The other day, Lenny and I were driving home from a long day out together. I mumbled something about wanting to watch TV and go to bed, and he simply said, “Nope.” He told me he’d rather play video games. The nerve! He complained all day that he was tired, and now he wanted to stay up and play video games instead of going to bed?
In that moment, Lenny didn’t do anything wrong. I was in the wrong this time, because I didn’t clarify my expectations.
Over the summer, I participated in a program for leaders at our church. We followed a curriculum created by Pete & Geri Scazzero called Emotionally Healthy Relationships. They have taught me so much about relationships and marriage, I’ll probably be referring to them pretty often on this website.
My favorite topic from this workbook involved clarifying expectations. Unfortunately, I assume all the time, especially because my husband doesn’t speak that much. When he’s quiet, I assume he understands. Since we’ve been married a little longer now, I know his silence means he either doesn’t hear me, or he disagrees but doesn’t know how to tell me.
I was in the wrong when I assumed Lenny would want to cuddle with me instead of play video games because I didn’t clarify my expectations. I assumed he wanted to do the same, because cuddling helps me unwind, but he isn’t wired the same way. Video games help him unwind. While I had the itch to lay on the couch until I was ready for bed, he had the itch to play a couple of games. His itch is one I don’t understand, but if I don’t clarify my expectations, I can’t judge him for his behavior.
In Emotionally Healthy Relationships, the Scazzeros lay out several pointers to remember when clarifying expectations. I will use the example of how we spend the holidays. Not only are the holidays a cause for conflict in our household, but it is also a topic of debate among most newlywed couples.
Expectations should always be conscious. It is more important for us to be aware of our own expectations than for others to be aware of them. When it comes to the holidays, one of my expectations is, “It doesn’t matter where Lenny and I spend the holidays, as long as we are together.” Whatever drama ensues from our holiday plans, as long as we don’t split up (as in Lenny sees his family and I see mine), we’ve had a successful year. I am aware of that, and although I don’t need to share that expectation with everyone, now you know it.
Expectations should also be realistic. We tried splitting the holidays (going to my family in the morning and Lenny’s family in the evening), but it is way too stressful for us. Expecting us to see both sides of the family every single holiday is unrealistic for our situation. I can’t control everyone in my life, and they can’t control me. If I have expectations that involve controlling other people, I will be sorely disappointed when they physically, emotionally, or mentally cannot meet my needs.
Expectations should be spoken. Before the holiday season (conveniently during our anniversary), Lenny and I talk about how we are going to spend Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas. We discuss our expectations and form a plan. Then, we tell our parents our plans for the year. This prevents us from having conflicts with our families later, when they expected us to spend the holidays a certain way.
Finally, expectations should be agreed upon. This point is the one I have the most difficult time following. I am free to share my expectations with Lenny, but I rarely pause to make sure he’s on board with them. This was the issue we had when he wanted to play video games. I expected him to come to bed with me, but he didn’t agree. Now, when I clarify my expectations, I ask him, “Are you okay with that?” If he’s not, he makes an addendum, and we form an agreement.
Expectations are not wrong to have. As a matter of fact, they are innate and necessary for survival. If we can keep our expectations conscious, realistic, spoken, and agreed upon, we will have better communication and less conflicts with our loved ones.