Have you ever experienced having someone upset with you and you had no idea what they were upset about? I suspect it’s happened at least once. It’s not a great feeling. It can be confusing and it can cause further misunderstandings if you don’t take the time to dig into what’s really going on.
Why is that your responsibility you may ask. It’s not. But if you value the friendship, you may be able to help the other person communicate more effectively by pointing out that you were unaware of their need. By taking that extra step you can help enrich the relationship.
Can you think of a time when you were in a similar situation but the roles were reversed? Many women run into this and they have no idea why people are always disappointing them. Why can’t that person, friend, partner, boss be more like me?
With this article, I hope to clear up some of the confusion. As you go through life, you get used to doing things a certain way. You think certain thoughts, you’re conditioned to behave in a certain manner. You may have been taught socially acceptable behaviors or you may have been left to fend for yourself.
Wherever you are on that spectrum, it’s where you are. The challenge comes when you expect that other people should think or behave in the same way. In your mind, it’s just the way things are. What’s wrong with that person that he didn’t hold the door for me? Why would she just walk by when she could clearly see that I was struggling and needed help? How could he say such things when it’s so rude?
Here’s why and how. First, he/she is not you and wasn’t brought up the same way you were. You were taught it’s socially acceptable to hold the door for the person in back of you so it doesn’t slam in their face. He may not have been taught that lesson. In your mind, when it happens, you tell yourself he’s rude or he must be anti-feminist or he thinks you don’t deserve the same courtesy he does.
In your mind a story is crafted and it grows by leaps and bounds when it’s allowed to run on. When he lets go of the door and you have to catch it you say something sarcastic like, “Gee, thanks, I don’t need a man to hold the door for me.” And you spend the rest of the afternoon being upset about that rude person who didn’t hold the door. Meanwhile, he went on his way, has no idea that he did anything offensive and you aren’t even a blip on his radar. What’s wrong with this picture?
What’s wrong is that you had an expectation that a total stranger would know what was going on in your mind. I’m not judging you for that. Chances are, you were conditioned to feel this way. It’s possible your mother or other women in your family before you reacted the same way to similar situations so naturally, it’s something you will emulate.
But what if there was a different way that could keep you out of the anger/resentment phase. What if you could go on with your day without a thought to the split-second incident that took over? There is a way and you can.
In pretty much everything I write about, I mention awareness. This is no different. It takes awareness. In this case, the awareness has to do with your expectations and how realistic they are. Again, no judgment here. Expectations are a big part of life. We expect that when we work for someone there will be a paycheck involved. We expect that when the traffic light turns red, cars will stop so we can cross the street. These are pretty much a given.
Expressed expectations, though, tend to take a back seat. How well do you express your expectations? And if you don’t express them, how easily are you able to let go of the outcome when it doesn’t meet your expectations? For instance, you work all day, come home and cook so the family can eat. You expect that the kids will pitch in and help clean up. When they don’t, you feel upset that no one seems to appreciate what you do for them.
Would it work better if you say to the kids, “when we finish eating I need you to help clean up”? It might. More likely you’ll hear grumbling and because you’re tired and don’t want to deal with it you tell them “Fine, just go then. I’ll do it.” Here’s where it starts. Yes, you’re tired after working all day. And yes, you don’t have the energy to deal with their whining about having to help. However, if you take the time to enforce your request, you’ll be adding to their training. At least, in this case, if you get upset with them, they’ll know why and may do things differently going forward.
In another example, your husband forgot your anniversary and didn’t plan anything special. Your expectation was that he would sweep you off your feet, take you to a nice restaurant and shower you with gifts. He’s now wondering why you’re in the kitchen slamming things around. He’s afraid to ask so he sits quietly in front of the TV waiting for the storm to abate. After a rough day at work, he can’t handle an upset wife right now.
What could you have done differently to help yourself in these scenarios? In the case of the man who didn’t hold the door, you could stop him and school him on the social graces causing a scene and giving him the impression that he just came across a crazy lady. Or you could tell yourself he didn’t have the benefit of being taught the proper way of doing things and let it go. Letting it go will allow you to enjoy the rest of your day rather than fuming over it all afternoon. Holding onto it will ruin the rest of your day and you’re the only one affected.
As you’re preparing dinner, give the kids a heads up that you’ll expect them to help clean up after you eat. When they whine, stay calm and neutral and don’t back down from your request. This will be tough in the beginning but being consistent in your rules will show them you mean what you say and eventually they’ll do it without being asked. You’ll also be teaching them the value of expressing their needs and in setting healthy boundaries.
Forgotten anniversary? – a week or so before the big day, ask your husband how he’d like to celebrate and tell him what you’d like. Remember, it’s his anniversary, too. Yes, it would be great if he would think to surprise you. But take into consideration where he is with things and weigh both sides. Or if you find yourself in the slamming pots and pans phase, take a breath and calm yourself then tell him why you’re upset and what it would have meant to you if he had made a fuss over you. This will give him a heads up and he may be more mindful next time.
In most cases, when you get upset with someone who didn’t meet your expectations, it’s because the other person either didn’t know or forgot. In effect, you’re expecting them to read your mind. If you give the other person the benefit of the doubt and don’t assume they meant harm, life will begin to go much more smoothly for you.
By voicing your need, even if you believe they “should” know, you’re setting yourself up for a better outcome. When you don’t voice your need and you’re disappointed that the person in question didn’t meet your expectations, you’re being unfair to the other person.
Make a resolution today that you will more consistently speak your needs out loud. This is not a guarantee that they will always be met but it will give you a much more realistic picture of where things stand with other people.