“I don’t know what my expectations are until they’re not met.” ~ Chuck Lorre

I’ve been dealing with expectations lately, both my own and those of my mediation clients. When considering my personal ones, I don’t often clearly identify the expectation until I realize it hasn’t been met. (Thank you, Mr. Lorre.)  With my divorce clients, unmet expectations are usually fairly visible to me.

My obvious conclusion is that when others don’t meet our expectations, relationships suffer, sometimes irreparably. This seems to be true, regardless of the nature of the relationship. It could be a marriage or a business partnership, a landlord-tenant situation, or adult siblings caring for aging parents. We create a standard in our own minds of how we expect someone else to act or what we expect them to do, and when they don’t meet the expectation, we are at the very least, disappointed, and at the very worst, furious.

I believe that when you start a sentence with the words, “You should have . . .” or “You need to . . .” what you’re really saying is “I expected you to …” And that is where the trouble begins.

So, let’s take a look at how to manage expectations, beginning with the understanding of how we create them in the first place. It’s actually quite simple. We either base our expectations on the past, or they are an assumption for the future. For example, if our parents taught us manners, we teach our kids to say “please” and “thank you.” When they don’t, we’re disappointed in them — they didn’t measure up to our expectations. Similarly, we might assume we’re going to get a substantial year-end bonus based on our performance, but when the number doesn’t match our expectation, we’re miserable.

Rather than set your expectations too high, or your standards too low, I offer you balance as an alternative. Set reasonable expectations for yourself and for others. It’s reasonable to expect your kids to say “please,” but it’s also reasonable to expect that sometimes they might forget. It’s reasonable to expect a nice bonus in recognition of a job well done, but it’s also reasonable that the number might not match your expectation.

Marriages end when partners fail to achieve balance in setting reasonable expectations about each other. If the optimistic young husband thinks he will turn his wife into an NBA fanatic, he might be disappointed. If the neatness-obsessed partner thinks that enough nagging will get someone to hang up their clothes, it might never happen. As a Mediator, I’m not tasked with helping people figure out what went wrong, but I am responsible for helping my clients to achieve balance in ending their relationship, as well as with their co-parenting expectations moving forward.

It’s no exaggeration to state that practically every solution to a conflict comes as a result of being open to reasonable expectations. That being said, each one of us has the obligation to communicate our expectations, in advance, in order to avoid disappointment.

Are you good at this?