Sally and Jim decide that God is calling them Africa. They are both excited, but a little afraid, too. (I am sure you remember that combination of conflicting emotions.) Before leaving for Africa, Jim and Sally have to visit churches and raise support. That means meeting a lot of people, and staying in many homes. Now, Jim is an outgoing guy who has never met a stranger. He talks easily in any situation. Sally is a private person- a nice gal with a warm heart, but she doesn’t meet strangers easily. That is a recipe for tension. How will Sally and Jim manage the expectations they will encounter from churches, combined with Sally’s reticence about new people and places?
I ran headlong into conflict between expectations and limitations this week. I had volunteered to do a job for a friend. Most of the work was completed. But then I hit the wall. The friend asked for more than I knew how to deliver. I had to admit I could not meet the expectations because of my own limitations.
Nevertheless, I dove in to find a solution. After several hours, I realized I could only do it if I studied, practiced, and learned a new set of skills, and only then with a lot of technical support. It would also mean neglecting other commitments. Fortunately, when I admitted my problem, my friend understood and graciously thanked me for all I had done
We hear a lot about win-win solutions, resolutions that leave all parties feeling hopeful. With that in mind, I am sharing my husband’s article, “Expectations and Limitations.” In a word, it’s all about adjustment. I hope it will help you find a path from frustration to fulfillment. If it does, everyone can be a winner.
Expectations and Limitations
When Carl and Emily were dating, Carl was the nicest, most caring man Emily could ever want. But right after marriage he changed. He made demands, got angry when Emily could not meet them, never consulted her before making decisions, and repeatedly changed his mind about what he wanted. With a rigid, demanding husband, Emily soon felt disconnected. There was no relationship- only a bossy man and a hurting wife.
Sabrina is a sweet , charming, warm, desirable young woman. Caleb, her husband, had no trouble at all falling in love with her. But, hidden deep in her soul, Sabrina had a bundle of insecurities. They made her expectations so unreasonable that Caleb could never please her. He tried his best, but seldom felt like he got it right.
Like Carl and Sabrina, inflexible people have to have everything their way. Therefore, building relationships is difficult. To them, compliance, and only compliance, is the price of peace. Or, as we say in America, “It’s my way, or the highway!” Inflexibility has a combination of contributing causes, but usually there are two that stand out: self-centeredness and fear.
Let’s define some terms. Expectations are the attitudes and actions that we feel entitled to receive within a relationship. They grow out of our upbringing, but also from the ideas we have developed through reading, observing, and dreaming. Some even come from our personalities. (If I can be this way, why can’t she!)
Limitations are the barriers within us that keep us from meeting expectations. Many are temporary. In time we outgrow them or overcome them. Some, however, do not change. For example, no matter what she does my wife will always find it hard to walk as fast as I do. She doesn’t have the length of stride I do. If I expect that of her, she will always experience frustration and I will feel disappointed. So we have learned to walk together. I shorten my stride, she quickens her pace a bit, and we have many great walks.
Walking together is a metaphor for life. A wise man of old put it this way: “Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?” (Amos 3:3) In our shared marital life we will continually need to adjust our expectations and, as much as possible, overcome our limitations. Other relationships are similar. When we make mutual adjustments, we find the kind of agreement that keeps us in step and moving forward.
An expectation may be unrealistic. One stern man complains, “I have to deal with difficult people all day long. I never want to come home to a grouchy wife. I want a smile, not a snarl.”
One question: Do you always come home with a smile? If your wife expected the same of you, could you live up to it? Unrealistic expectations often create frustration.
We counseled a couple in Malaysia who were experiencing tremendous tension because the husband had unrealistic expectations about his wife’s cooking. He wanted every meal to be carefully planned and arranged or he just . . . could . . . not . . . be . . . happy. She tried her best to please him, but nothing she did was as good as good old Mom! Worst of all, he could not see that his expectation was unrealistic, or at least would not admit it. So no matter what else they had for dinner, they definitely had tension.
An expectation may be reasonable, but still difficult for the other person. There’s nothing wrong with a husband wanting to invite a few friends for dinner. That’s reasonable. But his wife may feel extremely insecure as a hostess. So, what’s reasonable for him is stressful for her. She does not want to fail, but she is quite sure she will.
The solution? How about this:
- She accepts the challenge. He shows he understands her struggles.
- He gives her plenty of advanced notification. And he offers to help in whatever way he can.
- She accepts his offer of help and doesn’t act like a martyr.
- He remembers to thank her and encourage her for her help.
As a result, they grow closer together. The wife knows her husband understands, and the husband knows that his wife really wants to please him. Because the dinner went well, her confidence increases. Those are great results.
An expectation may be reasonable, usually, but impossible presently. We can avoid many disappointments by explaining unusual pressures and accepting the limitations that come with them. Abigail likes Joe to reply to her messages as quickly as possible. Joe knows that and usually does it. But Joe’s company is churning through their yearly audit. He may want to reply quickly, but he can’t. Abby can help by adjusting her expectations. That shows that she understands and does not want to become another nagging problem in her husband’s life.
Seeing With New Eyes. Several years ago a woman came to us for counseling. Her husband was a difficult man, and unwilling to change. She had many complaints, some with good reason. After listening to her grievances, I interrupted the stream of complaints to ask this question:
“Have you ever asked God to let you see your husband as He sees him?
As the force of that question reached her heart, she became quiet and thoughtful. She realized, I think, that all of her complaining wasn’t really going to change anything. Just the opposite, for nagging never changes anyone for the better.
When we see as God sees, we can pray for God’s healing and restoring power to work deep down inside, in the places in each other that we can’t seem to reach. Then, with Gods help, we will develop more realistic expectations, overcome our limitations, and walk together.