Communicating Expectations: What No One Ever Talks About

Laurent Harnett
October 25, 2023

Expectations, this is a hot topic. “How can I better communicate my expectations to my partner?” is the top contender for the most frequently asked question I get. It is a really great question! There is huge value in being able to communicate your expectations clearly because if you can do that, then the chances of your expectations being met are much higher. I would say that this is part 1 of the expectations conversation, but no one talks about part 2.

Part 2 is what happens when you have been abundantly clear about what you are expecting, you would even consider yourself a master of your words at this point, but they still aren’t met. The truth is there is a whole second factor to communicating expectations that is not talked about, the other person’s listening. Shoot, this is not in your control. Try as you may to set the scene just right so that both of you should be on the same page, sometimes, you still aren’t. So what do you do now?

Here are 4 process questions that can help you overcome the moment when your clearly communicated expectation has not been met.

1. What EXACTLY are your feeling?

This question is not as easy to answer as you think. Emotions are quite complicated. Each of us has primary and secondary emotions. The primary ones, anger, sadness, fear, joy, trust/admiration, surprise, disgust and anticipation (Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions) are the truest descriptor of what you are feeling. The secondary ones, and there are many, are how we have learned to present those emotions. We mainly learn these from the families we grew up in. We learn what is acceptable and what we need to do to get the reactions we want. Awareness of what primary emotion we are actually feeling is key to being able to work through it. Without knowing what you are actually feeling, you will not be able to process why you are feeling it.

2. What about the situation makes you feel that way?

Not only do we learn our secondary emotions from our families, we have also learnt what different actions represent. For example, someone may feel like a present on their birthday represents thoughtfulness and love from the person giving it to them. A different person may see presents as extravagance and wastefulness. We associate deeper meaning with everything. Slamming the door in one family may be no big deal, in a different family that may show a sign of disrespect. Every action we do and every action that is done to us speaks at a deeper level then we usually realize. So, when your expectation was not met, WHY did it make you feel the way you did? What did it represent to you? What is the deeper meaning?

3. Communicate this.

Tell the person what it made you feel and why. This is so fundamental because too often we resort to mind reading. We think that the other person must know exactly what their action meant to us. Even people who have been married for decades cannot mind read with 100% accuracy, especially if they have not had this conversation that we are describing in this article. This conversation is going to be the #1 way you get to know your partner for a lifetime. Never assume your partner knows the full extent of your thoughts and emotions, they probably are just trying to figure out theirs most of the time.

4. Evaluate if you want to keep the meaning.

The wonderful part about being in close relationship with another person is that they will highlight your deeper meanings, usually by imposing their different meanings onto you. This is fantastic because you get to recognize what those meanings are and decide if you want to keep them! Perhaps your family growing up did not have much money so presents on your birthday were seen as wasteful. But, you now have plenty of income and would like to adopt a new meaning for presents. Without a moment of missed expectation you may have never realized your deeper meaning for presents and therefore would unconsciously carry that with you forever!

Missed expectations reveal an opportunity to get to know yourself and your partner if you know what to do. Hopefully this helps you process through moments of disappointment but also help you realize your deepest meanings and allow you and your partner to understand each other at the deepest levels.

Laurent Harnett
October 25, 2023

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