This Week on Soul Talks
Have you ever been disappointed by a family member?
We all have expectations for our families, but sometimes those expectations aren’t met. When that happens, it can be stressful and hurtful.
In this episode, Bill and Kristi will give you a roadmap to navigating family expectations. They also share some tips on how to avoid disappointment in the first place!
Listen to this Soul Talks episode below or you can read each of the steps by continuing further down the page.
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Adjusting Expectations Transcript
Bill & Kristi Gaultiere
This is going to be a great conversation for you as you’re heading into the holidays, or if you’re listening later in the year—anytime, it’s going to be helpful for your relationships with your family and friends and others.
I want to share a great story here, an example from someone who came to our institute as a husband, who said:
“You know, I’m learning to spend valuable time listening to my wife and understanding her feelings, and to balance my life and ministry in all aspects.”
This is so helpful, right? How do you think this wife feels about her husband saying that he’s learning to spend valuable time away from ministry to prioritize this—to listen to his wife, understand her feelings, and to balance his life and his busy ministry?
Well, yeah. I mean, it would be so helpful to her to know that he’s validating her, her emotions, her needs—he’s putting priority on her. And in showing his love—in doing that, showing his respect and care for her, by putting her as a priority.
I’m sure that she feels very loved—very special in that. Very grateful.
1. Prioritize Attention And Caring
So, by fostering this sort of a relationship where we’re tuning into what each other feels, needs, and wants—that’s important to us.
We are being soft-hearted.
We’re interested and curious.
We’re prioritizing time and space to listen, to care, and to pray together. It does so much to warm up a relationship and facilitate partnership—not oly in the family, but in work or whatever we’re doing.
Everything that we want to do in this world goes better when we communicate in a way that’s attentive and caring.
And it’s really honoring the other person as well.
2. Communicate Effectively
And so, this is the healthy way of communicating: to listen and to ask for what I need.
But a lot of times we’re not communicating.
We’re maybe even unaware of what we want.
We’re not taking responsibility for that.
And so, we’ve got hidden expectations that other people are sensing.
Yeah, and that can leave us feeling shame.
Maybe we’re turning it on ourselves, that our expectations aren’t being met.
I know that I did this holiday after holiday, when I had an expectation of a family member. I expected that they would make time for me… that they would want to see me.
And every year that it didn’t happen, I didn’t feel honored, important, or prioritized.
And so, I would feel disappointed.
And finally, I realized—well, I need to ask them.
I need to let them know that I’m really wanting that time with them, and ask them for it.
And I did that, and it still didn’t happen. They still weren’t able to make the time for me.
And so, then I realized—okay, I need to adjust my expectation.
I need to not continue to expect that I’m going to get that time with them during the holidays.
And I need to grieve that.
And I need to accept it.
But until I did that, I just felt either anger at them for disappointing me, or shame for having this ‘expectation’ and this desire that didn’t happen.
And I personalized it.
I felt like:
“I guess I’m not valuable enough—that’s why they don’t want to have time with me.”
3. Be Vulnerable With Your Expectations
See, you’re illustrating that adjusting our expectations of family isn’t only about how we communicate or how we resolve conflicts with somebody.
It’s really, first of all, often an inward thing—paying attention and realizing that I have an expectation.
And then, to get underneath that—because expectations and wants are very different.
A really helpful tool is to identify what we’re expecting from someone.
It could be from God, or from any situation.
And then, reframe that or redirect it as an expression of:
“Well, this is what I want. This is what I’m hoping for.”
“This is what I need.”
And that changes the whole dynamic of the situation, because now I’m taking ownership of my life and my experience.
And I’m being vulnerable in that sense—either with the Lord, or just in my own reflections, or in my own journaling, etc.
4. Set Boundaries
Well, and it helps us make healthier decisions too—because when I was doing cartwheels to try to be with this family member, and they weren’t making any effort to try to be with me, I resented that.
I was angry. I was hurt by that.
I had all these emotional responses. But when I woke up and I realized what was happening there, then I was able to make different choices and recognize:
“I need to set some boundaries here. I need to not sacrifice so much to try to be with them, because I’m just setting myself up for disappointment and hurt.”
By having some good boundaries, by being more balanced, and by reflecting on:
- What you’re feeling
- What you want
- The realities of how things are going in that relationship
… you’re able to make an adjustment with your priorities.
And I think communicating is really helpful with this as well.
5. Reverse The Situation In Your Mind
So, I’m thinking about times where I felt an expectation from somebody else to be at something—like a holiday gathering, for example.
The expectation didn’t feel good for me.
It felt very hard for me because it felt like they were expecting too much of me.
It wasn’t fitting with my reality or with my commitments.
And what I tended to want to do was to NOT set boundaries with them, because I didn’t want to disappoint their expectation.
Instead, I wanted to meet it.
So on my own, I kept trying to think that I could meet it, and also kept trying to lead them to believe that I could meet it…
But then, I never could. Because the expectation was just too high.
And so, finally, when I woke up to that and I realized it, I was able to let them know:
“I hear that this is what you want. And I wish I could meet that expectation, but I can’t. This is the best I can do.”
