25 March 2015

When We Have Expectations of Those We Love


By Danny

I've been thinking about one of the comments received the other day on Mara's "bra post". An anonymous reader commented on how her husband's porn addiction had altered the way she views herself, feeling a greater need to represent herself in a "desired" fashion, even to the point of considering breast augmentation. She mentioned what a relief it is to see a post encouraging someone to embrace their body as it is naturally.  To that I say, Amen!

Her comment got us chatting about how all sorts of cultural, societal, and religious influences impact our view of self and others, and how we impose those views and unrealistic expectations on others, much to the detriment of ourselves and those we say we love.

The fact is, all of us have probably done this at some time. We are all that husband, and we are all that wife. All of us are, in some form or fashion, doing this to our partners right now. In each of our expressions of our individual egos, there seems to be the need to make our partner (or our children) after our own image and into a reflection of what we value. Those who are closest to us (and who form a larger part of our identity and sense of self and worth) are the ones we are most likely to manipulate in order to satisfy that ego and that false sense of identity.

Perhaps one person, affected by habitual pornography use, will demand or manipulate their partner into looking and acting more like their fantasy.

And yet another person, informed instead by deeply held religious views, will manipulate and shame their partner into looking and acting more like their fantasy or ideal, which will be altogether different from the fantasy of someone who views pornography.

And yet another, whose sense of value is influenced or dictated by appearance along a particular social or wealth class, may manipulate their partner on whether or not they meet subjective class or style distinctions, and not according to sexual fantasy or religious restrictions.

The truth of the matter is, no matter where this compulsion comes from, no matter which form of the ego it is trying to feed (sexual, religious, wealth, etc), it is always damaging. It is damaging to be unable to see the inherent beauty in a human being as they are. It is damaging to demean, diminish, and manipulate because someone does not meet your specifications -- to judge their value on something so superficial. It is damaging to the soul that does it, and the soul that receives it.

There are some social ills, like pornography, where it is easier to see how it can lead to this kind of damaging behavior.  Most all will recognize the problem in a scenario like that.

What isn't so easy is to look searchingly into our own souls and recognize that we engage in similar patterns of behavior around ideals that are much more socially or culturally acceptable.

Can you think of examples in your own lives or in others where you have seen these unhealthy expectations play out? 

-Danny

P.S. Mara loves the above mid-century inspired illustration by British designer, Paul Thurlby. He's got some really great prints!

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35 comments:

  1. Guilty and needed to hear this today. I was previously married and my ex was athletic but he ignored me and wasn't supportive. My now husband is kind and loving but isn't athletic. I compare and I shouldn't. The man who loves me is in personality everything he should be for me but I hold on to some ideal of what I think my husband should be and it is athletic. My ex wasn't good for me. I need to stop.

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    1. I like this...I think this one probably pops up A LOT. If it isn't the athletics, then it is the food choices. Mara's decision to be gluten and dairy free (and often times quite refined-sugar free) was something I wasn't interested in doing when I was in NYC. I traveled all over NYC for work and it was too unpredictable to try to limit my food....so I didn't do this healthy thing that Mara was doing.

      She easily could have approached me very differently about it, but she was always kind and respectful and supportive and encouraging. She didn't impose her diet on me (and by the way I was very respectful as well of her diet and made sure that whenever we were eating at home our meals accommodated her), she didn't guilt trip me, she smiled when I got my diet sodas.

      And, eventually I was ready to take this raw food challenge from our first retreat seriously, and now my diet is WAY more in line with hers, almost all the time.

      Thanks for doing the inner searching, and for voicing it. I admire that!

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  2. Very true, as you invariably always are, Danny. Thank you.

