Mindfulness Exercise: Relationship Expectations

“Relationship is a mirror in which you can see yourself.” – Krishnamurti

Difficulties in relationships often arise as a result of mismatched or unrealistic expectations.  When we expect someone to behave in a certain way, we become attached to that expectation and become easily disappointed or frustrated if they do not act as expected. Expectations are created from ideals that we have in our minds about how people in our lives “should” behave.  It is comforting and reassuring when people behave as expected, although this is a dangerous trap to enter into because we have no control over other people’s behavior.

Alidina (2011) explains that “the more expectations you have of others, the more difficult your relationships become – both for you and other people.  If a person doesn’t meet your expectations, you react with anger, sadness, frustration, or jealousy.”  To a certain extent, it is reasonable to have expectations of people we are in relationships (e.g., romantic relationships, friendships, coworkers, etc.) with, although they can also be dangerous.

It is not unrealistic to expect to be treated with respect from others, to have trust within your romantic relationship, and to have a friendship built on a foundation of mutual support.  Begin to notice the difference between expectations that are realistic/appropriate and those that are unrealistic/inappropriate.

Just because you may react with disappointment, hostility, or sadness when your expectations are not met, that does not necessarily mean that the other person will be magically inspired to change.  In fact, many people respond to negative emotions directed toward their own behaviors with resistance.  This resistance usually turns into further unmet expectations.

Mindfulness Exercise: Relationship Expectations

Alidina (2011) suggests engaging in the following mindfulness exercise the next time you feel negative emotions as a result of unmet expectations in relationships:

(1) Don’t speak immediately

A quick negative response/reaction to unmet expectations only serves to fuel to fire.  Allow yourself space to reflect on what you are thinking and feeling before engaging with the other person.  An important part of mindfulness is recognizing that intense emotions do not have to be acted upon immediately, no matter how “urgent” they may feel. Pause to mindfully notice your thoughts and feelings from a place of nonjudgmental observation.

(2) Become aware of your breathing without changing it

Do you notice that you breath is shallow, deep, or rapid?  Even if you can’t “feel” it, begin to focus your attention on counting your breath come in and out.  If you are feeling worked up and breathing rapidly, just notice that this is occurring.  Step back for a moment and observe.  As you focus your attention in this mindful way, you will begin to feel more calm and focused.

(3) Notice your bodily sensations

As you feel anger, sadness, or disappointment with your unmet expectations, where do you notice changes in your body?  Do you feel tension in your stomach, jaw, or shoulders?  How would you describe these physical sensations?  Gently bring your attention towards your bodily sensations and allow them to be.

(4) Imagine or feel the breath going into that part your body

Tap into these feelings with mindful awareness.  As you breathe in and out direct the focus and intention of your breath toward the part of your body where you are experiencing tension. Become alert and aware as you breathe into this tense part of your body and notice what feelings arise.

(5) Take a step back

Mindfulness involves becoming aware of your observing self, noticing the “space” that exists between you (the observer) and your thoughts, feelings, and sensations (the observed).  Become aware that you are not your thoughts, feelings, or sensations.  The more that you recognize this, the less that you will become fused to those thoughts and feelings and the more that you will be able to see them for precisely what they are.  Recognize that no matter how painful your thoughts, feelings, or sensations may be in this present moment, they are all transitory and will pass.

(6) If necessary, return to the person and speak from this wiser and more composed state of mind

Now that you have taken the space to mindfully observe your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations, you may be in a better state of mind to engage with the other person in a productive manner.  Choose not to have important discussions about expectations in relationships when you are feeling intense emotions or experiencing distressing thoughts.  Take the time to cultivate your own sense of awareness of the meaning behind those thoughts and feelings before communicating them to the other person.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Alidina, S. (2011). Mindfulness for dummies. West Sussex, England: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Featured image: Untitled by sindy / CC BY-SA 2.0

About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.

What's On Your Mind?