The Impact of Expectations (How-to Manage Your Expectations)

Something God has been increasingly highlighting to me is how powerful expectations are. They can be a powerful force for good or a huge catalyst for disappointment (I share an example of this in my post “Learning and Loving Our Spouse (Resetting Expectations)”). Better understanding how expectations affect us, can allow us to manage them effectively, and position ourselves for joy and success rather than chronic disappointment and betrayal.

Let me pause and say expectations are tricky little buggers. What I mean by that is if we “expect” a person to act a certain way or do a certain thing, and they don’t, we can suddenly find ourself feeling let down, discouraged, and even betrayed. But in reality, it may be that the people did nothing wrong, but that our expectations were misaligned.

Let me clarify by saying I’m NOT talking about where expectations have been properly set: for example, my expectation that my husband will be faithful to me. I have that expectation because he vowed before God and men that he would be, so HE set that expectation. That is a reasonable expectation rooted in truth.

What I’m talking about is when our expectations are based out of our hopes and desires rather than rooted in fact or truth. And it’s not that those expectations are bad per say, but they often are unrealistic and are ones where no actual expectation has been set. For example, if I expect my husband to throw me a party for my birthday and he gives me a gift at home instead – if he never said he planned to throw the party, it’s my expectations that were misaligned. I have no true cause to feel let down because he never said he would do it. So in essence, I didn’t manage my expectations properly, so it is MY fault that my expectations weren’t met.

And in the example above, not only did I have misaligned expectations, but the expectations I had weren’t based in reality because my husband is not and never has been a “throw his wife a party” kind of guy. This is something we tend to do all the time. We turn our hopes or desires into our expectations, which tends to set us up for disappointment.

We often allow what we read or watch to set unrealistic expectations. We too easily forget that the stories we read and watch for entertainment are fiction, and so expecting our friends and family to behave the same is unrealistic. More times than I can count, spouses are unhappy in their marriages because it doesn’t look like it does on TV or in their favorite books. Again, I share about my personal experience with this in my post “Learning and Loving Our Spouse (Resetting Expectations).”

We also frequently allow social media to set unrealistic expectations. On social media we’re only seeing a snapshot into people’s lives. Most people have happy moments, but that doesn’t reflect ongoing reality. Every family and relationship has struggles. Part of what builds the joyous moments and strength in relationship is successfully navigating the hard times.

How-to Manage Expectations 

  • Be intentional to note the basis for your expectations. Has someone promised to do something? Or are you just hoping they will? The first would be an expectation rooted in truth, while the second is simply a hope. 
  • If you get disappointed, determine which expectation wasn’t met. Disappointment typically comes from unmet expectations. If we can determine the foundational expectation behind a disappointment, we can determine if the expectation was rooted in truth or not. It’s a lot easier to move past a hurt if you realize no true wrong was done. 
  • This also works well in reverse. If someone is upset with you, determine what expectation they were operating from. Helping someone see that their expectation was unfounded can defuse a situation very quickly. It also teaches you about how they think, which can assist you in future interactions. 
  • To have smoother relationships, wherever possible manage people’s expectations. I’ve found a little explanation on the front end can save everyone from heartache and awkwardness on the back end. It’s not be possible to do this all the time, but I find when everyone is working from the same game plan, it’s easier to reach a common goal.

These are just a few ways to be intentional in managing expectations. Clear, honest communication leads to deeper, stable relationships. I hope these ideas help you grow stronger in this area – I believe it’s one of those areas you can continue to improve in for the rest of your life. So if you have other tips that have worked for you, please feel free to share because I’d love to hear your ideas too!

For more on this topic: This original post ended up getting split into three pieces, the testimony example, Learning and Loving Our Spouse (Resetting Expectations), this piece, and how this applies in our relationship with God, Expectation of Good (Hebrews 11:6).

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