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The danger of high expectations


Dealing with high expectations

I hear and read about people who talk about the role of expectations… a lot. Marriage counselors talk about how spouses should be clear in their expectations.  Business leaders tell us to communicate our expectations   clearly.  Relationship experts even tell us that we should be clear about  our sexual expectations – frequency, style, etc.  Parents are strongly encouraged to have high expectations for their kid’s grades… and on and   on.

Me?  I don’t really like expectations. Sure, I recognize that they are necessary at times, but I believe that they should be treated as a necessary evil, not as intrinsically positive things.

At best, expectations are powerful things…

And anything that is powerful is also, by definition, dangerous.

And, like most powerful things,  they are very easy to over-use, misapply and abuse.

In fact, I think that one of main powers of expectations is their amazing ability to steal celebration…


How expectations cripple relationships

So imagine that your parents communicate to you that they expect you to make straight A’s on your report cards.  You then have two options:

meet their expectations… or fail to meet their expectations.

Neither of these are outcomes that get celebrated!


Anyone identify with this… beginning to see it yet?


Imagine that your company (or family) did a performance evaluation at the end of the year.  I am sure many of your workplaces do… If yours are anything like mine, “meets expectations” is one of the headings.  Usually it is right above “unsatisfactory”.  On a ranking of 1-5, “meets
expectations is often 2… or maybe 3.


If we scored a perfect, across the board “meets expectations,” we would experience stunned disappointment.


And we want our kids to feel that every six weeks (or nowadays, with internet connection, every day when we check their grades?  Stop doing that, by the way).


Even more painfully, do we really want our spouses to do things for us because they know we expect it?


Losing gifts in marriage

I imagine deciding to something sweet for my wife, maybe do the dishes and extra time, or sit with her on the couch, or brush her hair… but
before I can, she reminds me that she must have me brush her hair three times a week.

“Remember, how in counseling I told you that one of my expectations was that you would brush my hair 3x a week?”  (I am picking again on counselor’s love for these ideas).

“oh yeah.”

Bam, what was a special act of love and sweetness – even romance – a few seconds ago is now (say it with me): “meeting expectations.”


Move along, folks, nothing to feel good about here… nothing to celebrate here.



Really, I should talk to my wife about what my expectations are for how often we should engage sexually?
I want to bring a sense of “meeting expectations” to the bed?

No I don’t.

I doubt if you do either.


We want to celebrate our love for one another, not pay it out as meeting the minimum standards, or we fall short and fail to meet expectations!


That is a key to avoiding this disaster.  If you must have minimal standards, make sure that is what you mean by “expectation.”
Everything above that can be appreciated… and then make sure there is also a standard for celebration.


Example:  if you are thinking grades, then create an actual minimum – F’s or C’s or something.  Reserve A’s, or all A’s and B’s to celebrate!


Other extreme – maybe an appropriate thing to call an expectation in regards to intimacy in marriage, including sexual intimacy, might be what you said in your vows:  “forsaking all others.”  (and honestly, I would rather that my wife’s faithfulness be a gift too, rather than meeting a demand)  Celebrate everything else!


So, I hope you can see that though there is a place for expectations (minimum standards)… I think it should be a very limited place…
since one of the main powers and unintentional consequences is to steal opportunities to celebrate…


You might can already see the dangers of expectations in a relationship that is meant to be planted in the soil of love and grace… and in
that regard, I think it can get worse still…