    I feel like going out on a (possibly quite tin) limb here and question the impulse to consider the viewing of pornography as immediately negative. I'm married, 31, female, and my husband and I both enjoy watching pornography, before and after our wedding day. Sometimes we ever watch together (fun!). I know that most of my friends watch at least once in a while and do enjoy it. I think I understand the many arguments about why the industry is flawed, but there are so many sex-positive female and male actors, directors, advocates, etc. who embrace the idea of porn as a healthy and beautiful expression of sexuality and creativity. Sometimes I worry that keeping the entire concept under an umbrella marked "Bad and Shameful" adds more negativity where there need not be, and can ever stifle open communication and understanding between partners about needs, desires, etc. for fear of being personally attacked and the entire relationship being compromised. I'm curious if any brave souls has any thoughts. :)

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    1. I like that you've taken a stand for what your personal experience has been like, even though it may not resonate with a lot of people.

      In the spirit of this post...I suppose it's worth questioning whether my own "expectations" regarding this topic need to be considered so as to not impose my views on another in an unhealthy way that results in shaming. For the sake of argument, I completely understand that there is a good and bad side to just about all things. There is beauty in religion, there is evil in religion. There are health benefits associated with alcohol/wine, and there are also terrible problems with drunkeness and abuse. Drugs save lives and enslave lives. Taking a very black and white approach to life is rarely if ever a healthy thing, because it makes it all the more likely to engage the ego and create judgment instead of compassion and understanding.

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    2. Christina, here's a website that informs about the damaging effects of pornography. http://www.fightthenewdrug.org/get-the-facts/#sthash.rlOF5AJP.dpbs
      You might be surprised!

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    3. Melanie, thanks for sharing that resource. I went and read a couple of the articles and it seems like is very well done, with a lot of research based approaches. This is the kind of material that I've been familiar with as well, and I think it spells out well the dangers of it all.

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  3. This is an eye opener for me for sure. So, how do we stop doing this? It seems like something that in theory we know we shouldn't do but because it comes somewhat naturally to all of us it is really hard to put in to practice. I would love to hear some insights from you and others on how to stop doing this.

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    1. Alison, it was an eye opener for me as well. I didn't realize the ways that I was doing this in my former relationship until my wife confessed some difficult stuff that made me reevaluate literally EVERYTHING.

      Having what otherwise seemed like a good friendship and partnership threatened with divorce made me take a really really hard look at what things I was doing that might be contributing to the pain my wife, pain that ultimately manifested in behavior destructive to the marriage.

      Often, we never have a good enough reason to really take that hard look, because life as we know it isn't on the line. If we don't do things better, it's likely that the marriage will still continue on in much the same way that it has in the past.

      We either need to be VERY deliberate about being self aware of all the ways we do this, or we need some trauma that threatens everything we value to shake us into reality. I'd prefer we all do the former.

      I think the first thing is learning how to be aware of it. And I think the second thing is finally realizing just how much of your identity/worth is tied up the behavior of those you say you love. We MUST separate our worth and identity from what others do. If we don't we'll always be in a place of judgement, because we'll always be acting to protect that ego and identity that we've built up as valuable.

      Go back to that identity post Mara did about a month ago. This is the beginning of it all. Because when you base your value as a human being on something deeper, it releases you from the need to make other people conform to your values in order to get validation. We HAVE TO GO DEEPER, and build on something much more secure.

      If you're really serious about this...then I recommend picking up one of the Eckhart Tolle books, as he'll quite exhaustively describe the root of the problem and the ways it gets manifested in our thoughts and actions.

      We'll also go way more in depth on this in our classes that we have designed for the upcoming U.S. Tour we're planning. It's not one of those things that a single blog post will do, or a comment. There are so many principles that need to be built up to better understand. This is one of those things that needs chapters to explore, or workshops and personal interaction to flesh out. The concepts are written all over this blog, just never in one single place.

      Good luck my friend!

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    2. Thanks Danny, I appreciate your response. I am currently (finally) reading The Untethered Soul, which you recommended to me over a year ago on another comment I made. I just read the part about our ego last night so what you said rang very true to me. I hope to be in town when you are in Salt Lake and that it all works out (financially) for me to attend. Thank you also for your recent post on anger. I loved it.

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    3. Oh shoot! I haven't even finished it myself. That's what happens when I start reading 8 books all at the same time. I haven't recommended that book much (not because I don't think it's good, I found it very engaging), because I haven't actually finished it yet and had a whole view of what it offers. You must have come at me with a question right when I was reading it.

