Has having an expectation ever gotten you into trouble in a relationship? Expectations can be elusive, that is until they are hitting you or someone else in the head like a 2×4!
Recognizing that you have an expectation is powerful. One might ask, what is powerful about that?
Well, I am going to assert that at the heart of an expectation is a need or desire of your heart. When you become aware of your expectations, you get to take more charge of your life. One does this by asking for what you need and want in your relationships … in a way that works.
I bet we all can relate to being around someone who has had an expectation of us that they didn’t express for one reason or another. How did that make you feel? We might have even been that person. Not expressing or owning expectations tends to not only be risky business but a recipe for disappointment, hurt and dissatisfaction.
We might think if only people could be mind-readers, wouldn’t that make life so much easier? Easier maybe, but there is something we would be missing out on if people could read our minds. Expressing what we need and want and really owning our expectations is a way for us to really be in our power. It also creates an opportunity for intimacy and fulfillment in our relationships.
I have a little story for you.
I grew up in a family where birthdays were a really big deal. My Mom, Cookie is a Leo and this means bigger is better. On the day of our birthdays, like the Von Trapp Family from the Sound of Music, my siblings and Mom would parade into our bedroom in song at 6 AM presenting cards and gifts for the lucky birthday girl or boy to open before we went to school. My Mom was amazing in this way and really went over the top. As a result, the day of my birthday has always felt like a national holiday! A day that I love to receive birthday cards especially.
Fast forward, it is now October of 2019, and I have a new beautiful love in my life named, Rich. He lives in New York and came to visit me for my birthday weekend. We rented a house in the country in Maryland. Wanting to make sure that my birthday weekend was extra special, Rich made sure that beautiful flowers and a special gift arrived at my house 2 days prior to my birthday.
Rich arrived the day before my birthday so we could drive to the house in the country together, get situated, unpack and settle in the for the evening before my birthday. On my birthday morning, he let me sleep in which was lovely. When I woke up he was out working in the living room. I sat up and looked about the bedroom and glanced over on his pillow to see if he maybe left me a birthday card to wake up to … nope, didn’t see one.
I went out to the living room to say good morning. He was dealing with a little bit of a work crisis, so I was content to go back to the bedroom, have some quality time alone and do my morning contemplating journaling and wisdom tarot cards.
Soon it was lunchtime and we shared Dungeness crab, spinach salad and a Moscow Mule for lunch. We did a birthday toast together and with a sparkle in his eyes, Rich expressed how happy he was to be with me on my birthday. Lunch was delicious, but a part of me was really hoping to receive a birthday card from him on my birthday. The day was young, though it was only 1 pm, maybe he was waiting for another moment to give me a card?
Rich was so committed to me feeling celebrated and pampered that he even brought a massage table … wow, lucky me! After lunch, I received a beautiful massage.
Shortly after we went to my sister’s house to have a little family celebration. We got back to our “Love Shack” in the country around 11:30 PM that night. Everything was amazing except for one thing … I had not yet received a birthday card from him.
I could feel the disappointment start to well up in me. I realized in that moment that I needed to deal with myself because if I didn’t, this card expectation was about to spoil an absolutely beautiful weekend. I went into the bathroom by myself, sat on the proverbial throne and began to coach myself!
It went something like this:
Wise Self: “Self, what is really at the heart of you wanting a birthday card?
The Part of Me with the Expectation: “I want to hear how he feels about me in writing on my birthday.”
Wise Self: “Ok, so what if he hasn’t written you a card?”
Part of me with the Expectation: “Well, maybe he could write something on a napkin, paper towel or a piece of paper. He still has time. There is a 1/2 hour left to my birthday.”
I was super grateful that I could conduct a coaching session with myself at this important moment and relatively quickly get to the need and desire of my heart beneath the expectation. The challenge was for me to really make a clean request and to communicate from curiosity rather than assumptions. An assumption might sound like, “I’m disappointed that you did not write me a card and give it to me already.” Oooh, the righteousness in that makes me cringe. I knew that I didn’t want to sound like that.
