July 11, 2015

Misplaced Expectations

Today, I am reminded of the words of Psalm 27, specifically verse 14 where David writes,

Wait and hope for and expect the Lord; be brave and of good courage and let your heart be stout and enduring. Yes, wait for and hope for and expect the Lord.

Have you ever waited for someone or hoped for something, and then was disappointed when the person didn't show up or the thing didn't come to pass? Misplaced expectations or even just "missed expectations" can be such a source of distress. When we hope for something or look forward to some thing with anticipation, we enjoy the excitement that we feel during the "waiting" period. We like that "tingly" sensation that tells us the thing we are waiting for is so worthwhile that we are eager, almost zealous, for it come to pass. Too often, we place our hopes and our expectancies on people in our life or on things that are outside our control. In this way, we hope for and expect things to come to pass that are either "misplaced" or are so far from the realm of possibility that we set ourselves up for disappointment. We can easily become distressed when we hope for things that are not likely to happen or when we expect individuals in our lives to live up a particular standard (our standard).

Psalm 27 is a wonderful psalm that when read in its entirety reorients our focus so that we remember to whom we are to wait upon, and to whom we are to place our hope and our expectancy.
Psalm 27 
[A Psalm] of David.
1 The Lord is my Light and my Salvation—whom shall I fear or dread? The Lord is the Refuge and Stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?
2 When the wicked, even my enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell.
3 Though a host encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, [even then] in this will I be confident.
4 One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek, inquire for, and [insistently] require: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord [in His presence] all the days of my life, to beholdand gaze upon the beauty [the sweet attractiveness and the delightful loveliness] of the Lord and to meditate, consider, and inquire in His temple.
5 For in the day of trouble He will hide me in His shelter; in the secret place of His tent will He hide me; He will set me high upon a rock.
6 And now shall my head be lifted up above my enemies round about me; in His tent I will offer sacrifices and shouting of joy; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the Lord.
7 Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud; have mercy and be gracious to me and answer me!
8 You have said, Seek My face [inquire for and require My presence as your vital need]. My heart says to You, Your face (Your presence), Lord, will I seek, inquire for, and require [of necessity and on the authority of Your Word].
9 Hide not Your face from me; turn not Your servant away in anger, You Who have been my help! Cast me not off, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation!
10 Although my father and my mother have forsaken me, yet the Lord will take me up [adopt me as His child].
11 Teach me Your way, O Lord, and lead me in a plain and even path because of my enemies [those who lie in wait for me].
12 Give me not up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen up against me; they breathe out cruelty and violence.
13 [What, what would have become of me] had I not believed that I would see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living!
14 Wait and hope for and expect the Lord; be brave and of good courage and let your heart be stout and enduring. Yes, wait for and hope for and expect the Lord.
As we consider the words in this Psalm one thing is clear -- David was in need of a reminder in whom to place his trust. In these verses, specifically verses 2-3, 10 and 12, we see the great obstacles and adversity that David faced. His enemies were encamped around him, he was embroiled in war, and the wicked seemed to be triumphing over him. Furthermore, he was suffering false witness and isolation. He was in a bad place, alone, and feeling as though his life was one long battle, raging on and on, without any end in sight. He was losing his hope. Yet, rather than settling down into despair, David remembers that his refuge and rock is the Lord. He also remembers the promises of the Lord to never leave him, and that despite the lack of a way out of his troubles, he recalls the truth of the Word that says that God does have a plan and a path for those who walk in obedience to the Lord's commands. David was faithful, and he was attentive to the Word. He still struggled with overwhelming circumstances, yet in everything, he turned to the Lord with zealous hope and expectancy, looking to the One who was able to rescue him from all his troubles.