So I let them know that I needed to adjust what they were expecting from me.
That took a lot of courage.
It was hard for me to do that, because I had to set a boundary in order to do that.
“No, I can’t be there at this time on this day. I can’t do what you’re asking of me. But what I CAN do is this…”
6. Develop Self Awareness
Right. And so before you’re setting that boundary with your family member, you’re reflecting on your own feelings and needs and stresses.
And then, you’re acknowledging your limits.
You’re acknowledging the limitations of what you can and can’t do.
And that’s self-awareness.
And in order to arrive at that self-awareness, it really helps to be able to pray, to find words for what you’re feeling, to talk to a friend in confidence and receive empathy and validation—and to just get really clear and grounded in what you’re experiencing.
Maybe talking with a spiritual director is a good idea as well.
For those of you who are listening who don’t know, we have a whole team of Sr Spiritual Directors who are available to talk with you, to listen to you, to give you empathy, to pray for you, and to guide you in your life with God and in your relationships.
This is a valuable resource that we can offer to those of you in our Soul Shepherding community.
We need each other.
We need all of us, especially those of us who are in ministry.
You might be a missionary, or a small group leader, or a person in the marketplace who’s just serving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
However it is that you’re serving God, it’s so important that we have someone to listen to us, who cares for us, and who prays for us.
And then that, in turn, helps us to be aware of where we have limits, and where we need to set boundaries.
And then, if I do that work before I have that difficult conversation, like you described Kristi, then that enables me—in the context of that difficult conversation—to be calm and not emotionally reactive, so as not to dump my emotions on somebody or to get angry or be critical to that person.
But also, not to be so self-effacing, or self-negating, or eggshell walking that I don’t actually say:
“Well, this is what I need. This is what I feel.”
And so, that pre-work that you did there enabled that conversation—which was a difficult conversation for you.
But you were able to speak the truth in love, because you were aware of the truth. And you were able to take courage because you received courage from a safe friend who supported you.
That’s right. I needed that. I couldn’t have done it without that. That was crucial for me.
We all need that. I think that sometimes we miss that.
7. Seek Out Mentorship And Accountability
We all need relationships that are safe, secure, and bonded, where I feel supported and strengthened—where I can say anything, and I’m going to be listened to and cared for.
We need at least one person like that.
We’ve all got Jesus and the Trinity, but we need a person in the flesh.
And when we don’t have someone like that, that’s where it’s really essential to talk with someone like a Soul Shepherding spiritual director.
We start there to learn how to relate better, how to ask for empathy, how to receive it, and also how to bond.
And then that will, in turn, help you find other relationships in your life that are of a deeper nature—more emotionally safe, more grace giving, so that we can have that help in our growing and in our self-awareness—growing in our inner strength, growing in our capacity to deal with the stresses of life and work and family and ministry…
… and have the courage to work through the conflicts.
Yeah. Well, let’s go back to this boundary setting discussion.
I was afraid to disappoint this person. I didn’t want to disappoint this person.
I felt shame because I couldn’t meet their expectations.
But I expected myself to be able to. And so, to be able to talk to someone who was able to be more objective was really helpful.
It was helpful to hear them validate how the expectation felt for me.
Well, you’re talking to your friend, who’s validating and helping you to be more objective.
And helping you to be more ‘emotionally balanced’ before you talk with the family.
Right. And then also, I know they’re praying for me when I’m going to have this conversation with my family member too.
And I’ll know that I have somebody who’s supporting me through prayer—somebody who’s going to be there for me if it doesn’t go well.
I know I’m not just going to be alone. I’ll have the support of somebody who’s aware of the process of growth, and the courage that it’s taking to lean into this—to let this person know that I can’t meet their expectation.
8. Take Your Time
Yeah. So in that sort of a relationship with your friend or your spiritual director, they’re supporting you—they’ve bonded with you, and they really understand you and accept you where you are.
And that’s giving you strength for the other relationship that might not, in this case, due to conflict or whatever, be as safe or as intimate.
And then another thing you’re doing here, Kristi, just to affirm and help those who are listening and to help you understand, is this…
… sometimes, what happens when we’ve got a situation where there’s conflict, or where there’s been some expectations or some boundary-crossings or something like that in a relationship with a family member, we sometimes sort of rush to deal with it.
But oftentimes, that’s not the best course of action.
On the other hand, if it’s a small thing that’s happening right now, or if it’s something we’re prepared for, then by all means—talk about it, speak the truth in love, and set the boundary.
But a lot of times, it’s something that’s emotional.
It’s something we’re frustrated about.
It’s something we’ve got anxiousness about, or that’s somehow tapping into some vulnerable hurt place in our personality or history.
And so, in those cases, it’s usually better not to go right to that person and talk about it—but to reflect on how you feel.
Pray about it.
Maybe it’s time to find that safe confidant whom I can process with—someone who’s not going to gossip or judge that family member.
But rather, someone who will listen and empathize, and help me to find (and get in touch with more deeply) the words for what I’m feeling, for what’s ‘off’—and to help me determine what I really need.
