We all have a set of personal expectations that we strive to live up to. Most of these are noble and natural like being on time to work, paying your bills, and treating others with respect. But then there are usually a few thrown in the mix that can thwart even our best efforts to be good. Some of these might be: helping others before helping yourself – or – helping yourself before extending help to others, needing to be the authority on the subject, feeling like you must live up to other people’s standards for you (or the creme de la creme), handling whatever comes your way with grace and skill.
Why might these personal expectations hinder your success in relationships?
Well, because we’re not an island. We live in relationship. We are not only in relationship to our significant others, but also with our children, our friends, colleagues, bosses, acquaintances, and even strangers. Our world is a world of relationship, and the personal relationship we have with ourselves directly impacts the relationships we have with others around us.
Let’s say, you’ve been on a really good roll lately. Your sense of self and accomplishment is in high esteem, you’ve really been fulfilling your personal expectations for yourself at work, with your income and credit score, and you’re liked by your peers. You expect these things to pan out because you’ve really been walking your talk, and your self-expectations are to be respectful to others and responsible financially. The world seems fair, and you feel especially anointed. You have patience for your spouse when they had a horrible day at work and they’re taking it out on you, you’re able to gently redirect your kids when they are acting-up, and that annoying coworker at work – well, you can just let their annoying personality just roll like water off a duck’s back. This is probably why you’re so well liked by your peers and friends.
However, let’s take a glimpse into someone who’s really feeling like they aren’t living up to their personal expectations and how it’s effecting their relationship to themselves and others:
This person has an expectation of helping others before making sure their needs are met because they believe in the golden rule of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and they expect that when they’re in need others will be there for them. But lately, they’ve really been struggling at work and they’ve been asking their coworkers for a little help, but everyone’s really busy. So they go home, overwhelmed, and figure that since normally they do the lion’s share of the housework their spouse will see their exhaustion and pick up the slack – but that’s not happening either. They’ve spent much of their adult lives bending over backwards for people in need, and now that they’re in need they feel let down. They start finding fault with their significant other, their home, their children, their friends. They might make some passive aggressive comments cutting down the people who’ve been “letting them down.” Now, their most important relationships are suffering and they’re even more miserable.
Or another person who feels like stewarding a family means they need to have the ultimate say on the decisions and that they are supposed to be the breadwinner. However, their spouse “argues” with them about everything and to add insult to injury their work has put a freeze on new hires and raises, so income increases look bleak. This person is coming home ready to fight for their place of status in the home, already on the defensive and football cliches tell us “the best defense is a good offense,” right? I am supposed to be the one who has the final say in this house, and here’s my spouse undermining me every chance they have, I get no respect in my own home. If this wage freeze doesn’t lift soon then I’m not going to be able to accomplish my financial goals according to my timeline, and then I’ll be the laughing stock and everyone will know that I’m a terrible breadwinner. What kind of leader am I if I can’t even support my family? Feeling bad about themselves they quarrel with their significant other on petty topics, trying to gain some control somewhere. Trying to fulfill their personal expectations of who they should be.
These folks are really struggling with their own identity and where they fit into the world. They feel like failures. They feel unappreciated and disrespected. To be honest, if I had those personal expectations, I would too! So, what do we need to do in order to have happier lives?
Sit down, think about what you expect from yourself. Make a list. The first few things on your list will probably be some of the standard ones, so go a little deeper. Once you think your list is done, try to get five more. They’re there.
Now, evaluate how true they are. Is there a way to tweak them? How would you re-write some of these?
- Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you’d have done to you” okay, treat others with respect, be compassionate and kind. But this doesn’t mean that you have to put your own needs on the back burner or that you have to endure undo hardship to help someone. If you say, “I’d love to help you, but I don’t have the ability right now.” You can trust that they will probably obtain help from someone else or advocate for themselves in a way that benefits their needs.
- It’s my duty to be the breadwinner for the family and to regularly become more prosperous. Yes, you need to pay your bills, and it’s really nice to have the extra disposable income to do fun things, but is it really your DUTY to be the breadwinner? We don’t live in an episode of Leave It To Beaver where one spouse brings home the bacon and the other keeps the home tidy. We live in a culture of shared responsibility, and it’s okay to shed your obligations of breadwinning. Talk to your significant other, let them know how you feel like you’re letting down yourself and the family, and that you feel embarrassed. See what you can do together to create a new financial plan, and when you’re vulnerable and honest about how you feel with the person closest to you you’d be surprised at how your relationship blossoms.
What do you think about the other personal expectations listed? What about yours? How are they helping to inspire you to do well, and in what ways are they bringing you down?
If you’d like to further this conversation, please feel free to contact any of us at Chico Creek Counseling. We would love to sit down with you to help you figure out which personal expectations you hold that might be holding you back.
by Jessica Wilkerson, M.A., MFTI
To set an appointment specifically with Jessica, please call her at (530) 921-5122 or use our online scheduling calendar.
Jessica Wilkerson, MA is a Marriage & Family Therapist Registered Intern #IMF69783
she works under the clinical supervision of Joe R. Taylor, LMFT #46406 at Chico Creek Counseling