Dangerous Relationship Expectations

Expectations can be dangerous to your relationships. We often use expectations to control and manipulate others, without even knowing it.

It’s true that we’re controlling people if we chain them hand and foot, put a ring in their nose, and lead them around as we wish. We know that’s wrong, but most of us use a similar, albeit more subtle, way of controlling people and we use it every day. We control them with our expectations.

What happens when a loved one doesn’t do exactly what we want? We sigh, make a face, and adjust our tone of voice and body language to convey disappointment in them. We have witnessed this pattern of expectation, disappointment and manipulation from the time we were very young. Whenever we failed to meet the demands of our parents, teachers, friends and others, they often used their expressions of disappointment as a way to change our behavior. Although this was likely unconscious behavior they still knew that we would often do what they wanted in order to avoid their disapproval. Now, we use these same unconscious manipulations with others when our own expectations are not met.

If I express irritation at you for the way you’re acting, I know that your fear of my disapproval may motivate you to behave in the way I expect. When I expect you to change your behavior for my convenience, I’m demanding that you change who you are to make me happy. I’m arrogantly expecting YOU to sacrifice YOUR happiness for MINE! But I never have the right to expect you to do anything for me nor do you have the right to expect me to do anything for you.

When I’m angry at you, I am saying that you have failed to do something for me. You have dared to inconvenience the true center of the universe: me! We could accurately replace the word “anger” with “me-me-me-me- me!” Every time we get angry, we certainly feel less happy ourselves, the people around us dislike it immensely and our relationships are seriously injured. When we are angry with our partner or our child they hear, “I don’t love you!”

Blaming our spouses for how we feel and behave often seems reasonable but blaming is never justified. Until we see that, we’ll continue to point fingers at one another and repeat the unproductive feelings and behaviors that cause so much harm to our relationships and to our own happiness.

Although our spouses do affect the way we feel in any given moment, their contribution is minor. When we get angry or feel hurt in response to something our spouses have done, there are always many other factors that powerfully affect our feelings and behavior, none of which are determined by our spouses. In any given moment, we’re reacting to a lifetime of events and feelings, not only to something our spouses have done or not done. In fact, if we’re unhealthy emotionally and spiritually, our spouses don’t have to do anything wrong to provoke a negative reaction from us.

Other people are never responsible for how we feel. If we understood that, our marriages would change dramatically. How could we keep being angry at anyone after realizing that he or she is not to blame for our feelings?

Real Love is caring about the happiness of another person without any thought of what we might get for ourselves. It’s also Real Love when other people care about our happiness unconditionally. With Real Love, they’re not disappointed or angry when we make our foolish mistakes, when we don’t do what they want, or even when we inconvenience them personally.

Without sufficient Real Love, we can only feel empty and alone, which is our greatest fear. In any given negative interaction with your spouse, it is the longstanding lack of Real Love in your life that determines how you feel, not the behavior of your spouse in that momentââ?¬â? just as a heart attack is really caused by many longstanding factors, not just by a single moment of stress. In any given moment, you react to the amount of love you feel from everyone, past and present, not just from the person you’re interacting with.

Anytime you do anything to earn the approval of another person, you’re lying, and that will have serious negative consequences in your relationships. What we all want most is to feel the unconditional love of others, to know that they care about our happiness regardless of our mistakes, flaws and fears. Before you can feel my unconditional concern for your happiness (Real Love), however, you must first feel that I unconditionally accept you for who you really are. You can’t feel loved until you first feel accepted.

You can’t feel that I accept who you really are until you’re certain that I actually see who you really areââ?¬Â¦Ã¢â?¬Â¦and you can’t be certain that I see who you really are until you tell me the truth about yourself.

The process of feeling unconditionally loved can begin only when you tell the truth about yourself. The tragedy in lying is that when we lie, we simply can’t feel loved.


Getting real love is just as important as breathing and eating. If you want to experience real emotional and spiritual health, you need to get all the Real Love you can find – preferably every day! Every day make phone calls or meet with friends who can accept and love you as you tell the truth about your mistakes, flaws, and fears. You cannot get too much love.

Dr. Greg Baer is the author of Real Love in Marriage and other books on unconditional love.