When a loved one constantly disappoints you time and time again: a friend, parent, sibling, spouse; someone you have in your life that you can’t exactly ditch, a profound fact about this relationship is that it can be cured. Not in the way we think it should be, but in a new way that allows us to protect ourselves, stay happy, loving, supportive and still keep them in our lives in a way that rewards us. It’s one of the toughest things to do but it’s also hugely rewarding: to accept people as they are, on their own terms, and let go of our expectations.
One thing I realized about myself late in life was that I constantly set myself up to be disappointed by loved ones, not because my expectations were necessarily unrealistic or outlandish, but because I always had distinct ideas of what I thought they should do to be loving. Whatever we want people to want has very little to do with what they want in reality. Most have no idea what is going on another person’s head, so how could we blame another for our disappointment and perceived lack of care or love or whatever else we might feel motivates their actions? I remind myself of this every day because I catch myself setting up expectations around what I think others will do. For example, if a person doesn’t call you back in a timely manner your perception might be that they don’t care about you or respect you. Their perception might be: I should probably do laundry soon, I’m out of underwear. Meaning, the least likely scenario is that they don’t love or respect you, the most likely is that they are clueless to this social expectation or they don’t perceive it to be meaningful in the way that you do. *An exception to this example would be that they really do wish to hurt you by not calling, in which case that would be manipulative and you should not keep them as a friend. You’ll know soon enough because they usually manipulate in other ways, as well.
Even those who have a brilliant insight into humanity, who are sensitive and adept at understanding how others feel or think, should not fall into this trap. Your expectations and wants still have nothing to do with how another person sees the world, and as soon as you try to make them see it your way, you won’t be accepting them as they are. You’ll be attempting to change them. What happens over time if people are boxed into behaving as something they are not is that they grow resentful and unhappy – something that you would never wish for anyone you cared about. Unmet needs in any relationship only create a void, causing people to blame one another for their discontent.
A common conflict in a friendship is when one person is upset and saying, “They should have done this.” At the same time, the other person is also upset and saying, “They should have done that.” Both have totally valid feelings based on their own terms, but both leave out the part where everyone has their own values. Simple communication will solve a problem like this, but when it comes to the bigger, deeper needs, it can take years to truly accept and understand someone despite the way you wish they were.
One example is a loved one that is incapable of changing something that is extremely hurtful to you, whether they’re abusive or ill or just completely insensitive. Maybe this person has done something completely unforgivable by all measures. Even then there is a way to accept them as they are so that you can have a relationship with them. It will not be the relationship you thought you wanted, it will be a new one that incorporates into it who they really are. It will almost be like you’re getting to know them for the first time: them minus you. Despite the sadness of having to let go of what you wished they would be or could be, what you will get back in return is having that person in your life in a way that will reward you. You will grow to know that they care about you in their own way, and you won’t be hurt or disappointed by them anymore. This is the ideal – much harder to achieve when you’re still in a painful place.
When you stop to separate yourself and your expectations from another person and their actions, you feel a great amount of relief at the very least. It also can allow you to see if this person and who they are is not someone you want in your life. The best scenario is that your acceptance of them and their differences allows you to know them and love them still, in a way that allows both of you to stay true to yourselves.
I hope you all have a warm and dry Sunday with a delicious breakfast! xox Sarah