Expectations: the greatest cause of frustration



In life, you are never disappointed by what you find. You are disappointed by what you expected to find. Unmet expectations are the cause of most frustration.

But sometimes, those expectations are invalid. We need to recognize whether our expectations are fair.

Expectations come from a variety of places: school, church, TV/movies, family, friends, etc. Your expectations might be unspoken, and you might have no awareness of them until they are unmet—and by that point, anger or disappointment have moved in.

Remember: Your anger and disappointment are unwarranted if the expectations were not valid in the first place. So what makes an expectation valid?

A valid expectation has four traits (which form the acronym CARS):

C – Conscious: There’s an awareness of the expectation by the other party.

A – Agreed Upon: Both parties agree to the expectation.

R – Realistic: The people involved have the ability and a willingness to do it.

S – Spoken: There has been a clear expression of the expectation.


Unrealistic expectations cause confusion in workplaces, families, neighborhoods, and churches. The violation of expectations can lead to divorces, failed businesses, family tension, and broken relationships. Certain events seem fraught with expectations, including holidays, vacations, family functions, date nights, birthdays, household chores, and weddings.

Think about what you expect from the people around you. Use the list to go through your expectations and decide whether they are valid or invalid. Does everyone know what you expect and have the ability to do what you expect? Have you asked them clearly to do what you expect?

Albert Einstein said that the most incomprehensible aspect about the universe is that it is comprehensible. I believe that is also true about relationships. Many problems in relationships are preventable if we take the time to understand and manage our expectations. Unspoken agreements or expectations have the greatest potential to cause trouble.

I believe you can prevent half of the drama in relationships is by bringing those expectations to the light.

Exercise: Go through a recent, simple expectation you had that went unmet, which made you upset or frustrated. Maybe you didn’t get a birthday card, or someone didn’t return your text, or someone forgot to take out the trash. Ask yourself …

Conscious – Are you aware that you had the expectation?

Agreed Upon – Did the other person to the expectation?

Realistic – Was your expectation reasonable? What evidence did you have that this person could or would do this?

Spoken – Did you clearly express the expectation—or did you just think “they should’ve known”? Note: The words “They should know” come from the pit of hell. Nothing destroys a relationship quicker than the mindset that the people in your life should already know what you believe, think, or feel without you informing them.


Exercise: Use a partner to practice saying these statements, which can help you clarify expectations and assumptions:

· “I’d like to clarify an expectation I have of you. Is this a valid expectation?”

· “I expect … because…. Can we agree to that?”

· “Can I check out an assumption I have of you? Is this true?”


Some examples of these statements in real life:


· “I’d like to clarify an expectation I have of you. I expect you to call me on my birthday and get me a gift or at least a card. Is this a valid expectation?”

· “I expect you to fill up my tank when you borrow my car, because I would do that for you. Can we agree to that?”

· “Can I check out an assumption I have of you? I’m assuming that you didn’t respond to my text because of the argument we had … is this true?”

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