      I hope you've liked it, I know I've been meaning to return to it for months now.

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  4. I constantly have other people's expectations placed on me regarding my weight. Friends, family and loved ones want me to "be healthy", which is in part a genuine concern and legitimate reason to want me to be slimmer. They never, however ask how my health is. Which is in fact excellent. I am not on, nor never have been on any medication (age 54), I have perfect blood work, ride my bike and walk. They want me to fit their ideals.

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    1. Thanks for this, it was a great insight for me to hear. Your health is so important, and making that a priority with loved ones seems obvious now but is something so great for me to keep in mind. You're right, weight does not give a clear picture of health, and it is so much more supportive and loving to focus on health and happiness instead.

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    2. Great comment Raz, another really good example of something I think is VERY prevalent. It goes both ways as well. Mara can get criticized or talked down to for being thin.

      You just can't fit all bodies into the same mold, can you.

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  5. This is so true and I realize in reading this my energy would be much better spent accepting my husband or others in my life. I am guilty of having all kinds of expectations and I needed this reminder in a big way. Thank you!

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    1. Well Sharlee, like I said, we all do it. I write about it in large part because I once had to realize how much it was a part of me, and how hard I've fought to rid that kind of thing from my natural impulses. Of course I'm not successful all the time. There are always going to be things that I'll be particularly blind to. But, I'm much more aware of it now than ever before, and I hope that with that awareness I'm also quicker to change directions when I realize I'm doing it.

      I guess you could ask Mara whether or not I do a good job with that :)

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  6. I think sometimes expectations and intentions can get wrapped up together and it gets messy. I deal with this a lot because my mother and I have a very tumultuous relationship. Her intentions are very genuine in that SHE has an idea of what she knows will make ME the happiest. She will stop at nothing to convince me to conform to these ideas. It took me a long time to be able to separate her intentions from her expectations. Even though her heart is in the right place, her reactions and the way she goes about things isn't healthy for anyone.
    It took me a long time (with a lot of help from this blog:) to finally get to a place where my happiness/self worth didn't depend upon her acceptance of me. I wasn't working at the right job, living in the right place, dating the right people, etc. I had to let go of my expectations for her too. Just because she is my mother doesn't mean that she has to be happy with me for me to be happy with myself. Now, I can see her as someone who is just trying the best she can or the best she knows how right now. And I can love her as a human being. It isn't always easy. She knows just the right buttons to push to hurt me deep down. But I try to only allow those feelings in for a moment and try to embrace a virtue instead.
    Thanks for the post Danny! I'm working on applying this in more relationships.

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    1. This is brilliant, and very insightful. I can tell in the words you've written just how much work you must have done to even be able to write what you did.

      For those looking for some help on how to make some changes in your particular situation, I hope you take a few looks and re-looks at this for some inspiration.

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    2. Yes! I have a very similar situation with my parents and it is such hard work. I really admire you for recognizing and getting to this place. I'm working on it too and it's incredibly challenging at times. This gives me hope that I'll be able to get to this place eventually as well.

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  7. I used to feel that I was very pale. Tanning salons were trending and I considered going, even though I am terrified of getting skin cancer. Then I traveled to South East Asia and was shocked to find store aisles full of "whitening" products. It was such a reality check. I stopped worrying about this nonsense. I hope everyone can appreciate their own looks, regardless of cultural pressures.

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  8. This is basically the story of my life growing up. It was all about expectations (in my case religious). When I was meeting those expectations I was met with love and respect from my parents and when I wasn't it was the opposite. There love felt very conditional. And it was very damaging. I did not feel valued for who I truly was and I have really struggled with this idea of "worthiness". In hind sight it seems emotionally and spiritually abusive even though I'm sure they in no way intended it to be.

    I married the most amazingly selfless man and it was a HUGE eye opener for me the day I realized I was doing EXACTLY to him what had been done to me. If he was meeting my expectations I was kind and loving and if he wasn't I was manipulative and unkind. One of the best things about him is that he truly loves me unconditionally, no manipulations or strings attached. I have learned so much from him and have been really trying for the past 9 years to let go of the pattern of "love" that I was raised with. It is so freeing to love people for who they are without expectation. I'm so glad I realized my behavior before we had kids so that now I can be mindful of the way I love them and make sure that they know they are enough just because they are them.

