Have you ever heard someone say (or perhaps you’ve said), “If you don’t know why I’m upset with you, I’m not going to tell you!”?
Here’s where that comes from: In nearly all our relationships we subconsciously establish unvoiced expectations of others. Just this morning, I had to laugh at myself because I caught myself doing this!
We set up these behavioral expectations of others, though they have no clue that we’ve done so. Naturally, they don’t meet our expectations (which they knew nothing about), and we become disappointed in them. We feel they’ve let us down.
Then, depending on the perceived severity of their offense, we think less of them, we hold a grudge, and treat them with contempt. This happens frequently in marriages and in all kinds of other relationships. And we are so convinced that the other person “should just know” what their offense was and why we’re angry at them. That’s why we say those fateful words (or at least think them), “If you don’t know why I’m upset with you, I’m not going to tell you!”
We even establish these unspoken expectations on people that we don’t even know. Think of a time when you were in the checkout line at the grocery store. Perhaps the checker wasn’t meeting your expectations for service. Or how about a server in a restaurant or coffee shop? Or a customer service agent at the airport?
Some years ago, I became convicted of my judgmental spirit in this regard. A friend of mine and I were waiting in the checkout line at a grocery store and the checker was being less than professional (according to my expectations). She was grumpy and not focused on her customers. I had already formed a bad opinion of her while she was checking in those in front of us.
But when it was our turn to pay for our groceries, my friend looked at her, and in a kind, caring voice, he said, “You’re having a rough day aren’t you?” At this she just melted, and he was able to comfort her in just a few short minutes. He brightened her day, and I was deeply sorry for my unkind thoughts about her.
This habit we have of setting unspoken expectations of others may be the number one killer of relationships. It’s very self-focused and self-important. It’s also completely unfair to others since they have no idea that we’ve placed those expectations on them.
The apostle Paul urges us, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus….” (Philippians 2:3-5)
Let’s try to catch ourselves in the act when we find ourselves placing these unspoken expectations on others. Let’s “look to the interests of others.” And if it’s necessary to set mutual behavioral expectations, we should do so in an open and civil dialog with each other.
“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:10)