(A man surveying the results of an iceberg named ‘hypergamy’)
“Expectations that go unspoken do not infer consent.”
Icebergs of Navigational Routes
Unspoken expectations, conditions, rules and obligations are like icebergs to the navigational routes of our relationships with others. They lurk in the byways rarely seen or noticed, and if so typically at a distance to become a natural part of one’s emotional landscape and an element forming your context for being. We sail past, around and quite often through these emotional berg flows with little consequences to us or our relationships until that frightful day when we strike one. And like icebergs themselves, what is visible to the eye is only a portent to the massive formulations that lies below the surface.
We all have and created expectations for ourselves, our relationships and have projected those onto our partners. We have the natural tendency to expect the significant people in our lives to behave in a manner envisioned and internalized, to include operating in synchronicity with us, with little thought, planning or management, yet we cannot in all honesty and with integrity expect our partners to read our minds, pick up on every nuance of reflective or reactive body language, to read between the lines of what we say or do, or to fully understand and comprehend us, if we do not trust and respect them enough, to share and discuss what ails us or what we expect of them. Failing to do so is unfair, unhealthy and unwarranted and is a lazy, self-absorbed form of passive-aggressiveness behavior, that delegates the responsibility and accountability that is our own to others, without the courtesy or respect of open acknowledgement of those facts. It is a clandestine form of negotiation that sets our partners up for failure, obligation and servitude. These clandestine obligations create an incredible burden of pressure to recognize, understand and anticipate, that leaves even the most astute and capable partner drained, frustrated and ultimately overwhelmed. Ultimately it is a sign that we don’t respect ourselves enough to be willing to openly present, discuss and negotiate with our partners, what we feel, what we believe and what we expect. Sadly any relationship not built on respect, care and understanding is one poorly built and crafted, especially the one we create with ourselves, as that relationship is the one that gets projected to the world and our partners.
When someone does something that is in deep contrast to the standards, boundaries and beliefs, regarding behavior and consideration, we often feel deeply hurt, betrayed, angry and confused at this display of lack of consideration and care. It is natural and common to withdraw emotionally from the relationship and perceptions of a relationship change when there is a contrast between the ideal and reality. Furthermore resentment builds, as a result of any unspoken breaches of values that goes unaddressed. We naturally resent the transgression and now ourselves for not demonstrating the fortitude to embrace our own truth, with our partner, in an honest and open way and is then compounded with each additional occurrence or remembrance. This is a progression of emotional responses that sets off a chain of reaction, much like a domino cascade that spreads and leads towards the end of the relationship, such as a brush fire leads to devastating forest fires. Instead we should stop keeping the emotional peace of silence and honor ourselves by speaking up and speaking out.
When we hold unrealistic expectations of and for our partners, we are in essence not seeing them for who they truly are or the reality of what we are asking of them and needing. It is a form of invalidation when we reject our partners, their efforts and investment in us and our relationships when we hold expectations that they cannot achieve. The greater the degree of disparity between what is expected and what is achieved is just the initial basis of frustration, which is sure to snowball to a larger magnitude of consequence. When unrealistic expectations are systemic and form an institutional element within a relationship, it is a sure sign that the partners are an inappropriate fit for each other, but instead of honestly looking at the true cause of the issue and resolve the relationship appropriately , we cling to our failed choice of a partner and relationship, and seek to control and brutally dominate it into submission, rather than face reality and release our partners appropriately with care, consideration and respect. When we hold unrealistic expectations of our partners, fail to recognize and utilize appropriate methods to resolve the relationship, should we ever be surprised when our partners after so much invalidation, disrespect and inconsideration on our part, choose to resolve the relationship inappropriately instead?
Conflict as a Vehicle of Awareness
Not all unspoken assumptions, expectations, rules governing behavior that sabotage relationships are known. In fact, there tends to be three categories that they fall into; the first is the spoken and conscious, which tend to be boundaries which are culturally held, known and actively expressed to our partners. The second is what is unspoken but known consciously, some of these I’ve just written about. The third is something that is unspoken and consciously unknown to us. It resides within us, without our conscious awareness of it. We simply don’t see it until it is upon us. Even then, like icebergs in the dark, we may not even recognize the entire mass and reality of what is before us, as we respond to the violation or transgression, with unexpected hyper-sensitivity on our part. It is at these moments that we should recognize our own emotional reaction as a signal to stop, look and listen to the source of where these emotions are coming from. Looking into the source of these emotions via psychological self-analysis and relationship autopsy, is an incredible starting point for determining what the underlying issue and concern is. Frequently they don’t reside or originate with our partners or the perceived transgression, but from our own past and development. It is only after consciously acknowledgement, acceptance and be willingness to account for these emotions, that we then progress to sharing them with our partner, utilizing relationship skills of conflict management, in communicating emotional needs, having a critical conversation, and setting boundaries with them. In doing so, we take on the accountability and responsibility of securing our own happiness and creating the life we really want. It is a process that is worth the investment not only for our relationships and partners, but individually for ourselves.