Having expectations of others is part of being human. No matter how many times I have felt let down or hurt by having expectations of people that they could not or would not live up to, I can’t seem to break that habit. How wrong is it to expect your colleague not to abscond with an essential legal tome that YOU bought, the night before your big hearing? When you tell your parents that you soon may have to have a procedure to save your pregnancy, you don’t expect them to say, “We’re leaving for Las Vegas tomorrow but you have our phone number.” Crushing though the disappointments may be, I think a person without ANY expectations in life must be living as a hermit. But I have discovered a salve for these wounds so I can live among humanity.
Some background: I met my second (current) husband 7 years ago. Prior to this, I lived the life of the single mom for 9 years. I dated occasionally but had not hung around an adult male for enough time to find his habits obnoxious. “Oh yeah,” I said, after The Honey and I started having sleepovers. “Now I remember.” But in the first blush of codger love (or maybe it was a hot flash), I bit my tongue and tried to be tolerant.
Well, that couldn’t last forever. So when The Honey informed me we could not leave the house until all of his laundry was washed and dried and folded, I said, “Are you nuts? You can leave an operating clothes washer or dryer. Nothing bad will happen.” His response: “But it’s my way to do it like this.”
I was surprised to find my annoyance abate as I settled in to wait for the glorious conclusion of the laundry ballet, but still I did not really understand the power of “It’s my way.”
As the months went by, life’s little aggravations of all sorts came up. Now I could vent to The Honey! Why does my grandmother insist that I call her the minute I receive the $5 birthday check in the mail? Doesn’t she trust the postal service? Not to mention that the whole purpose of checks is to prevent the dire fate she worried about with that cute little $5 bill she used to send . It’s just stupid, and perhaps a wee bit manipulative, I grumbled. “But Randi,” said The Honey. “It’s just her way.”
Oh! Right! All the annoyed air came out of me, and I thought to myself, how cute that Granny still doesn’t believe in the postal service after using it since stamps were 2 cents! What a character she is. She’s always done this with the birthday card & money, and she always will. What’s the point of getting upset about it?
Now I was starting to get it – the freeing power of “It’s just his/her/my way.” Teenager leaves hair in the drain after being reminded at least 50 times? The old me would have followed through with my threat to put the gross wad of hair on his pillow. The new me said, “It’s not deliberate. He’s just too busy thinking about what teenagers think about in the shower. He’s not showing me who’s boss or giving me the finger. It’s just his way!” A Zen-like peace came over me.
I then began to reframe past events with my new tool. Suddenly I understood that my opponent’s routine missing of deadlines and then sucking up to the judge so he could file his responses late was not necessarily designed to show me how much more powerful he was or thumb his nose at the court (something I’m too wimpy to do). Maybe he had a time management problem and did this in every case. Maybe it was just his way! My ex-mother-in-law would preface every invitation with, “I know you hate to visit on Sundays,” and then proceed to invite us to visit her on Sunday. Maybe she wasn’t just an annoying, inconsiderate, selfish child who always wanted her own way! Sunday was a meaningful day to her, going way back in her life, and she pined to have her grandchildren visit her on that special day, above all other choices. In other words, it was just her way.
See if this magical phrase can help you in your life. Everyone with whom I have shared it has come back to report changed relationships of all kinds, but especially with their parents. It totally removes the personal element from the other person’s behavior. Suddenly you realize that they would behave this way to anyone, in a vacuum, in another civilization, anywhere. They are NOT trying to upset you! Wow – who would have guessed.
And your little toddlers, who do that naughty thing over and over, even though you have told them not to and given them timeouts and even yelled? Think about this: maybe it’s just their way. They aren’t doing it TO YOU. They are doing it because, as little kids without self-control, they MUST. Those crayons and a white wall are just too tempting.
Try it. It could change everything.