The feeling David describes in verse 14 is the same feeling we are to have as we wait for and hope in the Lord to deliver us from all our circumstances. The Word in the Psalms encourages us to not lose our hope, but to be patient and wait for the goodness of the Lord (and the eventual return of the Lord, our Messiah). Our hope and our expectation is to wait in the Lord, to be brave, and to be of good courage. I love the Amplified when it says to "let your heart be stout and enduring" because it brings to mind a word picture, well rather, a silly little children's song "I'm a Little Tea Pot,"

I'm a little teapot
Short and stout
Here is my handle
Here is my spout
When I get all steamed up
I just shout
Tip me over & pour me out

I am a very special pot
It is true
Here is an example of what I can do
I can turn my handle into a spout
Tip me over & pour me out

I'm a little teapot
Short and stout
Here is my handle
Here is my spout
When I get all steamed up
I just shout
Tip me over & pour me out

I am a very special pot
It is true
Here is an example of what I can do
I can turn my handle into a spout
Tip me over & pour me out


Whenever I think of something being stout, I imagine a little teapot that is sturdy, round, and well-centered. It is able to do the work it has been designed to do because its maker has created it to be useful and functional. What's more, it understands its role and function well so that it is able to do the work with ease. Yes, the little sturdy and stout tea pot knows its job well, and it performs consistently and without hitch.

Oh, how I wish this were the case for all of God's creation, for all of God's children. So often, the people I meet are confused about their role and function in this life. So often, the believers I talk with simply do not grasp their purpose or the reason why God has made them. And, since they do not understand their purpose, their role, and their function, they are unable to perform the work the Lord has designed them to do. The wander around aimlessly, often crying out to the Lord, begging Him to reveal to them this information so that they can feel good about themselves, they can find their worth, their value, and know that they are loved. Yet, often, this basic information has been made known to them, but because of misplaced and misguided expectations, many of the Lord's children suffer needlessly. Rather than finding their fulfillment in the Lord, they are seeking fulfillment in people, places, and things. They place their hope and their expectancy in everything EXCEPT for the Lord.

Misplaced Expectancies Ruin Relationships

One of the primary reasons why relationships fail is misplaced expectancies. When one or both individuals places expectations on the relationship (as in standard) or on each other, the relationship suffers under the crushing weight of perfection. This is a common complaint among couples who come in for counseling; the man or woman, come to counseling because they feel their partner is not "keeping up" with what he or she expected of them. Perhaps there are legitimate issues at play, a lack of financial resources or a job schedule that causes a disproportionate shift in responsibilities in the home. Perhaps it is need of attention, a deep need to feel wanted, desired, or needed by one or both parties. This deep need, when not met, causes emotional harm which leads to difficult communication and a fracture in trust and harmony in the relationship. Counselors will often work with couples to help them understand that whenever we place expectations on an individual we give to them a much higher measure of importance in our life. We look to them to meet a need, to fill a job, or to perform a task because in doing so we receive valuation from their efforts. So for example, if a woman expects a man to call her at a certain time and he doesn't do this, the woman may feel slighted or even assume she is not worth his time (he has chosen to do something else or spend time elsewhere). This feeling of expectation says to the woman: "He doesn't consider my time important. He doesn't think I matter to him." Now, while this may be untrue, the expectation the woman had is left unmet, and the emotional fulfillment she attached to it is returned to her void. She believes this is true, even if it is not, and she suffers distress because what she expected to happen, didn't happen, and she assumes the worst.

Misplaced expectations ruin relationships simply because they place burdens that were not meant to be placed on individuals who were not meant to carry them. 

Cudworth (2012) says it this way, "Our expectations of others are set by our own rules and standards, and when people don’t perform to our standards, we become disappointed" (Colsoncenter.org, 2012). The problem happens we take the internal rules that we follow and expect others to follow suit. We assume that other people, our co-workers, our family, our friends, all have the same understanding of the rules and standards we set for ourselves. In essence, we play the game according to our own rules, while other people are playing the game by their own rules. It would be like two teams set to play a game, but one team shows up ready to play American football and the other to play European soccer (same game, "football," but played completely differently depending on the origin of the team). The rules we create give order and purpose to our lives (Cudworth, 2012), and thus they can be good and useful within their proper context. However, when we take our rules and expect others to live by them, we end up with a major point of contention and disagreement. Cudworth states, "The bottom line is, we go through life putting misplaced expectations on people which cannot possibly be fulfilled by man in his fallen nature, or by the institutions he creates to give order and purpose to his life" (Colsoncenter.org, 2012).

