Increasing Realistic Expectations to Decrease Disappointment

Expectations can sometimes lead to disappointment in our relationships. Good news though! We can do something about that!

I don’t always have realistic expectations.  Do you?

I want to be in shape without exercise, and I want to buy more stuff for less money.  I want to accomplish more stuff in less time, and I want to cut it close on arrival times and still get the perfect parking space.  And, yes, I want world peace.

You know it, and I know it—these are not realistic expectations.

Ok.  Your turn.

What are some of your unrealistic expectations?

Ever have unrealistic expectations toward your loved ones?

Unrealistic expectations, of course, don’t end with price tags and parking spaces.  It’s fairly common for us as people to have unrealistic expectations about how our loved ones should think, feel, and act.  For example, we sometimes unrealistically expect our children to act more adult-like than they’re developmentally capable of acting.  We want them to sit still, whine less, and make less mistakes.  And, what about our significant others?  We know we’re two very different people, but nonetheless, we sometimes unrealistically expect them to agree with us, handle problems the way we do, and attend to our needs in just the way we believe they should.

Isn’t it normal to have expectations?

Yes!  Expectations are a normal part of being human.  After all, we naturally tend to want more of the good stuff (e.g., ease, peace, love, accomplishment) and less of the not-so-good stuff (e.g., challenges, conflict, anger, failure).

Where we go wrong is…

We want all the good stuff (convenience, compliance, agreement, and affirmation) with little to no resistance from others and with little to no extra effort on our end.  You know where I’m going with this…these typically aren’t realistic expectations.  People think, feel, and act differently than we do—even our closest loved ones.  And, so, as long as we desire them to think, feel, and act just like us, the more likely we are to experience disappointment.

Realistic expectations decrease disappointment!

Some of you are reading this thinking, “So, I just shouldn’t expect anything of anybody, and I’ll never be disappointed?”  Well, that would be one way of avoiding disappointment, but that is not realistic either.  Remember?  Expectations are a natural part of being human.  Plus, with zero expectations, we and/or our loved ones might not set and achieve important life and relationship goals.  Instead of raising the expectation bar too high, and instead of lowering the expectation bar too low, we have to choose to strive for more realistic expectations—those that we and our loved ones truly can accomplish with reasonable effort.  The more realistic our expectations, the less disappointment we’re likely to experience!

Strategies for increasing realistic expectations:     

  1. Increase your self-awareness.  When you’re feeling disappointed, take time to reflect on the situation.  Ask God, yourself, and trusted others how unrealistic expectations may be playing into your disappointment.   This type of self-check helps us better identify when we are asking too much of others.  If we’re not asking too much, then we can press on in hopes of positive outcomes.  Or, if we are asking too much, we can change our expectations to better match what our loved ones are truly capable of at that moment.
  2. Put yourself in your loved one’s “shoes.”  Ask yourself, “Why isn’t he or she responding to my needs or requests?”  “What might he or she be feeling about my approach to this situation?”  It’s not that our perspective doesn’t matter; it’s just that realistic expectations require us to consider our loved ones’ reality, not just our own.  In doing so, we shift our perspective from a “me” mentality to a “team” mentality, which positively shapes our expectations.
  3. Be patient with your loved ones as you and they work through the current challenge.  By being patient, we are better able to keep calm and work together with our loved ones to accomplish achievable goals.  Besides, we’re not so perfect ourselves and have needed others to be patient with us over time.  We can show that same patience to our loved ones, who also will never be perfect.
  4. Focus on the positive.  We sometimes build up unrealistic expectations when we’re overly focused on the negative.  Actively looking for the good in our loved ones, ourselves, and our circumstances helps us improve our outlook and be more gracious and hopeful in response to shortcomings and difficulties.
  5. Ask for what you need with kindness.  Desiring cooperation and progress toward goals is valid, and again, human.  Withholding our desires or being overly critical of others or ourselves won’t help matters.  Thinking about and expressing our needs in kind ways, however, can help change our attitude from one of “why aren’t you cooperating?” to “I want us to be a stronger team.”

Scripture to live (and love) by…

Books are written on the subject of expectations, and so I’m merely skimming the surface in this blog.  I do hope, though, that you’re at least thinking more about how realistic expectations can decrease disappointment.  You’ll have to try it to see if, in fact, increasing your realistic expectations decreases your disappointment in life.

As you think on this subject, I encourage you to think about Ephesians 4:32, which says, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” If you’re like me, your shortcomings are many!  But by God’s grace, we are forgiven.  In turn, we can afford to show ourselves and others the kindness, tenderness, and forgiveness that God has shown us.


Thanks for reading this installment of Hope to Build On!

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Scripture references in this article are from the New American Standard Bible and linked to