“Unmet expectations”. These are not words that we may not voice frequently, but most of us certainly think it. If you’ve been in a relationship for more than a minute, you have probably experienced unmet expectations. You may have even experienced a severed relationship because of unmet expectations. As a pastor, I’ve seen the nastiness of unmet expectations wreak havoc in many relationships; but it doesn’t have to happen. Here are some thing I ask you to consider…
- Many people begin relationships with lofty expectations.
Don’t deny it… You most likely have had lofty expectations of someone when you began a relationship; maybe even before you met the person. Oftentimes these lofty expectations begin in our minds when we’re young, when the idea of romance initially takes root in your mind. It’s nearly impossible not to let lofty expectations begin, and even more difficult to keep them in check once they take root. The question arises, “Where do these lofty expectations originate?”
The seeds of Lofty Expectations in relationships have a plethora of origins; such as:
Parental Influence. You watch, sometimes subconsciously, the way your parents interact. This may cause you to mimic their relationship, expecting the same thing from your future husband or wife that you see in your Father and Mother. From one perspective, if you’re a female, you may have watched your Dad being very romantic, often buying your Mom flowers, opening the door for her, calling her charming names, doing well financially, taking out the trash, mowing the yard, doing “man stuff”, etc., chances are you will have the same expectations of the male in your relationships. On the other hand, if you’re a male, you may have watched your Mom have great respect for your Dad, working hard, being frugal, preparing meals, making herself look nice, all while having a career, etc. Again, chances are you will have the same expectations of the female in your relationship. Or you may have experienced things vastly opposite of what I just described and you expect your spouse to be opposite of what you grew up watching. Regardless, you have expectations from watching your parents.
Like with parents, you form presuppositions from society. We are bombarded by what I call societal agendas. Every society has a standard, good or bad, and societies will push their standard through television, social media, etc.… People in these settings sometimes don’t’ even realize that these constant influences begin to form lofty expectations that we will impose on our future relationships. In other words, we will expect our future spouse to act like the characters we’ve seen on our favorite TV shows or in our favorite book.
There are many other influences that help create lofty expectations… the point is, most of us bring lofty expectations into relationships. But is this ok? Do problems arise with lofty expectations? Well, of course. If not, I wouldn’t be blogging about it.
- Lofty expectations become unmet expectations.
Let’s make this as simple as possible; if you go into a relationship with lofty expectations, be prepared for lofty letdowns. Lofty expectations, sooner or later become unmet expectations, and unmet expectations sooner or later lead to major problems within relationships, especially marriage. Your spouse may do well for a period, meeting your expectations, and you have a sense of accomplishment; “I did well picking this mate”, etc. But as soon as your spouse fails to do what you expect he or she to do, you’re let down. Lofty expectations have become unmet expectations, and the temporary happiness you had from your spouse doing what you expected has disappeared. Now what?!? The slippery slope of unmet expectations begins to do enormous harm.
- Unmet expectations become relationship killers.
Once lofty expectations become unmet expectations, and remain unchecked, relationship damage is imminent. You need to understand this; you CANNOT expect unmet expectations to not harm your relationships. This is true in friendships, work relationships, etc., but mostly in marriage. It’s imperative that you know your spouse will let you down, as you will your spouse. It’s not difficult to understand that none of us are without sin; “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:23). That includes you… and me… and your co-worker… and your friend… and your spouse… and your pastor… ad infinitum.
When you get upset because someone has not met your expectations, the very core of your relationship begins to crack, and if actions are not taken to repair it, those unmet expectations will cause irreparable damage and ultimately kill your relationship. Make no mistake about it, the more you are disappointed from unmet expectations in your relationship, the more your relationship is doomed.
- We have no right to have expectations of others.
The question arises, “Don’t I have the right to expect certain things from people in my relationships?” No… no we don’t. You have no more right to have expectations of others in your relationships than they have the right to have expectations of you. Bottom line; only Jesus has that right…He’s earned it, you haven’t, and never will.
When we expect others to act certain ways, do certain things, don’t do certain things, etc., we are acting as if we are the standard bearers; an attitude of, “you must live up to my expectations, and if you do I will reward you with a relationship, but if you don’t, you don’t deserve me.” In other words, arrogance raises its ugly head. This attitude and actions in a relationship stem from a fallen humanity, not from God. This idea is found in Galatians 6:1-5,
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.
(Galatians 6:1-5 ESV)
So how do we approach relationships in a godly manner?
- Take your emphasis off others and focus on your relationship with Jesus.
There it is… it’s that simple. If you take your focus off the other person in your relationship and, “take the log out of your own eye…” (Matthew 7:5), your relationship will improve radically. In relationships, it is tremendously important to use the energy you’re exerting on others through unmet expectations, and use that energy to, “examine yourself…” (1 Corinthians 11:28). When this is done, relationships improve. Find your fulfillment in Jesus, not the person in your relationship.
Ted Cunningham rightly said,
Remember, people are not your source of life. Jesus is your source. Don’t ask others to take His place and fill you up. Jesus is an unlimited supply. The people in your life are limited supplies.
Yes, it’s healthy to search for a mate that is like minded theologically, and other areas, but the more important matter is, does he or she have a desire for God? If they do, they will improve over time, just as you will. You will never find the perfect person to be in a relationship, so don’t try. Seek someone who loves Jesus, someone whose desires are Godward, and encourage them, don’t have expectations of them. A Christ-centered relationship is sanctifying, each person in the relationship is being set apart by the Holy Spirit; this takes time.
Per Scripture, love is an act of the will; it doesn’t depend on how the other person acts. We are told to love…period. You can love the person in your relationship, regardless of how they act… this is what Jesus did. Marriage models the relationship of Jesus and the church; He willingly loved, even while we were sinners, and gave His life for us. We are to do the same in relationships. When we do, God is glorified and we are satisfied. If your relationship hinges on whether a person acts the way you expect them to, you are not modeling Jesus or pointing people to Him. On the other hand, when you love others, even when they don’t meet your expectations, Jesus is modeled and we are content.
I understand this may be a strange concept, it was to me at one time; but if we chew on it and adhere to it, it will radically change our relationships for the better…