“Expectations are premeditated resentments.”
I read this quote from a facebook friend recently, and the weight of it hit me like a ton of bricks. How true this is! If we didn’t hold expectations over people, our lives would be so much more joyful, so much less cynical, so much more free.
Expectations infiltrate every area of our lives. While some expectations are reasonable and important, some of them are unnecessary and lead to our disappointment. Think about the unspoken expectations we place on people every day. I buy someone a nice gift expecting a response. If the person doesn’t show obvious gratitude, doesn’t say thank you, doesn’t reciprocate my generosity in gift giving, I’m left feeling disappointed and unfulfilled. How much more rewarding would gift giving be if we didn’t place these expectations on others? We could give with true generosity – not expecting anything in return. How about dinner invitations? Am I the only one who does the “keep the score even” in inviting friends to dinner? If we have a couple over for dinner 2 or 3 times and don’t have an offer reciprocated to us, I begin to question and doubt. “Maybe they don’t really like us.” Then cynicism and bitterness sneak in. “Well, I guess they don’t want to be our friends. See if we invite them over again!” As I type this I’m thinking, ‘How ridiculous! How childish! This sounds exactly like the “You’re not invited to my birthday party” wars I engaged in when I was in elementary school.’ When I voice these opinions, Chris usually says something like, “Why are you such a weirdo?” Really, who knows the story of the couple not reciprocating our dinner offers? Maybe they’re in a busy season of life. Maybe they’re not as comfortable inviting others into their home. Maybe their marriage is hitting a bumpy patch. Maybe she’s intimidated by my amazing cooking. (I’m sure this is the explanation in the majority of these situations.) Whatever the reason, it shouldn’t matter! When we give a gift or extend an invitation or offer a compliment it shouldn’t be with an expectation of reciprocation.
Marriage is the stomping grounds for unmet expectations. I know I struggle in this area, and I think most other women do as well. We have an expectation of what we’d like from our husbands, and we think they should read our minds to figure out what that is. I will never forget the advice shared with me by my roommate’s sweet mom, Betty Lue (how can you not be sweet with a name like Betty Lue?) back in college. At this point, I was engaged to Chris, and my roommate, Karla, was dating her future husband, Dallas. Betty said to us, “Girls, don’t expect those boys to read your minds. You have to tell them what you want. If you want a card and flowers on Valentine’s Day, you’ve gotta tell them. If you make your expectations clear, it’ll save you a lot of anger, a lot of fights, and a lot of heartache.” I thought that was good advice then, but looking back now, after almost nine years of marriage, I think it may be the most important piece of wisdom shared with me leading into married life. The lie in our heads and hearts says, “Well, if he really knew me and he really loved me, I wouldn’t have to tell him what I want.” That’s true to a point. If he really loves you, he’ll treat you with love and respect. But the details don’t come naturally to him. Men’s minds work completely differently than ours do. Chris and I may end up at the same conclusion about something, but the routes we take to get there couldn’t be more different.
Following Betty’s advice, here’s what I try to do: Leading up to an important day or event, I try to say something like this to Chris, “Hey Babe, you know my thirtieth birthday is coming up. I’d be happy with any sort of celebration – going out to eat with friends, you planning something and having a group of people over to our house, or getting a sitter and going out just the two of us. I just want the day to be really special.” Other times it’s more simple. “Valentine’s Day is next week. I don’t really need a gift, but I would like you to do something romantic.” It may seem too practical and not dreamy enough to approach things this way, but it sure beats crying on your birthday and being so mad at your husband that you don’t even want to look at him!
I think that a lot of the time when we step back from our situation and look at our expectations logically, we will realize that they stem from the selfishness of our sinful nature or that they have never been successfully communicated. Either way, we are setting ourselves up for discontentment and setting others up to be the recipients of our resentment.