So many of life's disappointments come from unspoken expectations. How can we let them go?
When I look back at bitter experiences in my life with the benefit of some distance in time, they no longer bother me as much. I once read a motivational meme that made a lot of sense to me:
“Time heals everything, except the time you’ve wasted waiting for the time to pass to heal everything; you would have lived more if you hadn’t waited so long.”
This pearl of wisdom, which I even wrote down, seemed to me a very shrewd observation. When we look to the future, our lives move on, new opportunities appear, work prospers, and relationships flourish. When we find ourselves trapped in resentment, perhaps against someone we love—a romantic interest, a spouse, another family member, or friends—it becomes more difficult for new relationships to be established and for our life to prosper and grow happier. We’re trapped in that still-unhealed emotional injury, “like an exposed wound,” a wise friend once told me; an exposed wound that still throbs with pain.
Of course, a lot of reflection—and sometimes even therapy—is needed to heal our wounds and assimilate the sorrows of the past. The less time we lose in this process, however, the more time we will have to enjoy the most sacred thing at our disposal: life. In my experience, the quickest shortcut to healing from past wounds is forgiveness.
In order to be able to forgive, we need to be able to recognize how much of that suffering is the responsibility of the other person, and how much of it we inflicted on ourselves: It may be pain resulting from the frustration of our own unrealistic or unjust or unspoken expectations. Often, we need to lift at least some of the blame from the other person and understand, accept, and take responsibility for the disillusionment we experience. Painful though it is to acknowledge, we are not as innocent and objective as we generally like to imagine.
Here’s a personal example that illustrates this kind of mistake well: In college, I often felt frustrated with a friend when he wouldn’t agree to accompany me to parties. Who was responsible for this expectation? He was an individual with his own interests and opinions who had the right to chose not to go out on a certain night.
The same applies to occasions when I used to feel angry at my girlfriend (now my ex) who didn’t want to accompany me to social events—something I unconsciously thought was her obligation, even though logically it was not. In relationships, we have to take into account other people’s feelings and emotions, and we cannot judge, accuse, or condemn another person for the way they feel.
Indeed, neither we nor they are perfect. Each of us has our own limitations and emotional issues, and rarely will we all see a given situation in the same way. Others cannot imagine—nor should we demand they automatically satisfy—everything we expect from them. We should respect their free will and feelings, just as we expect them to respect ours.
I’ve had a much healthier relationship with my parents since I decided to forgive them for whatever sorrows I felt they may have inflicted on me in the past. I tried to understand that most (if not all) of the time, they did not act with the intention of hurting me. They are the product of other times, other values, and other worldviews. I enjoy my relationship with them much more since I came to understand and respect who they are, not who I might wish them to be. It makes more sense to deal with them and enjoy them as they are, than to waste time, emotional investment, and energy expecting something from them that doesn’t match who they are.
It’s a healthy exercise to observe others to discover what they want and who they really are, rather than to look only for what I expect from them. Since doing this, I get angry and frustrated with others much less, and also I learn from whatever unique gifts and lessons that person has to offer me, even if they are unexpected and require dialogue and a process of understanding.
We need to realize that by acknowledging our unspoken expectations and others’ freedom, not judging them when they choose differently than we want, and forgiving them, it is we who gain new life and leave the past behind. God sets the example (Isaiah 43:25) : “I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.”
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