I have been thinking further about expectations and how to put them into a context so we can better understand them. As a Santa Cruz psychotherapist I have been thinking about my own expectations and noticing those of others around me, friends and clients. Our world-view is established by so many different experiences, relationships and situations. We bring our world- view into all aspects of our life. If we have been treated as if we have no value then we expect this from work, family, relationships even the supermarket cashier. We go into these situations with preconceived notions that will often trigger the reaction we expect and then we often say, “see this always happens”. I see people who can become anxious about how they are perceived, which then can make them quiet, tense looking or maybe angry looking; others may perceive them as being better then, or having disdain, angry, or unapproachable. The person may experience the others pulling away from them adding to the belief that no one wants to be around me. This is a great place for an intervention an opportunity to talk yourself through the situation and see if maybe there are other possible explanations for the feelings you are having. Maybe an opportunity to understand the origin the belief and how it might have come from someone else and their history and not an accurate representation of who you are. It’s a chance to have a different experience in the same setting and begin to develop a voice that counters the negative voice inside you and may create expectations that cannot be met in that situation.

Through the attachment to our parents or caregivers and the other experiences we have growing up we gather these belief systems about us. I have found one of the goals of therapy is to learn about these belief systems and understand where they come from and how they influence my life and question if they are real. Someone who comes from a family where they have been neglected could believe that they have been neglected because there is something fundamentally wrong with them. This is where I start to see the role of expectations. I have based my life on these beliefs and I expect you will betray me, leave me, blame me, or whatever it is my belief tells me and I am inclined to hear things in this way when maybe they don’t mean that. We come in with expectations that are not always based in reality and sometimes it’s hard for us to see who the others in our lives really are. Especially in relationships; friendship or romantic, we have these ideas of how things should go that are not always available to us. We believe the person has it to give and is withholding it from us; we should try and be clearer maybe they don’t understand us. So many movies and TV shows will show life as a problem arises, there is a series of misunderstandings and then all gets worked out in the end and everyone is happy. I have found with couples that I work with that most of us come into a relationship (and I am not excluding myself) and we believe there is a right way to do things and if the other isn’t doing it that way they are wrong. Yet if you look at your family history you may start to see the clues of how you were taught how to handle certain things. In my family we always balanced the checkbook and when I became a bookkeeper during school I learned more about managing money, so when my friend never balances her checkbook I can think you are so wrong let me show you how. But unless she wants the help (and she didn’t) then it is none of my business. We all have ways of doing things and often we find ourselves in situations where people do them differently and we need to learn to be tolerant and respectful of other peoples’ ways.

Expectations are not something to be tossed they are something we need to check out. There are certain expectations that we have that are conventional norms or laws. I expect when I go out to drive my car that everyone will follow the rules of the road, but even with these expectations I can’t always be assured it will happen, so they teach defensive driving and you still can’t expect all to go well.


Working with couples expectations I am aware of how we have not been taught how to talk about these personal things It is rare when a couple will come in and say they have explored many of these concepts; how do you pay the bills, how do you manage money, what’s your vision for your life, our life or what are you looking for. I think we do in a general way but when it comes to being with someone long term there are so many things to consider. Couples learn so much about themselves when they start to think what would my perfect relationship look like. I encourage couples to look at their relationship as part business and part romance and that each aspect as to be worked at. It is not often a couple gets together and sits down and says OK this is what I am looking for. I tell couples here is you chance to design the relationship you would like but remember just because you ask for something doesn’t mean the other person is capable of giving it. You have to ask yourself is this request a deal breaker for the relationship or can I live without getting this particular thing from my relationship. What I have found is if you at least know you are not going to get something in particular at least you can stop waiting for it and being so angry. We may also find that what we thought we could tolerate we really can’t so we need to look again at expectations since they are ever changing and need to be revisited often.


We can’t live without them, but it helps when we can discuss them and makes them known.
They help define us and know what we are looking for.
Learning to differentiate from our own expectations and desires and those that come from our history increases the chances of successful relationships,
In any type of relationship stating our expectations gives us boundaries for our relationships, sets goals and defines our roles in the relationship.

Licia Ginne, LMFT 21421


a blog for psychotherapists and those interested in psychotherapy