My Expectations; Your Expectations
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | March 2018
Developing enough self-confidence to not be threatened by differing opinions.
I do my thing and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you, and I am I,
and if by chance we find each other, it's beautiful.
If not, it can't be helped.
(Fritz Perls, "Gestalt Therapy Verbatim", 1969)
Over the years, moving into the silver lining of life, my expectations have transformed—more curiosity and less surety. We all have expectations—hopes and dreams. Relationships are especially laced with expectations. We build trust around them; much of the predictableness of futures depends on our partners staying steady and loyal. Couples can’t enjoy peace without reasonable expectations—without consistence life becomes chaotic, full of anxiety; commitment and security build on fulfilled expectations.
Is Fritz Perls’s Gestalt Prayer suggesting we dump expectations of others? I don’t think so. He artfully reminds of human freedoms. Our expectations aren’t moral imperatives; they are hopes that may or may not be filled. If our satisfaction depends on fulfillment of all our expectations, we will be disappointed. Likewise, other’s expectations are not our moral imperatives. If to achieve another person’s acceptance, we must abandon the self, frantically striving to fulfill every one of their expectations, we lose, each action suffering from the future unknown, always waiting to give at their next whim; we will never be good enough.
In our ego-centric world, we sometimes forget that our joys and pains are not of greater value than the joys and pains of others. We must respect boundaries of individual freedoms. We also must enforce our individual boundaries, respecting our right to selfhood. We naturally desire acceptance (a human drive) but if that acceptance requires self-abandonment, it costs too much. There’s no acceptance found where individualism is denied. These relationships are not between two people but a person and an object. When a partner’s personal feelings are unimportant (or nonexistent); when we interpret all interactions by the emotions that the interaction incites; when all decisions default to one party’s wants, ignoring the other; then there is no relationship.
"Our expectations aren’t moral imperatives; they are hopes that may or may not be filled. If our satisfaction depends on fulfillment of all our expectations, we will be disappointed."
Mutual acceptance permits individuality, humbly appreciating a partner’s deviations from our personal likes and wants—and quirks. Saying, "I don’t need to live up to your expectations," doesn’t imply rejecting compromise. We need autonomy but also connection. Belonging requires attunement to others, sensitive to their desires. The strength of a relationship doesn’t depend on lack of differences but on each partners’ ability to enjoy the peculiarities each partner brings to the relationship—even the oddities we don’t understand. We achieve a delicate balance between autonomy and accommodation.
Unexamined, we may wrongly seek independence and unconditional acceptance. These mismatching wants create an internal conflict. This is unrealistic; we can’t be unconditionally accepted while remaining stubbornly independent, rejecting any differences as ill minded and inferior. Our narcissistic expectations are doomed to disappoint. Expectations that we can act as we please and still be unconditionally accepted is misguided; only marginally fulfilled by a codependent partner fearful of abandonment.
Gestalt Therapy: A Psychotherapy that focuses on personal responsibility in the present moment, considering the environmental and social contexts (complexity) influencing the person, and their adjustments to adapt.
Conversely, we shouldn’t unconditionally conform. Not conforming has costs and benefits. When a partner, friend or social group doesn’t permit individuality, we should wisely recognize this dangerous attitude arising from a diseased mind, most likely to bring painful drama.
Establishing a collaborative pattern of fulfilling needs (of both partners) builds trust, demonstrating concern and a mutual effort for enjoyment. We desire relationships because they fill human needs better than can be achieved individually. If the relationship continually fails to satisfy basic needs, shaking hope of future betterment, our work to maintain the relationship becomes burdensome. Having trust that a partner will be there, caring, and soothing needs creates security. Fritz Perls’ statements don’t forbid expectations and trust in a lover to fulfill some of the expectations; his words serve as a gentle reminder that others aren’t servants to our needs. Others are individuals with their own needs, hopes and dreams. We seek joy but shouldn’t expect “our” joy to be the purpose of others. In relationships, we commit to help each other travel similar but individual paths. This partnership requires some common aspirations but also healthy respect for differing goals. When we see others as individuals—not extensions of ourselves, we can balance complex human interaction.
Simple solutions lack substance when faced with complexity. We must repeatedly painstakingly decide between autonomy and belongingness, sacrificing some personal desires for closeness, while affirming personal boundaries for autonomy. The fine balance of balancing personal and partner expectations becomes the work of a life time, easily unbalanced and justified. But when we find that balance, continually striving to mutually respect, the love is beautiful, lifting two spirits beyond heights they could achieve individually.
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