Have you ever said “You should’ve known…,” or “Anyone (or everyone) would think (or know)…?”
Human engagement can be fraught with resentments. A nearly guaranteed path to having unmet expectations and related resentment is to stay quiet about hopes and assumptions, perhaps assuming that the other person knows.
A common pitfall for relationships — from partners to other meaningful relationships and even, sometimes, to brief encounters — is that expectations and assumptions exist but that they are not all discussed. In fact, these expectations and assumptions are sometimes beyond the conscious awareness of the person holding them. Another nearly guaranteed path to resentment is to assume agreement of values and goals. Even within pairs that have a high level of agreement about values and goals, points of divergence are frequent and to be expected.
Author Anne Lamott said, “Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.” Careful recognition of and communication about hopes and requests can make the difference to avoid development of resentments or to heal ones that already exist. How we handle this recognition and communication is as important when doing the dishes or doing yard work as when dealing with major crises or projects.
One of the most common conversations I have with clientsabout expectations is exploring the differences between wishes and boundaries. As already mentioned, communicating wishes and requests in a healthy and effective way is critical to relational and individual health. Any person is unable to reliably guess all of your needs and hopes and they must rely on information from you to have a chance of adequately responding to your needs and wishes. A wish to avoid conflict, a fear of being judged or of being disappointed are some of the reasons people miss out on letting another person have this clear information.
However, most of the time when this information is withheld, conflict is not avoided, it is only transferred to another time or topic and, worse yet, disappointment actually becomes more likely.
Furthermore, as David Schnarch wrote in “Intimacy & Desire: Awaken the Passion in Your Relationship,” “Wanting creates the space in which our highest aspirations come into being.”
It can be scary to want something and even terrifying to share that information with another person. When that fear solely guides decisions, it can prevent fulfillment, growth and healing. Still, courageously sharing information about wishes and requests is often only the first step toward fulfillment and growth, which is usually the result of a process of courage and integrity to address with honesty what is wanted. This process regularly includes a series of continuous adjustments by both parties as information is shared and better understood.
It is vital to realize that sharing information about hopes and requests may include asserting a boundary, but it is not the same thing as maintaining a boundary. Making a request is often about sharing a wish for what the other person will do or not do. Maintaining a boundary is about figuring out what you will do or not do and then consistently behaving accordingly.
For example, a boundary for me is that I do not breathe in smoke or vape fumes. So, there have been times I have asked someone not to smoke or vape around me or in my space. That is my request and wish. It is only my boundary as I am willing also to problem-solve and act accordingly anytime the answer to my request is verbally or functionally “no”. I can maintain my boundary by physically moving away from smoke or vape fumes and perhaps being available later to engage with the person when they are finished. That is, other people decide how to respond to my requests and stated boundaries, and I am responsible for deciding what to tell them about my requests and how to take care of myself, including problem-solving at times when the choices of another person are inconsistent with my boundaries.
In a time when divisions based on our self-identifications and how we consider other people to be like us or different from us seem to be pervasive and escalated, commitment to healthy and effective recognition and navigation of our expectations, assumptions and boundaries is even more important. These efforts are needed as we interact across broad divisions, as well as in our closest relationships.
Like most relationship dynamics, a heavy dose of “both/and” is critical to navigate expectations and assumptions well within relationships. That is, the navigation needs to include both effectively and honestly speaking of hopes, wishes and requests, and also effectively tending to boundaries. These navigations are best managed with intention, commitment and flexibility. Instead of saying to yourself or to another person “You should know without me having to tell you,” tell them and make decisions about your boundaries.
If you find yourself in a situation where power — including coercion, intimidation or violence — is exerted over you to prevent you from maintaining your boundaries, seek help.