Expectation vs. Reality Blog

Expectation vs. Reality

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How to adjust expectations, avoid resentment, and live a life of joy and contentment.

We’ve all been there: a friend who always comes to you to share her problems but never seems to reciprocate when you need her most; a loved one who continuously lets you down; working hard in the gym for a few weeks and the scale doesn’t budge; you don’t receive the promotion you really thought you deserved.

Sound familiar? These situations are an all-too-familiar part of life. And they leave us feeling disappointed. Hurt. Let down. Resentful. These feelings can be toxic and influence the way we view ourselves, our future decisions, and the way we see the world.

These are all expectation we set for ourselves and others. There’s a saying: “Expectations are pre-meditated resentments.” We humans have a tendency to fall into the if/then mindset that happiness is dependent upon fulfilment of our expectations. We often don’t realize that we have developed expectations of others until they aren’t met: it’s as if we’re setting ourselves up for failure. Unrealistic or unexpressed expectations – even the ones we set for ourselves – can lead to resentment, disappointment, and failed relationships.

Setting high expectations for ourselves is an important component to accomplishing our goals and dreams. It’s when we develop a dependency on these fulfilled expectations that things can go south: a reliance on not just the future to fulfill our happiness, but a particular future scenario. This becomes especially complicated and convoluted when we set expectations of others and place our hopes and dreams of happiness, joy, contentment, and fulfillment into the hands of another person.

How can expectations be both helpful in creating healthy relationships but also harmful if those expectations are unrealistic, immutable, or uncommunicated? Bob Levesque, LCSW, a mental health counselor and clinical social worker in Orlando, FL, has a unique perspective on this.

“When I hear the word ‘expectations’,” Levesque says, “I often hear my clients really saying ‘preferences’. We all have preferences. John Gottman says that the primary predictor for success or failure in relationships is in the area of conflict; navigating preferences is one of the primary contributors to conflict.”

“In a healthy relationship,” he continues, “I need to communicate my preferences and boundaries in a way that expresses my inner truth. Often, knowing and expressing our own inner truth is a challenge. So, I encourage those clients to build self-awareness and explore their inner truths by practicing expressing themselves more often in the smaller moments—choosing what they want for dinner when they go out or articulating when things bother them in the day-to-day.”

On the flip side, however, Levesque says that it’s important to bring awareness to when our expectations violate our partner’s boundaries or “preferences”.

“We need to do our best to communicate our inner truth while at the same time seeking to know and encourage our partner’s world and inner truth,” he says. “These are necessary building blocks toward long-term healthy connection.”

And what about those expectations that are communicated, and someone still lets you down? What are we to do with those moments which can lead to disappointment and resentment? Here are three suggestions on how to manage unmet expectations: both the ones we set for ourselves and the ones we set for others.

#1 Respond, Don’t React. First, take a few deep breaths and bring yourself into the present. Come to a place of responding rather than reacting. Ask yourself: Is what I expected of him or her (or myself) in alignment with their/my values and inner truth? Was it a realistic or unrealistic expectation from my perspective? From theirs? Did I clearly communicate my expectations of this person?

#2 Forgive. People won’t always live up to our expectations, and that’s okay. Forgiveness can be a powerful tool for healing and relationship building, and it’s good for you. When we practice forgiveness, we experience elevated moods, decreased stress, better long-term health, and better relationships. Forgiveness married with healthy boundaries and clear, consistently conveyed “preferences”, can also help prevent future unmet expectations.

#3 Choose Happiness Now. We have a choice to respond with disappointment or unhappiness when life doesn’t happen in the way we expected. Our happiness is not dependent on others fulfilling our expectations or on the expectations we set for ourselves. Though it’s okay to feel disappointed and sad when things don’t turn out the way we intended, it’s equally important to remember that happiness isn’t an if/then concept: happiness is decided in the here and now. Stay present and grateful in the moment; stay in harmony with your inner truth; focus on the smaller joys and accomplishments happening right now; happiness is decided in the moment.

About the Author

About the Author

Dr Lauren HodgesDr. Lauren Hodges is a facilitator, researcher, speaker, and content creator in the corporate wellness and performance space. In addition to her corporate training and consulting business, she is the co-founder of Grasshopper Training, a leadership and team development company focused on the psychology of performance and leadership. She lives in Satellite Beach, Florida, with her husband and two boys.


So many hats, so little headspace.

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I’m a hat person. At least I’d like to be. (We gotta have goals, right?) I like big floppy beach hats and pretty little crocheted hats, preferably in yellow. I even like my messy bun beanie that looks like it’s supposed to keep my ears warm, but we all know it only comes out on a bad hair day. Nobody’s ears get that cold in Louisiana. Trust me.

But I’ve decided that this business of plopping a different hat on my head for each role I play is for the birds. I mean, who has time to take the “work” hat off and grab the “momma” hat when you get a call from the babysitter that your daughter has fallen and broken her arm? I don’t.

I think, in reality, we as women wear one, big, multicolored hat at all times. Because the control we have over which role we play can change in 2.3 seconds flat at any given time.

But I have found what I do have control over, and that’s the amount of stress I bring to the table with that 2.3-second role change.

I realized that whether I’m fifteen minutes early for an appointment or five minutes late, my commute time is the same. I can choose to spend that time with my fingers clenched around the steering wheel, wishing the traffic could move faster or I can deliberately relax my hands and shoulders and use that ill-timed red light to remind myself to breathe.

Lately, I’m happy to say, I’ve been choosing the latter. (It also helps to compliment myself on the cute outfit I’m wearing or remember something someone told me that made me smile.) Granted, sometimes I have to remind myself four or five times during a twenty-minute drive. But I’m consciously choosing less stress. And it really is making a difference in whether I show up rushed and scattered or if I walk in like I was five minutes late on purpose.

It really is all in your perspective. Women have stress. Women have many, many roles. Tons of research has been done on the way men separate all the aspects of their lives into neat little (read: boring) boxes, and how everything in life is connected for women. We’re not boring and we don’t have boxes.

Bring it. We’ve got this. We’ve just got to remember to not let it get us.

Unclench those fists and relax those shoulders.

Plop that colorful hat on your head, girlfriend, and rock that floppy brim.

We may have to be busy, but we don’t have to be hurried and stressed. Deep breath in, deep breath out. We were made for this.


About the Author

Julie JohnsonJulie Johnson is a writer and editor, and a women’s and music ministry coordinator, but she spends most of her time with her husband Jeff and their four children and five grandchildren. She loves to travel, mostly because it opens up the opportunity to meet new people.