3 Ways To Manage Unrealistic Expectations

Learn how to prevent disappointment by managing unrealistic expectations. Here are tips on how to successfully get through any situation!

Neil and I have fought about something every Christmas that we have been together. It took me a couple years to realize why Christmas Day, a day that holds some of my best memories and brings me the most excitement, could ever be anything aside from magical and wonderful.

I take most of the blame for these fights, although if you had asked me who ruined Christmas shortly after they happened, I would most certainly tell you I had nothing to do with it. Things would start out fine—making a special Christmas breakfast followed by presents. The first year the fight started during breakfast which really set the day off to a great start. What it took me a few Christmases to figure out was that the real root of each fight was my unrealistic expectations.

I loved Christmas as a child. I woke up, hurried downstairs, got surprise gifts from Santa and a homemade stocking full of candy and even more gifts. It was a time when I felt like my family came together and enjoyed our time together. Even as I got older and entered college, there were still those surprise Santa gifts and stockings full of goodies.

When I moved in with Neil, I expected Christmas to stay the same. I expected that he enjoyed showering people with gifts as much as I did, I expected that he possessed as much excitement over Christmas morning as I did, and I expected that he just knew how much it meant to me. In reality, he did not grow up with as much Christmas fervor as I did. His was celebrated on a smaller scale and he didn’t put nearly enough weight on it as I did.

That first year, as much as I knew I wouldn’t wake up to stockings full of candy and Santa gifts, I still held that expectation. And as much as I tried to recreate the magic of Christmas morning in my adult life, those years had passed. Rather than accept that fact, I became disappointed and angry and took it out on the person closest to me. I blamed him for ruining Christmas because he wasn’t as excited as I was or something having to do with putting chocolate chips in my pancakes when I just wanted a regular one. DISASTER.

Throughout life, not only during the holidays, possessing or trying to live up to someone else’s unrealistic expectations causes much more damage than good. Since it is Christmas Eve after all, I decided to share that specific anecdote with you. Now I want to take the time to tell you the most important things I’ve learned in managing expectations.

1. Communication is key

Going back to Christmas, I realized that I never communicated any of these expectations to Neil. He had no idea that I wanted Santa to surprise me with extra gifts or that I expected him to be PUMPED about opening presents. He didn’t know I expected him to treat that day like the BEST DAY EVER MADE. (Sidenote: I’ve calmed down these expectations for myself since then as well).

This was the first year that I actually communicated my expectations about the holiday. We don’t even give each other gifts for a lot of occasions, but for this one I told him it would mean a lot to me if he put some thought into a gift, even if it was something basic like running socks that I need. I no longer want a stocking full of candy (although that would be delicious), but I do want us to treat the day with a little more attention than every other day.

If you don’t take the time to communicate your expectations, you set yourself up for disappointment. People can’t read your mind, so if you expect something from someone, let them know. I can’t tell you how key this first tip is.

2. Be realistic

In communicating those expectations, be realistic. It’s not realistic for me to demand that Neil shower me in gifts, make me a glorious meal, and figure out every single thing that I’ve been dropping hints about. It’s also not realistic for me to think that Christmas as an adult is going to be the same for me as Christmas as a child. Be realistic about your expectations of others, but also be realistic for yourself. This last one can sometimes get tricky and involves really looking inwards.

3. Don’t assume

This last one is related to communication. Don’t ever assume that someone else knows what you are thinking, even if you think it is so obvious that he or she must know. I can’t tell you how many times I have made this mistake with friends, family, and obviously Neil. The only one who knows what’s going on upstairs is you and it’s your responsibility to let other people know.

Also make sure not to assume in the other direction as well. Always ask questions to make sure you know exactly what people are expecting of you. If, for example, you are attending a party, make sure to ask things like if you can bring anything, what the dress code is, and if you’re allowed to bring someone not specifically invited. Taking these simple steps will ensure that there is no miscommunication and you don’t end up being the fourth person to bring the same dessert.

Remember, even though I made this post holiday-themed, these points are important during every other day of the year. Following these simple tips will help ease a lot of stress and ensure that everyone is on the same page.

With that being said, I hope everyone has a great Christmas Eve if you are celebrating and I’ll see you all tomorrow!

Thanks to Amanda for letting me think out loud.

