While I was at UCLA, I worked in a law office with a married woman who was about 10 years older than me. The day after every single holiday or gift-giving occasion, she would come to work bitterly disappointed because her husband never did what she wanted him to do. I came to understand that she had expectations and she had hope, but he never seemed to please her. That co-worker taught me a huge lesson way back when, and that was to communicate my expectations.

Fast forward to this year, when a close friend confided in me that she felt unloved and neglected on Mother’s Day.  None of her kids even so much as sent her a text to wish her well, and she spent the whole day feeling sad and angry.  She expected more from her adult kids and didn’t think she needed to tell them how she wanted to be treated. 

This is not rocket science, people. Yet we often neglect that one tiny little detail in our relationships. Why?

I suspect that part of the answer has to do with managing expectations.  It’s a slippery slope, that’s for sure.  Do we set ourselves up for disappointment if our expectations are too high?  Are we devaluing ourselves if we set them too low?  In the years since I wrote the linked blog about expectations, I’ve learned a thing or two about disappointment.  To be clear, I’ve discovered that setting realistic expectations is only half the battle.  The other half, the more important part, is communicating them to the person toward whom they are directed.  You might not entirely eliminate the disappointment, but you’ve greatly improved your odds.

A handy phrase to memorize in this context is “Next time, I would be grateful if . . .”  This phrase has relevance in a vast number of situations.  To your co-worker:  Next time, I would be grateful if you’d let me know that you’ve already sent the follow-up email and are waiting for a response.  To your spouse:  Next time, I would be grateful if you’d tell me when you use the debit card.  To your babysitter:  Next time, I would be grateful if you gave me at least one week’s advance notice that you’ll be going on vacation with your family.  

I think you get the idea.

So, instead of hoping that your babysitter will give you fair warning of her upcoming travel plans, why not use your words and tell her exactly what to do next time?  You might avoid a whole lot of disappointment (and some last-minute groveling to your in-laws)

I frequently suggest to my divorcing clients that they put away the rear-view mirror and concentrate on moving forward.  In that context, as well as in the context of dealing with disappointment, the words “next time” can be magical. Communicating your expectations in order to alleviate the possibility for disappointment is not difficult, and it can actually be magical. 

Try it “next time” and let me know the results.