Relationship Madness: Negative Expectations


I was at a party the other night of a couple who is separated and going through a divorce. This couple has been married for 12 years. They were together at the party because of family and not because they wanted to be in the same place with each other. It was interesting to watch them interact with each other. The way they communicated with each other told it all. Each communicated with the other in short and sharp responses and each waited for the other to say something that could be perceived as negative or as a verbal attack and of course they got what they expected. They were looking for the bad, they were laying in wait for what they expected and they received it and all of a sudden an argument over a burnt out light bulb ensued and raw nerves and drama took center stage as the guests grew uncomfortable as they observed what was happening wondering what they should do, should they intervene, should they leave or should they simply remain and watch the drama unfold?

In relationships we often only see what we expect to see. Our expectations sometimes become so powerful that we will see or hear what we expect even when it really does not take place. For example if we have been hurt in past relationships we tend to lay in wait for when a person in a new relationship will hurt us or break our trust or do something that is unacceptable to us. We build our expectations in way in which we create that which we expect.

When we are in a new relationship we are often said to be looking through rose colored glasses because all we expect is the good and sometimes that is all we will see. Friends may see “red flags” and even point them out to us and yet we don’t see them because we are in a “good” expectation mode. Often times as the relationship matures we begin to lose our ability to see only the good and we begin to see that which we don’t like and over time the balance may shift and we start to look for the bad more than we do the good. Our expectation of the other person changes and even those traits and habits that we once found endearing now feel like fingernails on a chalk board.

When all we begin to expect in a relationship is conflict then we only see that which creates conflict and because the other person now knows what you expect they tend to deliver weather on a conscious or unconscious level what you expect and in a downward spiral the relationship goes to a point where everything you say and do or the other person says and does is wrong.

This applies not only in romantic relationships; it also applies in all of our relationships. Sometimes we see this dynamic happen at work with a co-worker or our manager. Bottom line is if you enter into a discussion with someone and you are waiting for something to be said which is going to set you off, then guess what that is what is going to happen. When we are in this mode we are like a vial of nitroglycerin knowing the slightest jiggle will set us off and begin the fireworks.

The good news is that we can change the mode we are in. First we have to acknowledge that this is the mode we are in and that we can control our expectations and the way in which we communicate. Remember communication is a two way process, we communicate when we speak and when we are the receiver. How we communicate often demonstrates our expectations. In the case I cited at the beginning of this article, the divorcing couple clearly demonstrated their expectations by the way they were communicating with each other.

In each relationship we are engaged in we need to become the observer and ask ourselves what is the expectation that I am communicating. Another way to say this would be to ask “is what I am saying and how I am receiving information being driven by a negative expectation?” Do I go to work in the morning expecting to conflict with my boss? Do I go home and expect that no matter what is said that I will conflict with my partner?

What if you were to change your expectation? What if you were to change your expectation to be that today when you go home that you would look for all the positive things about your partner and that you would express your gratefulness for your partner’s positive attributes? What if you did this with your boss when you meet with her/him the next time? What if you looked for the positives and in turn create positives to discuss? I can suggest to you what would happen if you were to do this. You would change the dynamic of your relationship! It may not happen the first time you do this, however if you consistently look for the “good” in your relationship then that is what will show up. Note, it may take some time, however the change will most likely happen.

Of course this does not always work. Sometimes the chasms in a relationship are too broad and too deep to bridge and repair and sometimes despite your best efforts, intentions and expectations the other person in the relationship does not want to respond in a positive way because they have already written your relationship off. Know that these cases are rare and that most people do want to get along and have a positive relationship, however there are circumstances where people enjoy the misery they are in and the misery they create (some people find power in creating misery in a relationship).

The key is self awareness, we must be able to observe ourselves and to be able to discern if we are operating from an ego base where we are communicating in a way that creates and reinforces negative expectations or are we operating from our authentic self which is love. Think about it, love would never create communication which incites negativity.

We each have the power to create/repair relationships by choosing to look for the good instead of the bad. Change your perception and change your world!