By Stephenie Craig, LCSW
I found myself in a close relationship constantly feeling hurt and disappointed. I felt resentful and repeatedly like I wasn’t asking for anything unreasonable but the person refused to give me what I needed. Have you been there too? Maybe it’s a family member, a partner, a friendship. Maybe the type of relationship contributes to beliefs that a parent, sibling, or spouse is supposed to give you what you’re seeking. Sadly, even relationships that seem like they should be able to meet your emotional needs sometimes don’t. So what are you to do when you find yourself bitter, hurt, and powerless to change someone else’s behavior in your relationship?
Imagine you live on a beautiful farm with acres of land complete with white farmhouse and many ponds for your fishing pleasure. You look at the ponds and they are each uniquely beautiful and you assume because you’ve seen fish come out of some of the ponds that all of the ponds will yield fish. You take your fishing gear, your chair, and you camp at a pond near the house expecting success. You cast your line, feel a tug only to pull out weeds followed by an old can followed by sticks. You’re committed. You already spent time here and you just know this pond is supposed to have the fish you’re looking for so you keep casting and keep fishing out disappointment. You consider moving on to a different pond, but it’s work to move, maybe the fish will come on the next cast, and you don’t want to give up on the pond that’s supposed to meet your needs.
Eventually, you find yourself worn down and realizing you don’t have much to lose to switch ponds. You pick a different pond that’s less obvious, less close to the house, and one no one has told you has fish. You cast and you pull out a fish. You cast and you pull out another. And consistently, you find that the new pond is able to meet your fishing expectations. It’s a wonderful surprise and also makes you think about how much time you spent trying to get fish out of a pond that was never going to give you fish when all the while, you could have been finding fish in ponds better suited to your needs.
It isn’t that the first pond has no value. It’s a beautiful pond for sitting, skipping rocks, and seeing the reflection of the sunset. It has value for what it is. However, knowing what it is and what it isn’t is key. It is not a fishing pond. And as long as you were convinced the pond was supposed to yield fish, it was going to keep disappointing you. Once you realize that it’s a sitting pond, you can appreciate what the pond does give you and make plans to fish elsewhere.
What are the lessons we can take from this story?
- Expecting something that someone won’t or can’t give you will result in anxiety, bitterness, resentment, and sometimes feeling that you aren’t enough. Try remembering that most often, it’s not about you. Someone not meeting your emotional expectations is not a reflection of your value.
- It’s ok to accept and grieve what you’re not going to get. It’s sad that you can’t get your needs met from the relationship. Let yourself feel your feelings. Face reality the best you can. As you’re able, release the person from the debt you feel they owe you for not meeting your needs. Notice what the relationship can be in your life within healthy boundaries for yourself and try engaging at that level. Maybe you share less, seek less, expect less.
- Give yourself permission to get your emotional needs met in healthy ways in other healthy relationships. If your parents aren’t able to give you support and encouragement, allow yourself to receive those in safe, healthy friendships. Let go of expectations about certain kinds of relationships meeting certain needs so you can embrace reality and get your needs met from various healthy relationships.
Be kind to yourself as you shift relationship expectations. It’s deep, hard work. As you need support along your journey of healing, connect with us at journeybravely.com.