Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Check Your Expectations

I live in the District of Columbia and often travel from NW to SE by way of the I-395 tunnels. Between the 2 tunnels is an area that has a speed camera and the speed limit is 45mph. Every time I drive through this tunnel and approach this area, drivers in front of me slow down to about 40 mph and creep through this section, and then hit the gas pedal and drive as if they are in the Indy 500 through the remainder of the tunnel.

This annoys me to no end.

Every time I approach this section, I hope (and pray) that the people will just keep driving at a normal speed (the speed limit!) but it never happens- they slow down to 40mph and creep through this section. Every time this happens I am annoyed.

Last week as I had this experience it sparked the idea for this blog entry: Check Your Expectations. The sub-title would be Especially When Dealing With Other People.

Many of my clients discuss relationships during our sessions, and often the focus is frustration with a friend or loved one's behavior. Often times people want those close to them to change what they see as problematic behaviors, and I can say that many times these requests are reasonable. For instance, it is reasonable to wish that your mother/father/sibling/romantic partner were more supportive- many people could benefit from more support. But what happens when requests for more support have been made and nothing changes? This is a difficult position indeed. But one thing that I have my clients do is "check their expectations".

Think about what you know about your mother/father/sibling/romantic partner: have they ever exhibited the traits that you desire? If so, it may be time to have a discussion with them about what has changed. BUT, if you are hoping for something that you have never or rarely gotten from this person, this is a time when expectations need to be checked.

In my case, I know with 95% certainty that people are going to creep through the speed trap between the I-395 tunnel, so hoping and wishing it doesn't happen, then getting all worked up when it does is futile. I'm wasting my emotional energy. What I could do is work on my patience- it only takes about 5 to 10 seconds anyway to get through this area, and that's a tiny portion of my day. I really just have to "move on" and learn to deal with it.

Of course, close relationships are more complicated, but a similar logic can apply. If you desire support from your mother/father/sibling/romantic partner but that is not their strong point, it may be best for you to find ways to get your needs met in other ways rather than continuing to chase what may never be.

This is a hard pill to swallow, and I admit that I cringe a little when I write it. Therapy is not always warm and fuzzy, and I wish that I did have that magic pill that my clients sometimes request :) I believe that people can change, but each individual has to be moved by their own motivation to do so. If your mother/father/sibling/significant other does not provide that thing that you want or change a behavior, what do you do?!

First, examine whether there are ways that they do a little of what you want, or if it comes in a different package. When working with couples I often discuss "The Five Love Languages", which in general terms means the way in which people express their love to those around them (e.g., Acts of Service; Physical Touch; Affirmations; Quality Time; and Gifts). More often than not, partners have different love languages and desire that their partner show love in ways that the partner is not most comfortable, and there is dissatisfaction with the love language that is being demonstrated. I personally believe that it is helpful for partners to understand where the other is coming from and be able to better interpret the behavior of his/her partner, which (hopefully) will increase satisfaction with the relationship.

Second, if you find that, no, they do not display any of the behavior that you desire, it may be time to accept that what you want is not going to happen. You may even need to grieve the loss of this hope. This is hard and very disappointing, but I think that it is an important step toward moving forward and getting your needs met in life.

Third, find people who do provide what you need. A single person/relationship will not supply all of your needs (we will discuss relationships at a later date). Thus, it is very important that you find people and relationships that provide what you need so that this desire does not go unmet.

I hope this helps- please feel free to ask questions.