through His Word
Sustaining the Victory of Setting Realistic Expectations
by Katherine Pasour
I’ve always been an over-achiever—probably a remnant of childhood insecurities. This creates an issue of setting my own expectations too high. But, a far greater danger to relationships with friends and loved ones is when I set unrealistic and unachievable expectations for others. To inflict further harm—if my hurt and anger at their lack of achievement leads to verbal outbursts, undeserved criticism or the “silent treatment” punishment, I cause long term brokenness in our relationship.
Early in our marriage, my husband and I experienced a crisis. Many factors led to this fracture, one of which was my unrealistic expectations of how a husband should meet the needs of his wife. A pattern of unfulfilled expectations created conflict and pain. With each broken promise, the simmering pot of my frustration got hotter. Steam began to rise as anger fueled the fire. My pot boiled over into confrontation and accusations.
We expect people to keep their commitments. But, what is our role in whether goals we expect of others are completed? What is our responsibility in setting realistic expectations?
By God’s design, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14 NIV*) and each individual is a special creation. But, these unique differences and distinctive personalities can lead to conflict. While one person in a relationship may be very organized and goal oriented, the other might be creative and flit from one unfinished project to another. One individual may be a “do ahead” type while the other is an incurable procrastinator. If you think about your relationships, I’m sure you can identify many unique and different characteristics for each person.
These differences often attract us to others, but can also cause disharmony in relationships when behaviors emerge that we struggle to accept. In any relationship, we set expectations for others to meet. Some of these expectations are reasonably easy for us to express. For example, in a marriage, we expect mutual love, respect, trust, honesty and faithfulness.
But, our differences can sometimes cause conflicts.
So . . . how do we communicate our expectations in a loving manner?
Shouting is probably not the right answer in any relationship. Whether in marriage, family, friendship or a work setting, expectations should be communicated in a rational and peaceful manner. When expectations are not completed as we believe they should be, that conversation should also be discussed calmly. If you believe yourself to be the victim of unachieved expectations, use “I” words to describe your feelings. This is not the time to place blame using phrases such as, “You never do … or you always …” We should avoid bringing up past experiences.
During our marriage crisis, our “pot” boiled over and my husband and I separated for a period of time as we worked through communication and commitment issues.
Learning to set reasonable expectations became one of my priorities:
- Am I being realistic in what I’m expecting?
- Am I affirming the strengths in the character and work ethic of the other person? Or am I only focusing on what I perceive to be negative traits?
- Am I contributing my part to the relationship or expecting my spouse, children and friends to overachieve while I brush aside my commitment?
- How am I supporting the other person in this relationship? Am I encouraging or criticizing?
- Do I acknowledge and praise small accomplishments or deliver a put-down if the goal is not completed fully by my timeline?
- When I speak of my expectations, do I speak in positive terms or am I directing blame for what I perceive to be past failures?
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32
The near failure of our marriage occurred twenty years ago. God blessed our efforts and with prayer, perseverance and a determination to succeed, we reconciled. We’ve both learned a lot since then to maintain the victory of our reconciliation. That’s not to say that all is perfect! Problems within relationships don’t develop overnight, nor do they disappear with ease. Everyone involved must continue to work to sustain the victory. The most powerful lesson I learned (and continue to remind myself ) is that I cannot change my partner (or anyone else). We can only change ourselves. I can adjust my expectations for others, but I cannot change whether or not they have the desire to achieve those expectations.
Another important lesson that continues to sustain me in this victory—I can control how I react to the disappointment of broken expectations. Sometimes my best response is to say nothing. The old adage of “If you don’t have anything good to say—say nothing at all” really applies here. When disappointment, frustration and anger boil to the surface because of a broken commitment, we can choose our reaction. If we are really upset, that might be the time to say nothing, take a break and go somewhere quiet to pray.
God will honor our commitment as we seek to demonstrate love to others.
What strategies have you found to be most meaningful for you in sustaining love and compassion in your relationships?
Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6
*All Scripture is NIV.
© Copyright 2019 by Katherine Pasour
Katherine Pasour is an author, teacher, speaker and advocate for wellness. She has a passion for service and seeks to nurture others in their journey to achieve and maintain better health. A lifelong “farmer girl”, Katherine loves the beauty of God’s creation and treasures the lessons she learns each day on her walk with her Savior. Her Bible Studies and blog focus on developing a closer relationship with Jesus and making lifestyle choices for a healthier and happier life in service to God.
Check out our other posts in Sustaining Life’s Victories if you’ve missed them:
- Victory’s Default Setting
- Desire’s Ambush
- Loving Brownies a Little Less
- LIFE as a Strategy for Victory
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