Smalley, Smalley, Smalley and Paul (2004) talk about unmet expectations in their book, "The DNA of Relationships." The authors zero in on a critical component of expectations when they connect expectations to emotional fear. They write, "We have come to realize that when a conflict stirs powerful emotions of hurt and want, it also touches specific fears" (p. 48). The authors note 25 specific wants and fears, those that most commonly plague relationships in the book. In sum, however, they note that of these 25 wants and fears, all seem to resolve around human desire for connection and for control. They state, "Our deepest fears, then, are the fear of losing connection and losing control" (p. 50). Furthermore, the authors write about what they call the "fear dance," or the emotional approach a person takes whenever their "fear button" has been pressed.
When someone pushes your fear button, you tend to react with unhealthy words or actions calculated to motivate the other person to change and to give you what you want. Often your reaction triggers the core fear of the other person, who then reacts with unhealthy words or actions to try to get you to fulfill his or her wants (p. 51).
This emotional fear dance is a common scenario in relationships damaged by the cycle of abuse or abandonment. Men and women react differently when their fear button is pressed. Men often withdraw to avoid conflict. Rather than deal with the difficult situation, they will "flee" so that they do not have to deal with the issue either physically or emotionally. Withdrawing, according to the authors, "almost always taps a woman's fear of disconnection" (p. 51). Women, on the other hand, may react in different ways, using behaviors such as belittling, escalation, or complaining. It is important to note that all humans participate in the fear dance. The authors state that this is a result of the "legacy of sin" inherited from the Garden (p. 52). The problem is not so much that we engage in this unhealthy pattern of behavior, but rather that we find comfort in the routine (p. 53). We live in what the author's call a state of "functional dysfunctionality" (p. 57). The root cause of this "dance," is that we seek our dependency upon other people, we look to other people to meet and fill needs that only God was designed to do. They write, "One of the worst things about the Fear Dance is that, eventually, it makes us dependent on other people for our happiness and fulfillment" (p. 57).

The authors state that almost all couples who come to counseling will recognize these unhealthy patterns of interaction, and they will quickly realize their own "fear triggers." The key to breaking the cycle of the dance is to accept the fact that we all have a need, a deep need to be wanted, to be loved, to be respected, and to be valued, but that the only person capable of meeting our deepest human need, is God. Once a couple realizes that this need can only be filled by God, they are able to work towards breaking through behaviors and patterns of interaction that cause the flow and rhythm of the dance to continue (p. 58).

Recognizing My Fear Triggers

I am guilty of participating in the Fear Dance. I admit it, I do. I have a lifetime of experience where my needs were unmet by parents, friends, teachers, siblings, coworkers, bosses, and spouse. Yes, my life over the course of 53 years has accumulated a lot of unhealthy behaviors and patterns of interaction that have lead me to dance freely to the rhythm of fear.

For me, the most influential experience in my life has been my separation and divorce from my husband of 25 (nee 30) years. This painful experience forced me to be dependent on God, and through that process of separation, I have learned to place my hope and my expectations in God alone. Well, most of the time. In theory, all the time. In practice, well, you get the picture...it is hit or miss. I know my fear triggers well because they were formed in childhood, confirmed when I was a teen, and empowered throughout the course of my married life. Yes, my greatest fears are disconnection and losing control.

