How low can you go?

A friend told me once that in some situations you have to lower your expectations.  She was talking about a specific situation – actually relationship- in which I was being repeatedly disappointed.  She knew that I had lowered my expectations somewhat, but because of the role this person played, they kept creeping up.  She advised me to lower them and keep lowering them if I didn’t want to leave every conversation with this person feeling frustrated and hurt.

Well, that makes sense.  Sort of.  The problem is, I don’t think I was expecting too much to begin with.

So what happens when you start playing this sort of relationship limbo?  Where you lower the bar and they still manage to slide under it, so you lower it again.  At what point are your expectations so low that it’s pointless?  I mean… comes a time when the limbo stick is centimeters from the ground.  Who wins in that game?  The one who has managed to bring your expectations down low enough that it doesn’t matter any more?

The thing is, if I have to lower the bar that far, chances are pretty good that I’m not the only one playing this game.  It’s a fair bet that this person has disappointed (or is disappointing) other people.  Even if my expectations started out way too high, comes a time when we have gone below the basics and into “please show me that you have some respect for other people”.  At that point, others are likely in pain, too.

Yesterday, I had a conversation with this person about a decision that marked a fairly significant transition in the relationship.  I expected it to be awkward, because these chats often are.  I didn’t expect much else, really- no conflict, no long discussion.  But I did expect some indication that this transition held significance on both sides.

Not so much.  In fact, not at all.

I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but it was hurtful.  It made me angry.  Angry that I had once again expected too much, even when all I expected was acknowledgment and respect.  I guess I expected to be treated as a peer, but was treated as a casual acquaintance.

I’m still angry and hurt a day and a half later.  And I suspect I’ll stay there a while.  But in the meantime, there are things I can take away from this interaction.  I processed this a bit on Twitter yesterday by developing a list of things that I want to bear in mind when dealing with people…  whether pastoral care with parishioners, conversations with friends or dialogue with colleagues:

  1. People are complex. Chances are I am not completely in the box you’ve placed me into, nor are you as easy to categorize as I’d like to think.
  2. When someone offers you context, don’t assume you already have it. You might be surprised by the nuance and thought put into a decision that looks sudden or basic on the surface. And you are likely to hear more about the person than the decision in the telling.
  3. If you say you value a relationship, show it. Take your time, ask questions and then listen with head, heart and ears -all three. Really.  No, really…  ask, listen, process and ask some more. Chances are there is something behind the something they say they want to talk  about, but they need permission to go there.
  4. How you end a conversation says a lot about how you view the relationship.  There is a difference between being brief and being short. Statements that shut down conversation indicate that you and your opinions and/or time are more valuable than what the other is offering to you.  One twitter friend  chimed in on this one, saying “I hate when others force their opinion/thoughts/view/side *as fact* & walk away giving me NO TIME for mine.”  Exactly.
  5. Don’t offer love if you’re willing to withhold it later.  This is one that goes beyond the scope of a single conversation into the realm of intentional relationships.  In the church, especially, we toss about the word LOVE in ways that I think are damaging.  And when we publicly proclaim that our love is an extension of God’s love, we must be particularly careful not to let our actions and words bind or withhold love.  Yes- I get that sometimes I am prickly, unloving and not easy to even like.  But if God’s love is steadfast, eternal and never-ending and you are God’s love for me, then you don’t get to withhold that on days that you or I happen wake up on the wrong side of the bed.

Even as I write these down, I know I’m writing them as much for me (partly because there aren’t that many people who read me) as for anyone else.  I am guilty of dismissing and disrespecting people when I have an opportunity to honor, encourage and love them.  But I hope never to find a relationship expectation bar so low that it’s easier to lay it down and walk off than spend time with me.

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2 thoughts on “How low can you go?

  1. Lowering your expectations of what you expect of yourself is one thing… after all many of us expect too much of ourselves. But lowering your expectations with regards to how others treat you within a relationship is something else altogether. If you keep lowering your expectations in that regard, then you minimise your own worth, others see it, and treat you accordingly.

    I know that we often set high expectation for people we think we know. Maybe it’s because of that familiarity; or maybe because we need something from them – support, confidentiality; or maybe simply because we’ve allowed them into our circle of trust and we expect them to recognise that they are in that position of trust and therefore have some responsibility in the relationship. In this situation we recognise that everyone has bad days and mood swings that make life a little harder, and giving leeway in these circumstances is an okay thing to do. But if it’s an ongoing thing then you’ve got to ask yourself why it’s always you who keeps lowering the bar … And then remind yourself that you deserve better.

    Now if you are lowering your expectations of people in order to manage an aspect of a relationship – ie in order not to be disappointed by them or to stop yourself become emotional (eg angry, frustrated)– then that’s a whole other thing. By being less demanding we think we will not be hurt when our needs and expectations are not met. But then you have to ask yourself ‘has the fact that I have lowered my expectations resulted in less disappointment in this relationship?’ If the answer is ‘no’ then again you have to ask about the validity of this lopsided relationship.

    Maybe it’s time to take the bull by the horns and just say “I expected more of you, and I’m deeply hurt by how you treat me. I deserve more”. (I Tweet as WeeRant)

    • Nice to see you in long form! All of these things certainly came into play over time, and I didn’t share some of the details that made this a difficult situation to navigate.

      However, I will say that after this latest, I am planning to do exactly as you suggest. It is time to be clear about just how inappropriate this person’s behavior has been.

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