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    1. Thanks for this Sarah. I have recently discovered that I am the same way with my husband as you describe. He is also very selfless and so I also have a lot of guilt when I come to the realization that I have not been treating him very well. Your post helps me feel like I can overcome it. We don't have kids yet so I really hope that I too can let go of this pattern so I can love them without expectation.

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    2. on a parenting podcast I listened to the other day an "expert" who studies self esteem said that healthy self esteem doesn't come from looking good, or being successful in extracurricular activities or school etc, it comes from being loved no matter what. if parents love their kids no matter what then a kid grows up knowing they are worthy of being loved even when they make mistakes -

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  9. Is there a way to apply this concept to dating? It seems fairly straightforward that there are some expectations that should be met when we're trying to find a spouse (it would be inadvisable to marry just anyone without a reason to do so, right?). The simple answer suggested by this post could perhaps be that such expectations are acceptable insofar as they don't stem from a need to satisfy our own sense of identity and worth. However, my identity and self-worth may feel threatened by a man who struggles to express affection in any way - physical, verbal, quality time, service, etc. Is it unreasonable to disqualify such a person? What does this virtue look like when it's a relationship you're evaluating and not a lifelong partnership you're upholding?

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    1. This definitely applies to dating! But I understand why it might at first be confusing.

      I agree that it would be inadvisable to just marry anyone without a reason to do so, I also agree that there are expectations that should be met when trying to find a spouse.

      Perhaps the important thing, is to discover people who meet those expectations freely, it's who they want to be, it's the kind of life they are already living, it is evident in their interactions with friends/family/strangers. But it comes from them and their heart, whether or not you are around, and whether or not they are looking to impress you.

      Of course, one of the biggest mistakes and most common mistakes (and anyone with a dating history has done it) is to try to change someone that you're dating...to make them different than they are, or as I said in the post above, to fashion them after your own image.

      Mara's written before about guys she dated that wanted her to be a brunette, to the point that they wanted to go to the pharmacy and buy the hair dye right then (that would be the last date they would go on :) ), or other guys who insisted she sell her place because they didn't want to visit or hang out in the home that was previously shared by Mara's ex. These are people who had an idea of what dating and marrying someone should look like (and it didn't include having been married before or having blonde hair), and so they wanted to change her to match their ideal.

      We've all done this while dating, we should stop. Let people be who they are. And if who they are isn't a match for what you are looking for in a partner, move on. It is not a judgement of their quality as a human being, or whether someone else will think they are a worthwhile partner. You are not rejecting anyone, there's no reason to feel bad about it, and there's no reason to feel bad about someone moving on from you.

      The best thing that can happen is that two people eventually find each other that are bringing a similar maturity, ideal, and vision to the table. And they do it freely. Any partnership they form is partnership indeed.

      I feel like I probably didn't explain myself very well, so I'm hoping this actually helps. One last thought...of course you need to make sure that the expectations you have while dating are realistic and healthy. My suggestion would be to focus more on things that would fall in the "character" bucket...because that stuff is ALWAYS going to be a part of a shared life...whereas some of the physical things can and will change so drastically in the course of life and children and long hours at jobs and age....that you are bound to some day be disappointed if the superficial stuff takes too much precedence. But things like kindness, willingness to express love or be vulnerable, grace under pressure, ability to respond to trials and challenges without resorting to excessive anger, etc....these are the things that will get you through so many of the ups and downs of life. But money, looks, style, health, etc...they will come and go as a natural part of the ups and downs of life.

      Good luck!

