There are two basic categories of expectations, realistic and unrealistic, and two applications of each, one applicable for us and one for other people.  Expectations are bound by limitations and capacities.  Each person is capable of thinking and behaving to some degree.  Each person has limits and capacities beyond which they cannot think or act.  Realistic expectations are those that are fair and reasonable and stay within a persons limits or capacity.  Unrealistic expectations are not fair, are not reasonable, and exceed a persons limits or capacity.  A fair expectation is one that a majority of the people would expect and agree upon.  An unrealistic expectation is one that the majority of the people would consider as having exceeded certain limitations or capacities.  A reasonable expectation is one that logic dictates as plausible. An unreasonable expectation is one that logic would consider as illogical.  Expectations are derived from those drivers we possess.  If we feel we “must” or “should” behave this way or that, it can be safely concluded that we expect ourselves to follow this rule.  Let us look at each category and application. 

Real expectations applicable to ourselves:

We all have expectations of ourselves.  There are guidelines that we live our lives by, and as long as these guidelines are fair and reasonable we can certainly expect ourselves to live by these rules.  Everyone has limits and capacities beyond which they cannot go and no one knows our own limitations better than us.  So long as we stay within our boundaries the expectations we have of ourselves are fair and reasonable.

Unrealistic expectations applicable to ourselves:

Remember the chapter on Drivers?  Did you notice how some drivers are healthy for us?  For example, “I should look both ways before crossing a busy street.”  Did you also notice how some are not so healthy?  “I must always have someone in my life.”  There can be no doubt that this is not a healthy driver.  These unrealistic drivers lead to unrealistic expectations, and when this occurs we end up in trouble.  As stated above, no one knows our limitations better than we do and unrealistic expectations often exceed these limits, or are outside the realm of reality.

Realistic expectations of others:

Realistic expectations of others must meet two criterion, they must be both fair and reasonable.  I think we could all agree that in a marriage it is expected that either partner should remain faithful to the other.  That is a reasonable and fair expectation.  Both have entered into an agreement, and both parties have obligations toward the other.  It is fair or reasonable for parents to expect their children to be obedient to reasonable rules.  In many instances in life, there are realistic, fair and reasonable expectations we can have of others.  In examining our expectations of others, we need to be careful not to expect more than a person is capable of giving.  We know our limitations, but this is not always true of our knowledge of others.  A realistic expectation, along with being fair and reasonable, keeps within the boundaries of the person’s limitations, as best as we can know them.

Unrealistic expectations of others:  

In the chapter on Drivers, I mentioned attaching our drivers to people around us.  While in a lot of instances it may be realistic for us to expect people to behave in manners similar to ourselves, we get into trouble when we attach the letter of our drivers to other people’s behavior.  We get into trouble when we say things such as, “They/he/she ‘should’, or ‘should not’ do this or that…” Anytime we use the words “must” or should” when speaking of others we always set ourselves up for disappointment.  People live their lives according to their own “musts” and “shoulds”, and not ours.  Just as it is healthy for us to understand our limitations and stay within these limitations, it is equally healthy for us to know and understand other people’s limitations and stay within these boundaries.  Unrealistic expectations exceed these boundaries.  Knowing other peoples limitations may not always be possible, so we must tread lightly in this area.  Remember that unfulfilled expectations of others lead to disappointment and frustration for us.

Not only is it unfair to expect others to behave as we think they “should”, when we place these expectations on others we tend to take the responsibility for their actions onto our own shoulders.  This is especially true for those we have authority over, or at least think we have authority over.  For example:  The husband who expects his wife to keep the house clean will certainly feel troubled when she does not.  Not only that, but we use these “musts” and “shoulds” to judge others behaviors as well as our own.  When others fail to meet our expectations we feel they have somehow failed us.  In addition, we also feel as though we have failed because we feel responsible for their actions. 

Obviously, the realistic expectations we have, either of others or ourselves are not problematic when properly applied.  It is those unrealistic expectations of others and ourselves that get us into trouble.  So, how do we deal with them?  We apply the same rationale that we applied to those problematic drivers we possess.  We replace the “musts” and “shoulds” with “It would be nice if…but, if not I can still be ok.”  For example, instead of saying, “He should…”, say, “It would be nice if he…” 

Like most things in this world, we get better at things the more we do them.  Give these guidelines some thought, and try replacing “musts” and “shoulds” with “It would be nice if…but if not I can still be ok” whenever possible.  I think you will find the results to be quite positive for you.