My ex-husband was emotionally distant, and as a result, he disconnected from the relationship whenever he felt emotionally or physically challenged. This meant that he withdrew from me regularly, either by fleeing to sports events, games, and other outside activities or by tuning me out by watching TV, listening to tapes, or reading a book. He simply turned off at the first sign of conflict. His behavior, therefore, triggered my fear of disconnection. I responded by escalation, care taking, and over-functioning (each is described below).
  • Escalation occurs when "your emotions spiral out of control; you argue, raise your voice, fly into a rage" (p. 51).
  • Care taking occurs when "you become responsible for others by giving physical or emotional care and support to the point where you are doing everything for your spouse, and your partner does nothing to care for him or herself" (p. 51).
  • Over-functioning occurs when "you do what others should be doing, and you take responsibility for them" (p. 51).
As such, whenever there was conflict in the relationship, my ex-husband would withdraw emotionally and physically, and in order for me to seek connection, I would take care of his needs and wants to the point where I took responsibility for things that were not mine to take. This pattern of interaction was repeated whenever there was conflict, and as such, we spent years dancing to this same song. I did try to break the cycle of behavior through several counseling sessions, but since my ex-husband didn't see his behavior as the problem, nothing ever improved in our relationship. Thus, to keep the peace on our household, I became adept at meeting all his needs and wants, and taking on roles and responsibilities that were outside the parameters of God-designed and ordained marriage.

Now that I am single, and involved in a long-distant relationship, it is important that I understand that while I am not actively engaged in the Fear Dance anymore, my triggers are still active, though less often pushed. Still, I need to be aware of what triggers can cause my button to be pushed, and I need to remember that the only way I can keep from reacting negatively to conflict is to reorient my expectations away from my relationship and partner, and back to the One who is capable of meeting my needs with all sufficiency.

Most recently, I experienced a minor conflict and as a result, I found myself behaving in unexpected ways. I wasn't aware of what I was doing, but on reflection, I see that I allowed my fear button to be pressed, and I reacted negatively because I sensed a loss of connection. In some ways, I reverted to the behavior I was used to using in my relationship with my ex-husband. I panicked, and I over-reacted because I was afraid that I was being treated the way my ex regularly treated me. The emotional hurt that was associated with the fear escalated, and I became angry over what I thought was happening to me. In fact, it was nothing of the sort, yet my fear trigger reacted, my button was pushed, and I behaved in a way that negatively impacted my evening.

It is important for me to understand why I react the way I do. It is also important for me as a Communications scholar, to understand how patterns of interaction are so integral to creating successful relationships. Interpersonal communication is vital to the health of a relationship, and unfortunately, so many people engage in "functional dysfunctionality" without ever thinking it is not-normal, not healthy, and not the recipe for success in relationship.

Now that I am more aware of my triggers, I know that I must always place my hope and expectancy in the Lord. This is why Psalm 27 was such an important read for me today. I needed to read and rest in the words as David wrote them. I need to be reminded that my hope and my expectancy can only be fulfilled by the Lord. He is my sufficiency, He is my hope, He is my rock and my redeemer. Selah!

Dear Lord,

Thank you for helping me to see how negative patterns of interaction can linger even after years away from a dysfunctional relationship. Thank you for helping me to see how to break the cycle, how to stop interacting in negative ways so that my relationships (all my relationships) are healthy and God-honoring. I ask today that you help me, continue to help me be aware of any patterns of interaction that do not glorify you so that I can receive healing from your Holy Spirit, and I can repent of these actions. I thank you for your constant support, your devotion to my well-being, my whole being, so that I can live, work, and do all that you are calling me to do. I ask for forgiveness and for restoration so that I can engage in healthy and vital relationships with those that you bring to me. I want to glorify your Name, and to honor you in everything I do. May your Name be praised today, and forevermore. Selah!

References

Cudworth, G. (2012, December 3). Disappointed Expectations. Retrieved from https://www.colsoncenter.org/the-center/columns/call-response/18880-disappointed-expectations

Smalley, G., Smalley, G., Smalley, M., & Paul, R. (2004). The DNA of relationships. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.

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