How expectations affect us

Unmet expectations can be our greatest source of disappointment.

Moms, did you expect your ex-husband’s new wife to take a back seat in the co-parenting car?

Did you expect your kids to miss and need you when they went to your ex’s house, only to find out they had a great time and even…gulp…liked the new girlfriend?

Stepmoms, when you married your husband, did you expect your stepkids to like you or his ex to embrace your existence? How’d that work out for you?

Whether you’re aware of it or not, you enter every situation with an expectation of a specific outcome.

From a simple text message exchange, to what your marriage, or life after divorce, will look like.

You’re filled with expectations.

But what happens when the outcome doesn’t turn out the way you expected?

Major disappointment sets in. Often followed by anger, frustration, blame and resentment.

A flurry of negative emotions surface,  and you lash out at the nearest warm body.

Unmet expectations can be more than difficult. Sometimes you had planned future events around that expectation. Like when you expected the other household to allow the kids to go on vacation with you, only to find out they didn’t feel like cooperating this time.

These kind of upsets can ruin a night – or a whole vacation.

In the worst of cases, they can ruin long stretches of one’s life, if that person chooses to allow it.

Sometimes you’re so used to having expectations that you don’t even notice it.

For example, how often do you use the word “should”?

She should say this or she should act like that. He shouldn’t have done this, he should feel like that.

That’s right, that little word can get you into BIG trouble.


Because it’s an expectation you’re having about another person’s behavior; something WAY out of your control. You might as well just skip the interaction and go straight to the disappointment.

So what do we do about this? It’s natural to expect others to act like we do. We expect them to live up to our standards and have similar values. And when they don’t, we’re shocked and appalled and disappointed and hurt.

What’s common sense and basic courtesy to us, (making eye contact, saying “thank you,” taking responsibility for our own actions), may be seen as unnecessary by someone else.

They may even feel justified in not reciprocating manners or respect.

In their reality, they don’t owe us anything.

But we assume our interpretaton of what should happen is absolute reality, and if someone goes against it, they’re doing it deliberately.

And that’s not necessarily the case. But our perception has just created a huge mess. Hurt feelings included.

I’d love to tell you to have no expectations – to let life happen as it will and be open to whatever outcome shall occur.

Ideally, that’s the way to live, right? But unless your name is Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra or Buddha, it ain’t happenin’.

But you CAN keep your expectations in check. You can make a conscious effort to enter a situation with an open mind. You can welcome the unknown instead of running from it.

You can remind yourself that you don’t need to control the outcome.

Because outside circumstances don’t determine your happiness. YOU do.

Different circumstances call for different actions. Sometimes you’ll want to adjust your expectation. Other times you’ll want to throw it out the window. And then there are times when you just need to communicate it.

If the other woman hasn’t treated you with respect in years, maybe it’s time to throw that expectation out the window.

It doesn’t mean you give up hope, but it means you stop expecting her to be different at every interaction. And maybe it’s time to set a boundary and STOP interacting with her altogether, until her behavior changes.

You do have options here.

Stepmoms, have you ever spoken to your husband about his expectations of you and your role as stepmom? If not, I suggest you do.

Their expectations could be completely different than your expectations. But you can’t come to an understanding if you don’t know what the other person is expecting. And how wonderful would it be to be on the same page?

Moms, have you ever had even the simplest of  conversations with the stepmom clarifying your expectations about one shared responsibility? Most of us avoid these conversations because they’re so uncomfortable.

Where are you with your expectations?

I challenge you to keep a running a tab over the next day or so of every expectation you find yourself having. Pay attention to the “shoulds,” what the outcome is and what your reaction is.

Then practice detaching from outcomes. Practice being open to what is.

Practice being responsible for your own happiness instead of putting it in someone else’s hands. And let us know what you find.

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© 2011 Jenna Korf      All Rights Reserved

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  1. Dina McCausley says:

    Love this! Expectations can make or break ANY relationship, forget one that is so fragile.

    Thanks for the reminder!

  2. Breanna says:

    i’m going to print this out!! not only does it relate to my role as stepmom, but also with my SS who has ADHD.. i feel like i am constantly trying to remember that i can’t expect him to behave how i would want him to all the time.. i guess it applies to all kids really :) thanks for the well-written reminder!

  3. Dina: That’s right! This applies to all aspects of our life! :)

    Breanna: Glad you found it useful. It’s a handy reminder when life starts getting a little *too* stressful :)

  4. Elisette says:

    In regards to my ex I have learned to reduce expectations – it does help with sanity, but I don’t know how much lower to get here!! :) Trying to figure out mitigation yet, to the expectation of “tell me when you will be here”.

  5. Lucky (Renee) says:

    *Nods head in agreement while reading*

  6. Wow! This really hit home today! Stumbling on your fabulous site was a refreshing eyeopener!

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