Expectation is a powerful force that shapes our lives in profound ways — it also shapes our relationships! If you can harness the power of expectation, you can dramatically change your relationships and your life.
If I were to give you something to eat and I told you that it was going to be sour (like, say, a sour pickle) you would prepare yourself for a sour taste. But what if the bite I gave you was sweet instead, like a sweet pickle? What happens when you experience an unexpected flavor? You'll most likely perceive it as tasting bad; it sometimes even tastes sour because we were so confident that was what we were about to get. Our preparation for an experience (imagining the sour taste to come, in this example) is actually an integral part of it; it sets the stage for the rest of the experience.
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But what do pickles have to do with my marriage?
Well, let's imagine that your spouse is usually late to events, and that lateness typically results in a fight. Imagine that you have dinner reservations at your favorite restaurant with friends who are typically on time. If you just "know" that spouse will be delaying, dawdling or procrastinating while getting ready, you are most likely preparing for an ensuing argument. You are already imagining what you will say in the fight, and how frazzled you will feel as you arrive tardy to the restaurant.
As you imagine these negative feelings, you actually begin to feel frazzled and late — even though you still have an hour before you have to leave. Enter your innocent spouse on his or her way to shower and get ready. Your already-stressed self angrily asks, "Why are you always late?" and "Why do we always have to rush?" I can imagine the fight that follows — it's exactly like past fights, and then you really are late to the party.
You were so prepared for that sour pickle that no matter what happened... it tasted sour.
So how do we change our expectations? It is profoundly simple but at the same time it seems lik the hardest thing you will ever do. It's so difficult because we often don't recognize how much our thoughts and feeling shape our lives. We don't see how powerful we are. When we change the expectations we have of our spouse, we invite generosity into our marriage. Generosity means allowing your partner to change, and not holding them hostage to past behaviors.
I ask my clients what they just "know" about their spouse. Some know that their wife is always forgetful. Some know that their husband is always disrespectful of their parents. Some just know their wife can't be trusted with money because she always spends too much. Their first assignment is to change that word "always" to "sometimes." No one is "always" anything — but we are "usually" or "sometimes" lots of things. When you change this one word in your thoughts and speech you allow for the possibility for something different to happen. This is a huge change.
The next step is to become mindful of your own expectations. Remember that once you begin to expect something you have already begun the experience. How are you shaping or coloring the experiences you have with your spouse? Do you arrive already on guard for the fight that "always" happens? Do you arrive ready to be disappointed? Or, do you arrive ready for a loving and connecting evening together?
Once we recognize what we have been expecting from our partner, we can then imagine what we want to expect and how we want to feel in the relationship. Using the phrase "wouldn't it be nice if..." is helpful. For example: wouldn't it be nice if he were on time? Wouldn't it be nice if she applied for that new job? When you say this phrase you begin to expect this nice new thing. You begin to feel how that would feel; you begin that experience. You are expecting something sweet.
Here's the funny thing about expectations: you usually get what you expect. How great to get more sweetness, love and joy in our marriages.
If you have any questions about expectations or about marital counseling please contact me at www.DCCouplesCounseling.com.
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