While still in the bathroom, I went over my options and as far as I could tell I had 3. Option #1. I completely, like no kidding, let go of this expectation to get a birthday card. Option #2. I withhold, withdraw and have a bit of a skunk-like stinky aura around me all weekend indicating something is not right but not directly coming out with it because I was too embarrassed about wanting this card. Option #3. I become vulnerable and communicate and let this expectation become an opportunity for intimacy!
Well, after all the work I have done on myself for the past 25 years from the self-knowledge I now have from studying the Enneagram, Non-Violent Communication, Coaching & Training Certifications to extensive study in various transformational modalities, I just could not with integrity do Option 2, withhold, withdraw and basically ruin a beautiful weekend because I didn’t get a card. Option 2 was out.
Option 1 sounded really good but in that moment I didn’t feel quite enlightened enough to completely let go of the expectation of the card! So what could I do? Surely there was a middle ground. It suddenly occurred to me that I could ask him to write a note on a napkin or piece of paper and that would give him an opportunity to win and I would be honoring what I needed in the asking for what I wanted. I realized that it wasn’t so much that I needed to receive a Hallmark card, what I really wanted was to receive something in writing from him about how he felt about me on my birthday. To be fair to him, it was our first time celebrating my birthday and he is not a mind reader; No one is.
It was 11:30 pm on my birthday and it was not too late. There was still a 1/2 hour left, but I would need to act quickly on Option #3 and communicate!!
I came out of the bathroom praying that what I was about to say would land well. The rubber was about to meet the road. Rich was sitting on the floor in the bedroom. I looked at him and said, “Rich, there is 1/2 hour left to my birthday. I don’t know whether you wrote me a birthday card or you didn’t, but I do know that I would love to receive something in writing from you on my birthday. If you didn’t, would you write something to me on a napkin, paper towel or any piece of paper? I would be happy with any of them.“
Rich looked at me in disbelief that this was really happening and a little like he had been caught with his pants down. I could see what seemed like a million things quickly passing through his head. He replied, “Well, I had a plan.” I, very surprised, replied, “You had a plan?” He said, “Yes, but I can tell it isn’t going to go very well. Give me a minute.” He got up and went into the living room.
Two minutes later Rich came back with a stack of red pieces of paper. Prior to this weekend, he had handmade 55 cards for me!! He had hearts printed on each one and in the center of each heart was a reason he loves to be with me. I was completely and utterly blown away!!
I invited him to sit on the bed with me. I first took a moment to sit with him and breathe together. I realized that I needed to open widely within myself to make room to receive this mind-blowing experience. I picked up one card at a time, read it, looked him in the eyes and gave him a kiss appreciating him after I read each message of love from him. It was one of the most intimate and beautiful birthday card experiences that I ever could have hoped for. I said to him, “I will never forget this as long as I live.”
I was so deeply grateful that I could neutralize my expectation, get to the heart of what I really wanted. If I had stayed quiet, I would have missed out on this unbelievable gift on my birthday. I was also incredibly grateful to Rich, not only because he took the time to create these 55 cards for me but because he also let go of his attachment to his plan.
Curiosity then begged me to ask Rich, “May I ask what your plan was?” He said that he wanted to surprise me and was going to give me one card on Sunday and hide the other 54 in my home! He just needed to number all the cards. I later learned that he was raised in a very different way regarding birthdays; They were not such a big deal. As a result, he assumed that any time during “birthday weekend” would work to present me with his birthday card surprise. His plan made sense given how he was raised but the impact of his special gift would have been lost on me given my upbringing.
As far as I can tell, if we are breathing and human, our conditioning impacts how we experience life and the expectations that we have. With self-knowledge and communication tools, this does not need to be a problem. On the contrary, this can become an opportunity to create a communication bridge between you and the ones you love which will allow you to get your needs and the desires of your heart met.
While this story has an incredibly happy ending and Rich will forever be my Birthday Card Hero, the source of my empowerment was truly found in my ability to go inside, get to the heart of what was hidden in the expectation, identifying what I really wanted and then asking for it. You can do this too!
Empowerment happens when we open up, communicate and realize that we are not alone. One step at a time, we heal ourselves and create a ripple effect of hope and possibility for all. In that spirit, I would love for you to share in the comments your experience with expectations and the challenges they have created in your relationships.
Please reach out to me if you are curious or inspired to develop new abilities within yourself.