Last week, I raised the question: When do you confront and when do you accept? The response I got was very interesting. Most people said that it really depends on the situation. I mostly agree. I do feel that many people get this all confused and end up at an extreme – either holding their loved ones to unrealistic expectations and then getting pissed when they don’t meet them or imitating a welcome mat and becoming resentful.
Today I am going to focus on the difference between setting an unrealistic expectation and communicating what you need. I call it the “change your stripes” test. There is a huge difference between asking someone to fundamentally change who they are and just letting someone know what it is you need in this moment. I find a couple examples to be helpful:
1. Expecting me to go on a 14 hour hiking excursion that necessitates using an ice axe because you love it is an unrealistic expectation. If you have met me, you know that the only thing I am doing with an ice axe is carving a vodka luge. Asking me to join you on a short hike more suited to my abilities or discussing the option of taking a hiking trip without me is communicating what you need.
2. Expecting you to magically know that I have had a bad day and need you to greet me at the door with a hug, a glass of wine and a hot bath waiting is bat sh*t crazy. Sending you a text or email with that information several hours before I head home is communicating what I need.
3. Expecting the friend who has been late to every single event you have ever attended with her to be on time for something because she “knows” how important it is to you is asking to attend a closing ceremony for that friendship. Lying to that friend about what time she needs to be there or kidnapping her so she is with you and cannot possible be late is just plain old smart.
Do these make sense?
When we enter into a relationship with someone – it is an as-is contract. There are no promises or warranties that those personality traits that don’t make your top ten are going to disappear because that person is now in a relationship with you. And let’s be honest, that person is putting up with some smelly business to be friends with you as well.
How many of you have heard the phrases:
• “How was I supposed to know?”
• “I thought that’s what you wanted!”
• “I’m not a mind reader.”
• “You should know what I need”
• “Well, he should KNOW!”
• “Why do you insist on leaving the sponge in the sink? Haven’t you noticed that I always put it back in the holder? Why don’t you put it back in the holder!” (What? That one is not so familiar? Hmmmm…)
Somehow many of us end up thinking that if we communicate to someone what we need that our relationship isn’t perfect. That if we have to tell the other person that we need a year off from exchanging gifts, or someone else to figure out dinner, or that Valentine’s Day is going to be really hard this year and you would really appreciate it if people sent you cards, then something is missing. Our perfect partner/ friend/ mother/ sister/etc. should have the magic power to read our mind. That is a ton of CRAP! I can’t be mad at you for breaking the rules if I never laid out the rules clearly and applied them consistently. Well, technically, I guess I could be mad but that would be kind of dumb and really annoying for the other person.
For me, that perfect relationship is the other person who shows up, rides your crazy train, and if I say I need something reasonable, he/she does his/her best to make it happen.
You picked the person because of their stripes – you can’t expect them to erase them mid-stream.