Although it’s popular to accuse couples of setting themselves up for disaster by expecting too much from marriage, for many, the problem is exactly the opposite: we don’t set our sights high enough. In keeping our expectations low we may hope to prevent disappointment, but this strategy holds some serious dangers. Limited expectations generate a modest vision of what is possible and they can easily become self-fulfilling prophecies. The greater the possibilities that we envision, the higher we are likely to set our goals.
Where we aim has less to do with what we are actually capable of achieving than what we believe to be attainable or realistic.
Prior to Roger Banister’s breaking of the four-minute mile in 1954, it was deemed impossible for a human being to achieve that feat. Almost immediately after his accomplishment, other runners joined the sub-four-minute mile club. Within a decade, several hundred runners had done what ten years previously had been seen as impossible. Such is the power of expectations.
Before I got married, I deliberately set my sights low. All the better to avoid the disappointment that I expected if I hoped for anything more than a comfortable arrangement in which we got along reasonably well and didn’t fight too much. Talk about low expectations!
Having observed very few examples of thriving long-term relationships, I approached relationships somewhat unenthusiastically. Truth be told, from my perspective, the idea of a good relationship was an oxymoron. Yet for reasons that I couldn’t at the time quite fathom, despite my resistance to it, I seemed drawn to relationships like a moth to a flame.
My strategy for resolving this paradox was to develop a strategy of limited engagement. All the better to minimize the chances of disappointment and suffering. Unfortunately, not only did my strategy fail to prevent disappointment, but it left me frequently feeling resentful and frustrated. What I hadn’t factored in to the equation was the fact that my head wasn’t the only part of me that was engaged. As Blaise Pascal famously said,
“The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing,”
and my heart had it’s own agenda. Ultimately, it insisted on having its say.
While the mind seeks a comfortable and easy relationship, the heart has other concerns. It could care less about risk management, control, safety, security, and avoidance. Its desires have to do with passion, connection, truthfulness, intimacy, aliveness and joyfulness, experiences that exist outside of the bounds of pragmatic considerations. Unless we marry for purely practical purposes (something that is relatively rare in contemporary Western culture) the desires of the heart need to be met and included in the equation. To the degree they are not, we will be unhappy and unfulfilled regardless of how much security, status, or economic success we achieve. As the saying goes,
“you can’t ever get enough of what you really don’t need.”
These days, life is about continually raising the bar to find out just how great things can become, not only for my marriage and friends, but also for the many people whom we touch and are touched by, both directly and indirectly.
In the words of Bob Dylan, “He who isn’t busy being born is busy dying.” This applies not only to individuals but to relationship as well. The notion that we can put things on cruise control and sail through life with a minimum of consciousness and engagement and still experience a high quality of life exists in the domain of fantasy, not reality. To be busy being born requires the willingness to show up, to risk, to tell the truth to others and to our ourselves about what we truly desire, what we fear, what we long for, and what brings passion and juice into our lives.
Be Amazing and Expect Amazing things
No one “owes” you a damned thing.
Just my thoughts