Needs and expectations, giving and taking

Many would agree that in order to maintain a relationship there is usually an expectation of a ‘give and take’ balance, a kind of unwritten contract that I am there for you and you are there for me.

It’s natural that the friendship weighing-scales sway a little to either side at varying times but if it sways too much to one way for too long it often creates problems. We  might start to feel we are being made use of or conversely feel abandoned and like we can no longer trust the support of our friend when we need him/her. Within families there is often an expectation of an unconditional nature about the give and take aspect of the relationship, and by parents to their children the expectation of an almost exclusive unconditionality.

The key word here is expectation. Disappointments in life come from something or someone not living up to a particular expectation. Without expectation of how someone should be or do we can’t be disappointed when they are not. So with regards to the give and take in a relationship, I think it’s important to explore the idea of the expectations we bring into a relationship.

Having explored this for some time within myself I realise my expectations come about partly from my own frame of reference, that is to say what I expect from myself, or how I would consider it right to behave. In any given situation I find I am quick to form an opinion on how I would have done it (better!). I don’t of course take into account all those times I’ve not shown up when it hasn’t even crossed my mind to do so (I don’t believe such times exist since I am blissfully totally unaware of them!).

My expectations also stem from what type of relationship I’ve understood I’ve had with a friend until now. When a friend usually gives a certain amount then I expect that to continue. When I perceive myself to have given a certain amount, I tend to expect to receive that amount in return when I need it.

Expectations are not all evil, we can’t and shouldn’t try to eradicate them, they are an important tool to help us in navigating this life. If we have a long standing friend who we have helped in the past we can make an educated guess that this person might help us out now, but it’s important to be aware that that is an educated guess which forms the basis of our expectation, It’s important we become aware which expectations we bring with us. Being aware of our expectation means that we own it rather than transferring the responsibility of that expectation onto our friend.

If a friend doesn’t meet our expectations we may well feel hurt, angry or disappointed but when we own our expectations and are aware of them then we can understand that it is our own expectation that has caused this suffering, our friend never made any promises. If this happens once then perhaps this new angle allows space for compassion just to realise its not such a big deal, able to forgive ourselves and the friend. If the friend continuously does not live up to the expectation we have of them it might be a time to reevaluate our expectations. Maybe we will no longer expect that person to be our support, or turn up on time, or call.

Awareness of our expectations and what part they play leads to choices; a choice to accept our friend as he/she is and love that friend unconditionally, meaning still showing up for our friend even if he/she does not show up for us in the ‘equivalent’ way; or we could choose to take the opportunity to be open and discuss the situation with our friend opening a possibility for us both to understand and make adjustments; or we could choose to distance ourself from that friend and find others who can fulfil our needs.

It is important though to remember that our needs are still very important and require being met for our own health and wellbeing. Anger and disappointment may well still be healthy and proper emotions to be felt, these emotions signify that something is wrong, needs not being met or boundaries being crossed. But when we expect particular people to meet our needs in particular ways it can and often does cause problems.

Cultivating awareness of our expectations and how they affect us will enhance our ability to see and be grateful for what is given instead of focussing on what we expected to be given that was not. It also gives us the opportunity to love those around us with compassion and an unconditionality when you choose to give in love rather than for what you expect in return.


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