of your easygoing nature. Keep a feeling journal to track how situations and people emotionally affect you. If something or someone bothers you, express this. If your loved ones are unresponsive, consider whether they are someone you want in your life.

You have an ocean of untapped potential inside of you that you can only access by turning your finely tuned ear inward. Ask yourself regularly, what is your passion, and what practical steps can you take to manifest it in your daily life? Where do you want to be one, five, ten years from now? Map out the steps you need to take to get there. This is your path. Stay on it.

If you’re a…Warrior: You are strong, straightforward, and honest. You know what you want, and have absolutely no qualms about asking for it. Your passion is a bright light that inspires those around you. You are a person of action, who is most comfortable being in charge.

However, your confidence and sharp tongue may intimidate others, and you may savor the taste of power more than you care to admit. You don’t always think before you speak, and it’s quite likely your hot temper has burned more than one important person in your life.

You will best serve your loved ones and yourself by practicing the following: When you sense yourself becoming angry or frustrated with a person or situation, halt your impulse to attack. Instead, take a full 24 hours before responding. During this respite, take a jog, go to a kickboxing class, sing, scream, whatever it is you need to release the stress of inaction. Pick up a pen and write it out. The next day, re-examine the situation that triggered you. Ask yourself if it is truly a battle worth fighting. If your answer is yes, find a way to communicate your feelings and state your needs without blaming the other person. Remember, there are more sides than one to any given story. Practice listening. Use a bit of that vast supply of courage you possess to let down your walls. Let people in, and trust their intentions.

If you’re a…Diplomat: Congratulations! You are an assertive communicator, voicing your needs clearly while receiving information and balancing the needs of others. Others feel comfortable with you, because they know where you stand, and they respect you for respecting yourself.

You will do well in the teaching, counseling, or healing fields. Remember, this is a gift. Give thanks for your gift by sharing it with the people around you. Have patience for those who do not communicate as well as you, and gently model your skills, so that others can learn from you.

If you’re a…Martyr/ Sneak Attacker: Uh-oh. Watch out. You say one thing and mean another. You win others over by playing the victim, but then ambush them when they least expect it. You need to learn to take responsibility for your emotions, your words, and your actions. Be authentic. You have an infinitely bright light inside of you. Don’t be afraid to let it shine.

You and only you can decide your destiny. Sure, there may be some unforeseen experiences that are truly beyond your control, but it is a mistake to believe that anyone around you has any control over your life. If you want something, you need to communicate clearly that you want it, and work for it. Nobody owes you anything, nor can they read your mind.

Before you speak, ask yourself if you really mean what you are about to say. Be honest with yourself. Ask if it will serve your higher purpose and that of those around you. Do you want to move forward with your words, or backwards? When you match your words with your true intentions, you will experience greater success in life, as well as deeper, more meaningful relationships.