“Too many people think of happiness as something over which they have no control, but that isn’t true. Ironically, it’s people’s definition of and expectations for happiness that undermine their own. The best shot anyone has of being happy—in any domain, but especially in marriage—is to have no expectations. Not high, low, or medium expectations. None. Rather, go with what you get, or with what you’ve already chosen, and create a happy life from that.”
“Worst. Advice. Ever.” So comments a reader. Absolutely right!
You cannot escape expectations. Your emotions are themselves expectations. To claim you have no expectations, you’d have to claim you have no emotions at all!
To demonstrate the absurdity of the author’s claim, imagine if she discovered her husband was cheating on her. I don’t think she’d say, “Well, what business do I have with any expectations? Expecting him not to cheat on me is an expectation.”
Anyone following this advice will have to repress his or her true feelings. People do this in societies with pre-arranged marriages. What happens, in such a society, if you fall in love with someone you’re not supposed to marry? And if you don’t even like the person you’re commanded to marry? Only one option: Emotional repression, with either years of infidelity or profound misery and frustration to follow.
Think of sexually repressive societies, like Victorian England. Mistresses and other extramarital affairs were rampant, probably more than today. Why? Because people (especially women) were not supposed to be sexual, nor to acknowledge sexuality. Ditto for gay and lesbian persons who repress their sexuality and try to be heterosexual when they’re not; it never ends well, and it never did. Repression means dishonesty with yourself. Dishonesty with yourself breeds dishonesty with others.
People, including the author of this quote (supposedly an expert on relationships), misunderstand what emotions actually are. Emotions are a form of thought. When you love someone, you’re simultaneously experiencing a whole bunch of automatic thoughts. “She’s a great person.” “He makes me laugh.” “She’s got integrity, character and I’d be lost without her.” “He’s so smart. He’s so strong, and admirable.”
These are the kinds of thoughts contained in your emotions about someone you love. They’re estimations, or appraisals, delivered to you in a condensed form. We call that form emotions. And thoughts imply expectations. When you appraise someone a certain way, you expect them to act, speak and think a certain way. And that’s a good thing!
Imagine telling someone to go buy a car, without any expectations or standards. Or a house. Or expensive clothing. Or a meal in a restaurant. Are you not supposed to have expectations as to whether the car runs or not? Or whether the house will flood and collapse, or not? Or whether the food you’re about to eat will sicken you? Of course you have expectations in these areas. Yet self-proclaimed experts run around telling people to have no expectations when it comes to love!
It’s not just mistaken advice. It’s downright toxic. Telling someone not to expect anything of the person you love is the best way to rationalize marrying, buying a house or having a child with someone about whom you have many doubts and overly low expectations. It’s not difficult to imagine how that will end.
Expectations are part of who we are. We cannot escape expectations because our emotions contain them. The challenge isn’t to rid ourselves of expectations. The challenge is to make ourselves aware of what our expectations are, because those expectations (especially in love) tend to be hidden within our emotions. Tease out what those expectations are, evaluate their realism and credibility, and then see how the people you believe you love live up to them. And make yourself worthier of the man or woman whose love you want, while you’re at it.
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