The Key to Adjusting Your Expectations in Relationships

Let’s talk about the delicate space that we hold for our loved ones who are having trouble showing up for us.

Sometimes, we have people in our lives that we care about, that are connected to us and are important to us, but they are either not in a place or they are having difficulty being consistent in their relationship with us.

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This is indeed a delicate space, because you may care for this person deeply and they do not readily fit into the “toxic” space. This loved one may be coping with their own individual challenges or have trouble showing up for you because they are not aware there is an issue. Black Female Therapists offer some ideas as to what your loved one may be going through. Your loved one may be:

  • Feeling overwhelmed or at-capacity with work, parenting and/or caregiving
  • Prioritizing their family or their self-care
  • Coping with a physical, substance or mental condition/illness
  • Trying their best to process a loss
  • Distracted by an unexpected life change or transition
  • Feeling too worn out to socialize or reconnect

But in saying this, it is essential for your self-care to still manage your boundaries and expectations in your relationship with them.

Adjusting your expectations in relationships that you care about decreases your chances of repeatedly getting hurt and helps you set realistic expectations based on your loved one’s current actions and behaviors.

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And that kinda stinks right? You may be thinking, “But I have hope that they will change!” or “I really need to just be there for them!” When adjusting your expectations, you want to be mindful of how this isn’t the ideal way you wanted to go about this relationship and that as much as you want to be there for them, you don’t want to forget about yourself and your needs in the process.

Adjusting your expectations includes recognizing your capacity for disappointment and being mindful of your own emotional tolerance. It is clear that no one wants to get hurt over and over again, especially from someone you love. Therefore, adjusting your expectations can help you maintain a relationship, while attempting to lessen the emotional impact on yourself.

Similarly, adjusting your expectations may help you not feel resentful towards your loved one. Sometimes, we may feel angry and hurt when our needs are not getting met in our relationships.

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This also may be more difficult if you tend to focus on pleasing others, have difficulty saying no or feel guilty for setting boundaries. (As you can see by these hyperlinks, you are in the right place to receive support around this 🙂

So how do you adjust your expectations? Let’s start here:

  1. Honestly assess if your loved one is capable of change.

This is important — if you believe your loved one is only temporarily unable to show up for you in your relationship with them, there is hope that they can change. Other ways you can assess this are:

  • Is your loved one aware that they are not showing up for you?
  • Has your loved one’s actions and/or behavior consistently shown you that they are capable of change?
  • Where would your loved one fall on the stages of change?

If your loved one is capable of change, understands that there is a problem and wants to change how they are showing up for you, consider telling them how you feel and set boundaries around this period of time.

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2. If your loved one is not in a place to change, put energy into learning to accept this loss. (Even if only temporary.)

This is tough, but necessary — it may be helpful to think about grieving your high expectations for your loved one at this time. Recognize your feelings of disappointment, anger, resentment and sadness — recognize that you really want to things to be different with your loved one and that is not happening right now.

Take into account the actions and behaviors of your loved one — they may say that they want to change, but again, you have already assessed if this is actually possible. Their actions and behaviors offer consistent information. Please recognize this information and adjust accordingly.

3. Consider setting boundaries that protect you emotionally.

Emotional self-protection can be a way to start setting boundaries with this loved one. Remember that our boundaries are the limits and expectations that we set to keep ourselves safe and feeling balanced.

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Ways to set boundaries could include:

  • Pausing your pattern of making yourself available for this person on a regular basis. Consider this option if you are repeatedly disappointed when you do make yourself available.
  • Recognizing the patterns that you see in their behavior and choose to opt out of adding to (or enabling) the pattern to continue.
  • Set clear and direct guidelines on what you are (and what you are not) willing to accept.

Here is one example:

Lena’s mom has been having trouble showing up for her lately. Their relationship is complicated and as a child, Lena received more support from her other family members rather than her mom. In adulthood, Lena and her mom are working towards building their relationship.

Lena’s mom often calls Lena for financial help or for a place to stay. Unfortunately, Lena is not always able to rely on her mom when she needs help. Sometimes, Lena feels used, taken advantage of and not appreciated by her mom.

Lena assessed if her mom is capable of changing — as of now and in reflecting on her mom’s behaviors, Lena does not believe her mom is in a place to change her behavior. Lena takes care of herself by grieving this loss: she feels sad that she cannot count on her mom or just have fun with her without worrying that her mom will be transactional with her.

Lena will set boundaries with her mom by:

  • Letting her mom know that she can call her once during the day, but she can only speak with her for a few minutes at a time.
  • Telling her mom that she can no longer offer financial assistance to her at this time, but she can share referrals with her instead. (Want to know more about setting boundaries this way? Click here.)
  • Adjusting her expectation that she can rely on her mom the way her mom relies on her. Lena talks with her family members, her friends and her therapist about how this is hard for her.

This isn’t easy by any means, but it is so important for your care of self to set boundaries in your relationships with the people you love. You are so incredibly worth it.

How do you adjust your expectations in relationships?

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