Questions:

  • Has this ever happened to you?
  • Do you have any other suggestions to help manage expectations?
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20 Comments

    • erinsinsidejob
      December 27, 2015 / 8:57 am

      #truth

  1. December 24, 2015 / 8:00 am

    Communication is key and even when you do communicate it does always come out the way we want it to. Relationships are harder than they look and people are not honest about how hard they really are. I honestly can’t imagine how hard. Now that I’ve lived alone for so long, I don’t know if I could do it. I love your honesty and rawness Erin.
    Megan @ Skinny Fitalicious recently posted…Mom’s Skinny Gingerbread Pancakes {GF, Low Cal, Vegan}My Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      December 27, 2015 / 9:00 am

      Oh you can do it as long as you decide you want to! You’re definitely right though it’s way harder than it looks haha

  2. December 24, 2015 / 8:06 am

    Oh I think you totally hit the nail on the head. And this extends way beyond Christmas. This is just great marriage advice. Most arguments come from unfulfilled expectations but if the other person doesn’t know your expectations, how are they to fill them.
    Jen @ Pretty Little Grub recently posted…Thinking Out Loud #52My Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      December 27, 2015 / 9:00 am

      Yeah it can work it all relationships too, including family and friends!

  3. December 24, 2015 / 8:36 am

    What a great post. This definitely happened to me in past relationships with birthdays. If I could/wanted to go back in time, I’d encourage my younger self to communicate those feelings instead of just feeling guilty and embarrassed about wanting to celebrate my birthday, but live and learn.
    Jess @ Keeping It Real Food recently posted…Thinking Out Loud: More Healthy SwapsMy Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      December 27, 2015 / 9:01 am

      Yes! I think birthdays are the next thing on my list to speak out about haha

  4. December 24, 2015 / 10:05 am

    I think that communicating and really lowering my expectations, having more ‘desires’ instead of expectations has been one of the best things for me to not be disappointed by unfulfilled expectations. IF I look at everything as a blessing from God, then I don’t get disappointed if I don’t get something.
    Emily recently posted…WIAW: My Favorite Parts of ChristmasMy Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      December 27, 2015 / 9:01 am

      Great outlook!

  5. December 24, 2015 / 10:43 am

    I couldn’t have written something VERY similar about expectations and expecting the other person to be a mind reader. I’ve had many tear filled Christmasses because they didn’t live up to my secret expectations.
    Ange @ Cowgirl Runs recently posted…Merry Christmas (and thank YOU!)My Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      December 27, 2015 / 9:03 am

      Right? Glad I’m not the only one!

  6. Boriqua tainohawk
    December 24, 2015 / 3:56 pm

    re:#2. be realistic

    if you are expecting that from someone then show by example… granted it may take the year but by the time the holidays roll around again, your husband just may get the gist and decide he doesn’t want to be the only one getting that kind of treatment and join in for your sake… so don’t think that you must give up on what you like… set the example and you will find out if you have to do what you aforementioned… never give up on yourself…. you are who you are, but your husband will set the tone for what is… so at least let him know what you like by example, then correct yourself by what he doesn’t like… otherwise; you’ll always end up disappointed by learned behavior….

    • erinsinsidejob
      December 27, 2015 / 9:04 am

      Good points! This Christmas went very well because we both made our expectations nice and clear 🙂

  7. Diana
    December 25, 2015 / 9:46 am

    Great post. And #2 really hit home for me this week. I had a MAJOR (think hysterical crying) meltdown because Christmas rental cabin check-in was late by 2.5hrs. Yes, I was in a car with two dogs for 3hrs longer than I wanted to after cold hike in the snow. But really not the end of the world. Not freezing to death. Could have gotten pizza or coffee which would have made my mood infinitely better. Also, I have the luxury of weekend away. Poor boyfriend, mom, cabin rental person also stuck. But at the time I struggled to put in perspective and instead acted like a two year old. And now sad because of it. #winning I think part of the problem is while I can communicate, I struggle identifying what I need. Good for you for realizing you want Christmas to be a big deal and telling your husband.

    • erinsinsidejob
      December 27, 2015 / 9:05 am

      It’s ok. The point is that you felt those feelings and realize now what you could have done differently. That introspection is good because there’s some people who just act that way and take no time to reflect on it. I hope you had a great Christmas after that!

  8. December 25, 2015 / 3:15 pm

    YES! Communication is SO BIG. I’ve gotten upset with Ray for not “knowing” how I feel or being able to freaking GUESS at what I want, but that’s not fair at all. I assumed that he would know because I figured that if I were him, I would know, and that’s completely irrational and incorrect!
    Jess @hellotofit recently posted…5 Holiday Recipes to TryMy Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      December 27, 2015 / 9:07 am

      Wouldn’t t be great though? 🙂

  9. December 28, 2015 / 1:01 pm

    this is a pretty incredible post, Erin. Thanks for your vulnerability. I definitely have unrealistic expectations in my last relationship — so much of what you’re saying resonates with how I acted as well. But you’re right — communication is KEY. People aren’t mind-readers 🙂
    Lauren @ ihadabiglunch recently posted…Honey Butter Fried ChickenMy Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      December 29, 2015 / 7:36 pm

      It would be so much easier if they were though!

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