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  10. This post hit home because it has been a very present struggle for me in my current dating relationship. I'm dating someone who truly has all of the "character" bucket items that make for a truly meaningful, healthy, communicative, and loving relationship. He emanates love and shows genuine interest in and an ability to communicate, both about difficult and lighthearted topics. At the same time, he definitely isn't the "charming", "suave", or "socially acceptable" person that I have envisioned being with and been attracted to over the years. This has presented some challenges for me as I have made potentially hurtful or damaging comments or suggestions in an effort to make him more "socially desirable" (in an effort to make myself feel better or more validated). My father, brother, and other men in my life growing up were very much those suave and socially praised kinds of men, but lacked qualities such as empathy, sincerity, and healthy communication. It's been through months of counseling and a willingness to dig deeper that I've realized how large of a role that exposure has played in the way I view men and the expectations (often unhealthy) that I bring to a relationship.

    As a contrast, I was previously in a two year relationship with someone who fit the mold (aka: looked good on paper) regarding my expectations of someone who would help me feel good about myself and my social standing, but who also lacked the characteristics and qualities that would lead to a lasting and healthy relationship. He was incredibly charming and very desirable among the women in our association. This situation let to a very false sense of validation for me. While he was heralded socially, his behavior in our relationship was incredibly destructive, and I allowed it to damage my sense of self worth. One of the reasons I stayed in that relationship for so long, I believe, was because I was mirroring the relationships I had so closely observed growing up. I was playing the role I thought was expected of me, and was allowing him to play the part of "my role models". Thankfully, that relationship ended after two years of insecurity and pain. And again, it was counseling and a willingness to dig deep internally that led to the restoration of my sense of self worth and the tools to work toward a healthier relationship.

    I guess what I'm wanting to communicate is that no matter what your past experience, habits, or expectations have dictated when it comes to relationships (whether romantic or otherwise), change is possible. It can be hard, frustrating, grueling work...but there is potential for so much more within us and around us. Patterns of behavior can be changed.
    I appreciated this article because it helped me to see that I'm still at times participating in unhealthy interactions and expectations. That self-evaluation is so important and will only help me make more mindful choices in the future, but I'm also grateful for a sense of self-love and compassion that allows me to make mistakes and at the same time not become derailed on the path of progress.

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    1. This is beautiful! Love the personal experience and insight that you're sharing. I think what you've shared about being on both ends of the table help make the principle I was trying to convey so clear.

      Thanks for taking the time to write that out!

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  11. http://feministmormonhousewivespodcast.org/episode-129-developing-selfhood-with-jennifer-finlayson-fife/

    Above is a link with a very important message about finding self-hood. I hope you get a chance to listen to it as I think it goes along with the message of your blog very well. Although sometimes, in the podcast, the topic is addressed via LDS culture and religion, it's a universal topic and applicable to all. I hope you like it!

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  12. I love this so much. I personally did this so much in religion. That is a very difficult one because you think you are doing what's right while you are doing it. That the person needs to do x, y, z for salvations sake, that your children need to have a perfect example in both parents, that doing x y z would ultimately make them happy, that that that... It was so hard for me to break this mindset, but I have been successful these last couple years. I didn't realize before how all the frustration and misery I felt with failed expectations would melt away when the expectations left. It has been so liberating. But, honestly I'm not sure I could have totally changed my mindset alone. I had to see things differently first. I tried and tried to change, many many prayers over this. But I made very little progress until I saw things differently as a whole, if that makes sense. I guess I'm saying I fully believe in this idea, but I also know it can be a beast of a challenge to overcome, and perhaps even impossible to completely overcome it without a change of perception. I listened to an interview with Spencer Kimball's son who talked about his brother who'd left or gone inactive. He said his dad could not help but keep bringing it up. And that was a regret shortly before he died that he was never able to just accept that about his son, that he couldn't stop with the remarks, although they were, of course, made with the best intentions.

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    1. Thanks for the comment Erin. I agree, it is one of the most difficult ones because so much of your ego and identity is wrapped up in it. I saved something I saw the other day from an anonymous commenter that I think fits your comment:

      The peace of God is found not in defeating the enemy in others, but in overcoming the enemy in ourselves. When we have plucked all the wild and dead branches from the vineyard of our heart, and bear good fruit in ourselves, then we may have wherewith to assist others in tending to their vineyard, if they desire it, being able to give them good branches to graft into their personal trees.

