Several years ago, I read an article in which the wife of a long-married couple was asked what she thought was key to her happy marriage and she answered, “I learned early on to lower my expectations.” Personally, I sort of wondered just how much longer her happy marriage was going to last after her husband read that article. And I thought that she was being a bit harsh, or had perhaps married a man who was simply not right for her. But lately, I’ve come to believe that if I put her words into the context of simple human relationships, she might have been much more perceptive than I realized.
The older I get, the more I think that most of the conflicts we have with other people stem from the simple fact that they don’t live up to our expectations. They don’t act the way we think they should act, or they don’t treat us the way we expected them to treat us. And because they don’t, we find ourselves feeling hurt and angry, sometimes even lashing out at the people we think have failed us so miserably. If we’re not careful, the problem can escalate from there, causing permanent rifts in our relationships with family and friends.
Sadly, this seems to happen in all aspects of our lives, and not just in the close relationships we have with family and good friends. I once angered a fellow blogger because I commented on the photo that accompanied his post rather than the poem that he had written. This was a person I had never met, but the fact that my response wasn’t what he had expected obviously stung. If it’s that easy to hurt feelings of someone I barely knew, just think how easily it happens with those we know best.
I think the key might be in remembering that while our expectations always seem reasonable to us, that doesn’t mean that they are reasonable to other people, and it most certainly doesn’t mean that other people will meet them. The fact is, we all look at things just a little bit differently, and so what makes perfect sense to us often seems completely illogical, or even rude and insensitive to others. Sometimes I think we just need to take a step back, remember that the slights we perceive are rarely intended, and that the best thing we can do might actually be to “lower our expectations.”
I have come to the belief that lowering expectations is actually both a good and necessary part of how we handle our personal relationships. It doesn’t mean that we don’t expect good behavior from others, it simply means that we stop projecting our ideas and values onto people who usually have their very own ideas about what is and is not appropriate. It means that we put our own egos aside and learn to love and accept people as they really are, and not as who we may want them to be.
Which actually means that our expectations haven’t been lowered at all. They’ve simply been expanded, and that’s a good thing.