It’s good to set our expectations high isn’t it? There are all sorts of quotes telling us to do just that:
By asking for the impossible we obtain the best possible. -Giovanni Niccolini
High expectations are the key to everything. -Sam Walton
And yet Shakespeare said: Expectation is the root of all heartache.
Having high expectations might be a good thing in terms of knowing what we want from ourselves and our partners….but these expectations can create barriers if we don’t understand what is behind them. One way to gain some insight into the root of our expectations is to take a look at our family of origin. Because our family of origin is the first relationship dynamic we experience, we can — both consciously and unconsciously – develop ideas of how we and our partners should behave. This can be especially true in relation to how conflict is managed. For example, if your family of origin dealt with conflict in ways that were volatile, scary or conflict was discouraged, you might then have difficulty knowing how to address disagreements in your present relationships in healthy and appropriate ways. Instead of learning conflict management skills in your family, you likely would have developed tools and skills for protecting or distancing yourself from these situations. In your current relationship this might appear as expecting your partner to be agreeable all the time, or feeling attacked when your partner brings up difficult topics.
You can ask yourself following questions to better understand your family of origin:
- What roles did your mother/father/guardian play?
- Taking care of finances
- Communicating style
- Child rearing
- Activity and social planning
- Were men’s and women’s roles defined differently? If so, how?
- When you were hurt or scared, who did you run to? How did they respond to you?
- Were decisions discussed or did one person make the decisions?
- What sorts of issues caused conflict or disagreement in your family?
- How was conflict handled by different people in your family?
- How were you affected by conflict between other members of your family?
- Was conflict seen as safe and necessary or negative and unsafe? Explain.
- What emotions or feelings were not okay to express during a conflict? In general, who determined this and how?
- Did each family have different roles during conflict? (e.g. initiator, peacemaker) What was your role?
- What skills did this role teach you?
- How did you cope with conflict or soothe yourself when there was a conflict?
After answering those questions, take a moment to consider how these early experiences may impact your expectations in your current relationship. Are there any roles you may unconsciously be playing or expecting your partner to play? The more clearly you understand your early family dynamics, the more you can begin to choose how you respond in your current relationship… and the more you can be conscious of what roles you might be playing or expecting your partner to play. Through this clarity you can begin to dismantle another potential barrier to connecting with yourself and your partner.