Is it possible to expect love and respect which are straight from God's Word, and see those expectations cripple relationships? Does the principle of freedom in relationships mean expectations are bad for relationships? If the word “mutual” in a definition of a GR8 relationship drives people to focus on the other person, then that would imply expectations are bad. Is that true?
No, not true. To gain a better understanding, start with the definition of expectations –
- The act of expecting, eager anticipation, something expected
- Anticipating with confidence of fulfillment
Some synonyms are “hope, outlook, hopefulness.” Most of the other synonyms are positive also, even when considered for a relationship. So, from the actual meaning of the word, expectations are good for relationships. I can have expectations of you, and you can have expectations of me. That would mean we have hope, an eager anticipation of something happening in the future.
But expectations too often cripple rather than help relationships, which means it would be helpful to identify when expectations Help and Hurt.
Expectations can help relationships when they…
- Involve All Parties – The expectations may not be the same for everyone, but each person has expectations that fit their role. Additionally, the expectations serve to benefit the relationship rather than any one individual.
- Identify Clear Boundaries – Expectations identify the limits, norms, guidelines, and rules that will give the relationship the best chance for success. Staying inside the boundaries means sacrificing some of the freedoms you would have if not in this relationship.
- Include Clear Consequences or Outcomes – If only the boundaries are described, they have no “teeth.” Those “boundaries” are mostly a wish or a hope and are meaningless to those who are not driven to be self-governing. When you have clear consequences (positive or negative), it aids the focus of both you and the people affected. Clarity of the punishment or reward is always great as long as you are not using them to manipulate people.
- Inspire Self-governance – The foundation of inspiring self-governance means the expectation will benefit all parties involved. Self-governance is not dependent on receiving benefits but is encouraged. Expectations that are met or boundaries that are not crossed are a measure of personal responsibility, accountability, trustworthiness, and numerous other great values. And, for those desiring to enhance self-governance, expectations provide targets or opportunities for additional growth.
- Instigate Service – The outward manifestation of self-governance can often be seen in the increased capacity to serve others. Meeting the expectations of others is often a choice to focus on serving them and not yourself. Your thoughts of serving may be motivated by a flashing ME. If that is true when you are “serving,” it is most often a form of trying to please. Of course, that tends to be short-lived if you receive inadequate recognition. “Pleasing” tends to benefit you more than the other person, while “serving” tends to benefit the other person more than you. When truly serving, your desire to meet expectations provides practice in sacrifice and humility.
Without expectations, guidelines, rules, or norms of behavior, there will be chaos. Expectations are quite helpful as long as they are used correctly.
Expectations most often cripple relationships when they…
- Focus on Others – The expectations are in place to reinforce a structure of privilege for the few or just you. You create expectations for others, but discount or prevent any expectations from being assigned to you. This creates an atmosphere of privilege or an attitude of being served rather than serving.
- Focus on Control – Boundaries that do not provide reasonable and appropriate freedom to act are more about control, removing freedom, rather than encouraging and developing self-governance.
- Focus on Judging – The expectations may be well-meaning but are written to demand judgment of another person’s behavior. This promotes finger-pointing, divisiveness, and reduced self-governance. It would be like the Lord asking a husband to determine if his wife was respecting him and asking the wife to determine whether her husband was loving her. That would encourage a focus is on what OTHERS are not doing rather than what YOU are not doing.
- Focus on Freedom – If you put freedom at the top of the values list, not love, then you may believe it is wrong to have any expectations of other people and, they definitely have no rights putting expectations on you. Freedom operating alone does not pursue the best for others (love). When you do pursue the BEST for others, you will promote and encourage freedom and you limit your own freedoms that may create harm to others or are inappropriate and irresponsible.
In summary, remember the definition of freedom – acting without force or manipulation; not controlling or being controlled. On the one hand, expectations can be used as a tool to control. On the other, a great tool to help people grow. It is dependent on the intent of your heart, which God knows.