We human beings are biologically wired for social connection and relationships, whatever they may look like. In our personal lives, meditation and self-awareness can show us the deep importance and meaning of relationships to our place on earth. But how do you have them without feeling disappointed, hurt, or going into repairer-mindset and trying to change people? In my work as a meditation teacher, I find that the unspoken reasons behind difficulty in relationships is expectations: unfulfilled expectations, unsaid expectations and the unknown expectations that are playing out unawares!
“We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as were meant to be. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache … The absence of love and belonging will always lead to suffering.”
If you crave connection and community, but are disappointed by people constantly; it may be worth exploring your expectations and getting clear on them. For successful relationships that are healthy and fulfilling, meditative practice shows us that we should:
1. Notice when a conflict or difficulty arises
Try to separate oneself from the situation temporarily. When appropriate, find some time to destress and detox. Most important though is to get out ‘unscathed’ before harming oneself or others through brash words or resentful feelings.
2. Do some self-inquiry when there’s time, practice self-awareness
Create a loving, intentional environment for oneself to do this if possible. Catalogue any emotions and thoughts about the relationship, and write them down if possible. Also, talking to someone to ‘get out’ any unspoken reactions can be soothing.
3. Acknowledge one’s expectations
Ask: if there is disappointment, what has let me down about the person or situation? What were my expectations here? Aka, if I could wave a magic wand how would the situation look? Can I meet the expectation another way within myself? Can I soften it or compromise it, or let go of it altogether?
These sound familiar? Here are some common types of emotions felt in disatisfying relationships, drawn from the wonderful work of Dr Marshall Rosenberg at the Non Violent Communication Center: misunderstood, rejected, offended, confused, disappointed, worn out, nostalgic, disrespected, sensitive.
Once we’ve done some self-awareness with the relationship, there is a liberating step:
Surrounding oneself with the right people
Now, this will look different for everyone, but one thing that we all have in common is trust. Trustworthy people gain confidence through actions and demonstration. How can we show through action and embodiment that we are someone to be trusted with another person’s worries, troubles, or vulnerable self? One might even write down good signs of trustworthiness, and red flags with examples of both. Looking out for these in future interactions. My own trustworthiness list has “Listens without offering fix-it solutions, or hijacking the conversation with a story about themselves”.
Finally, there are two halves to this equation:
Be self-reliant and have resources and tools to manage stress in relationships (with trustworthy supporters),
Build meaningful and reliable connections with our immediate community with expectations clearly laid out. Relationships happen in our homes, families, neighbours, workplaces, larger community. (Even with our possessions, emotion inventory on a broken computer maybe?)
*The halves are inversely related! If we don’t have self-reliant members of society then all our relationships are needy and unstable. And our relationships aren’t smart, and intentionally formed alliances then we are constantly disappointed, and personally worse off.
May you have the courage to risk leaving your mountain of independence to bridge vulnerability, take leaps, and create smart, intentional relationships. Listening always to the gut feelings and heart space as the inner guide. One day you may look out at a trusted loved one and think, “you have nothing to give me that I couldn’t give myself”.
Wishing you peace and mental strength on your path, and don’t forget to share this blog post if it helped you in any way or you know someone who would benefit from it!
(Photo by Vincenzo Utro)