The Smart Art of Friendship: Great Expectations?

We all have expectations of our friends and friendships at one time or another, whether we express them or not. It has been said that: “Unexpressed expectations can be premature resentments.” We have all likely had the experience of sensing that a friend is unhappy with us and not really knowing why. This lack of knowing can be confusing and sometimes even harmful to a friendship. Expressing and being clear about your expectations, what you want or need, and what you can offer your friends is paramount to the health of your friendships.

Going through a health crisis or a major loss in our lives can magnify the impact of unexpressed expectations. We might expect a friend to be there for us when we go through a challenging time, a loss or a transition in our lives. It can be disappointing and feel quite hurtful to learn that our friend is not available or able to be there for us. One example that we can all relate to at some point is when someone experiences a health crisis or a frightening health diagnosis.

On the one hand, the person experiencing a loss or health crisis might expect their friend to:

  • listen their worst fears or worries
  • be able to understand and know exactly what to say
  • accompany them to appointments or to at least to make an offer
  • pick up food or prescriptions
  • call and check up on them

And on the other hand, the friend of the person experiencing the loss or health crisis might:

  • be fearful of intruding
  • be afraid of losing her friend
  • feel as though they should know what to do and say
  • expect their friend to be explicit about what they need
  • expect their friend to clearly ask for help

And from either perspective, a dynamic between two friends can be triggered or intensified by a health crisis or loss. This shift requires both people to work at being really clear with themselves and each other about their needs and expectations, without judgement or blaming.

While a major health crisis might magnify where expectations are not being expressed; everyday or ongoing events without clear expectations can similarly impact a friendship.

One example is how we relate to time on a daily basis and whether we prefer spontaneity, reliability, structure or flow. We might, for example, expect our friend to be okay with our being 10-15 minutes late to meet them. When in reality, punctuality is one of their most highly held values. If our friend tells us how important being on time is to them, then we have the opportunity to adjust our behavior and to be sure to be on time for that friend (even if punctuality is not one of our personal top values). But, if our friend is not clear about their expectations about time, then we are left guessing and we might not change what we are doing which could lead to further disappointment or hurt.

Tend to your friendships by clearly identifying and expressing your expectations.

Questions you might ponder or ask your friend(s):

  • Are you clear with your friends when you have expectations?
  • Do you express your expectations directly?
  • Do ask your friends to let you know what they expect of you?

Copyrighted 2013 – The Smart Art of Friendship- Ruth Tamari and Amy Greenleaf Brassert