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  13. I love my husband. We have known each other for about 5 years now. We've had many fights (usually on a recurring topic), but are always able to put them behind. Usually we laugh a lot and are affectionate with one another.

    This recurring topic that I mentioned earlier is on his drinking behavior. I myself drink seldom. He's the opposite of me and loves drinking. Sometimes he likes to go out by himself for drinks. I don't have any trust issues. It's just that it hurts me to see him drunk (and he continues drinking). He's not violent or abusive when he's drunk. In fact, he acts the same -- a kind and happy person. He drinks often, but I'm not sure he's an alcoholic.

    It hurts me to see him drunk because I love him and I want him to take care of his health. We have so much in common, and so it surprises me when he says, "I'm going out." (I shouldn't be surprised, though. He's always been like that.) Partly, maybe I'm also just hurt that he'd rather go drinking than spend time with me. (I know this isn't fair to him.) I also realize he needs his alone time.

    He has gotten angry at me and says that I should accept him for who he is. He hates being guilt-tripped by me. (This is where my story ties in with your post, Danny.) Though I understand what he's saying, and maybe I need to change myself (my happiness not being dependent on his habits), I also feel like we need to compromise -- his drinking pains me. If I were him and I was aware of the pain he causes, I would stop. (and actually, he's toned down his drinking after we started dating).

    I hope that I can be a better wife to him. I want him to be happy, and also healthy. And I want to stop feeling sad when he drinks.

    I enjoy reading you and Mara's posts. Keep them coming!

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    1. Anon, I really appreciate this real life example of why this can be so difficult. It's one thing when we're talking about the way someone dresses, or the color of their hair, it's another entirely when you believe the person you love is doing something damaging to their health and well being, and possibly that of your family.

      I think the most important thing to understand, is that it's not that you quit seeking to help the one you love, it's that instead of using manipulation or control or fear to do it, you use love, empowerment, and patience.

      Whether or not someone changes will ALWAYS be entirely up to them. But our actions CAN help create a space where change is more likely.

      Can I PLEASE recommend that you read the book "The Anatomy of Peace", like RIGHT NOW. It is designed to help people understand how that healthy space can be created in conflicts exactly like this one. Of all the things I've read, for this particular situation I think this would be the best!

      Much love,
      D

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    2. Anon- I feel the sadness of your situation, but your own self-awareness is impressive. It sounds to me like you are on a promising path of self-discovery and surely that will be rewarding even if your partner doesn't change. Thanks for your vulnerability.

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    3. From Anonymous March 29, 2015 8:15 AM
      Thanks Danny for the book recommendation. I will keep that in mind. And thanks for your comment, Jane!

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  14. What a great thread of comments.

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  15. Thanks for the discussion. I've been married for 15 years and it surprises me I'm still fighting the same battle I did when I met my husband 20 years ago. We've had many ugly fights, been separated for a short time, and consistently discuss divorce. At the root of the problem, are my unmet realistic and unrealistic expectations of him and the resentment I express passive agressively. I'm too scared of speaking my feelings for fear of breaking up my family, “starting over,” and most of all because I don't trust my feelings. I bounce between the inner dialogue of “I want a husband that feels more like an asset and less a liability. His anger, impoliteness, offensive sense of humor, lack of intelligence (I feel this way in my harshest moments) feel like burdens holding me back.” and "I should be more grateful and satisfied with my loyal, hard-working, loving father, and honest husband. What else can I ask for? No one will ever meet my unrealistic expectations. The problem is me. What a terrible judgement that he doesn’t deserve.” Since I am not willing to give up just yet or put my kids through divorce and have enough good days and moments to make it all the more confusing, what do you recommend in shedding the resentment of expectations/needs unmet? (I know to many reading this it may seem unthinkable that I’d let this go on so long, and have two children none the less. I’ve come to realize my pride, fear of failure, flawed beliefs that “what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger” and “there is nobility in struggle” and a ex-religious belief that religious qualifications and blessings could make even oil and water acquiesce, have clouded my judgement.)

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