To help me determine:
“How would I say it in this conversation? How would that family member react? How would I feel about that?”
9. Trust In The Lord
And so, to understand that—and find those words and get to a place of calmness and confidence…
Really, to get to a place where that conflict with that family member is brought into the kingdom of God—into the rule and reign of the Lord—into the place where the Lord is my refuge, and I’m not alone.
A place where I’m secure. I’m in the kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy. I’m loved and I’m cared for—and that’s been made tangible for me, because this friend or this spiritual director has really listened to me with grace and helped me to absorb that presence of Christ that is always there for me to nurture and to guide.
But now, it’s made more palpable because I’m processing it in-depth and in detail with someone who’s drawing out the experiences, and the words, and the stresses, and the struggles, and the conversation—and how it might go. And it’s helping me to get grounded in the reality that I’m not alone. That the Lord is with me.
10. Examine Self Expectations
Yes. So powerful, so helpful.
And I think also looking at our self-expectations too can be really helpful, especially in this day where culture causes us to compare ourselves to Instagram, or to the people we see who look like they’re ‘doing it all,’ and having a ‘perfect holiday.’
And then we think that we should be able to do it all and have a perfect holiday.
But the reality is:
“I can’t do everything I want to do at Christmas this time of year.”
I’m just not going to be able to reach even my own expectations—where I set the bar for myself.
And there are so many things I can’t even control about that. Like that the stores maybe won’t have the gift that I want for somebody, or that something comes up and maybe I get sick and I can’t do what I thought I could do.
Or others aren’t able to do what I thought they’d be able to carry and do and to help out with.
And so, I may have to pick up a ball that got dropped.
Just different expectations like that—that I can’t control.
I can’t control my children’s behavior when I want them to be like cherubs… and grateful… and saying “thank you” to family members for gifts, and dressing nice and pretty.
And having this romantic kind of ‘Christmas scene’ on Christmas day that I have in my mind.
I can’t control all of that.
And so, to be aware of that—and to say:
“Okay. Where am I expecting too much of myself?”
We did this pretty early on—when I just found that we needed to go over our calendar and say:
“What can’t we do that’s on here? We can’t go to every Christmas event that we want to go to. We can’t do every activity we want to do in this holiday period. So, what are we going to say ‘no’ to, in order to not miss out on the most important and the best—and still care for ourselves and nurture our relationship with God?”
I mean, most importantly, we want to celebrate and love Jesus well in this time.
And being able to recognize that I’m not going to be able to do everything let’s us ask:
“What’s the priority?”
It also allows us to sit down and to be intentional with those expectations. This is very important and helpful.
11. Be Mindful Of How Other People Feel
So, those calendar conversations between parents are so important in the family.
They’re also important to have with our coworkers, our close friends, and also with our kids as they get to be teenagers and get to be older.
Because, this is not only about: what people expect of us that might be unrealistic or stressful or unfair or hurtful.
To me, this is also about:
“Well, I probably have some expectations that are affecting my spouse or my kids or my parents, my siblings, my friends, etc.”
And so, we need to be attentive to how other people feel about the stuff that we want—and do the work of reflecting and becoming aware of where I might be having expectations that are putting too much pressure or stress on a loved one.
And also, to do the work to be able to have a conversation about that, and get out of the realm of putting demands on somebody, or putting guilt trips on somebody.
Just simply asking for what it is that we would like, but being willing to negotiate—and being able to listen to that family member and what she or he feels and wants, and then work that out.
So important. It’s very healthy to have that kind of communication.
So friends, we just so want for you to have a blessed holiday season of gratitude to God, for his goodness and his grace in your life and in your family—even as I know so many of us are going through some really hard things.
Some of you listening are dealing with suffering in your family, or you’ve lost a loved one, or have a health challenge, or there are other issues that are really distressing you.
And so, finding the goodness of God and finding meaningful conversations and relationships that we can develop with each other is so valuable and so precious to us, especially at the holiday season.
And one of the things we want for you this Christmas is greater intimacy with Jesus.
Something that really helps us, that we look forward to each Christmas season, every Advent, is to do our Surprising Joy Advent Meditations.
Bill and I look forward every year to picking a character from the Christmas gospels to really meditate and pray on, to prompt our interactions with the Lord about what we are feeling—to relate with, and even to enjoy sharing insights with each other about how the Lord is meeting us and speaking to us as we journey with this character and Jesus in Advent season… reflecting upon God’s grace in action in our lives—starting there at Advent 2000 years ago with Jesus’s incarnation—and how he’s with us now.
And we don’t want to miss that this Advent.
So, we recommend to you these Surprising Joy Advent Cards.
And then, also, we want to just let you know—whenever you buy our Soul Shepherding resources, any profit goes to just support the costs of this ministry.
We don’t do a lot of fundraising.
We’re asking the Lord to put on your heart, and his people’s heart, to support Soul Shepherding.
So if you’re prompted to want to donate to the ministry of Soul Shepherding and the Soul Talks podcast, go to soulshepherding.org, and click the donate button. And you can give a gift there.
Thank you for following Jesus with us.