Ready…Set…Let Go of Your Expectations

The pain of expectation

One Sunday afternoon, almost 2 years ago, I cried the most I’ve ever cried in a relationship.

Anxious that I hadn’t heard from my boyfriend in a week, I called for us to meet.

By 1 p.m. on Sunday I’d finally summoned the courage to dial his number.

I’d been checking my phone religiously throughout the entire morning hoping that somehow I’d missed his call.

A reasonable time, I gathered, since we had agreed to meet at around 2 or 3 pm.

My anxiety was top level, but somehow, I’d managed to make the call.

“Hello? Angela? Good morning.” “Good morning? You mean good afternoon? How are you? What time will we meet?”

“I spent the morning sleeping, I’m sorry” he murmured in a barely audible tone.

“Ok, so what time will you be ready?” “Um… let me get up and give you a call back.” “Ok. I’ll wait for your call, goodbye.”

I hung up the phone…

10 minutes later I received a message from him — “I’m sorry, I don’t want to meet.”

I called backed. No answer.

I sent messages on WhatsApp. No reply.

My interminable sobbing persisted for about 5 hours, until about 6 pm when I placed the last call. I left him a very emotional voice message.

Somehow, I broke from the spell of pain that had gripped me throughout those hours. I left the apartment and went to catch a film.

The anxiety had gotten the best of me on that day.

Learning to let go.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Alexandra H. Solomon in her book Loving Bravely expressed it splendidly when she wrote that “[f]alling in love will grow your ass up.”

It’s a hell of a truth: Relationships are master teachers if we allow them to be.

One of the biggest lessons that they impart on us is that we cannot control others, specifically their thoughts, their actions, or their feelings.

I know it seems more than obvious… and I think that’s why it’s so difficult to grasp.

Even if we can understand this rationally, we often fall short when putting it into practice.

Think back at your own relationships. How often did you feel frustrated because your significant other did not comply with your desired request?

For example…

* As much as you told them, they never texted or called you as often as you’d liked.
* You compromised on them spending time with their friends, but they could never afford to spend even the fraction of the time with you.

I’m certain you can come up with other examples.

In retrospect, such actions might reveal that you were simply just swimming against the current: That person never really cared for you to begin with, at least not as much as you wanted them to.

Step back for a second, though, and ask yourself the following: In these situations, how willing was I to let go of my expectations?

Defining the idea of “letting go”

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, to let go means “to stop holding or gripping (something or someone).”

In the figurative sense, to let go requires releasing your expectations of another’s actions and reactions.

The opposite of letting go is to grip onto something unwaveringly, despite it not leading to our hoped outcome and causing us pain.

Why is it important that we learn to let go?

Learning to let go is one of the most effective ways to eliminate negative emotions from our life.

Holding onto expectations leads to frustration when the other falls short. Anger consumes you at the thought of the should’s you assign to them, as well as the whys you prescribe to yourself. The desperation of needing your expectations to be fulfilled, in order to be happy, feeds your anxiety.

The inability to let go can also consume your focus and affects your self-esteem.

If we persist in our efforts to control people, we can also cause them pain.

Your unhappiness about their actions (or lack thereof) can make them feel guilt, even though it might not be necessarily warranted.

Most often people fail to act the way you want them to, not because they want to hurt us, but most likely because they’re not mentally, physically, or emotionally able to fulfill our needs.

Managing your expectations of others will certainly equip you to navigate the world in a less painful way.

How do we determine when we must let go?

In all honesty, it’s never easy to determine when to let go.

Dealing with others is always tricky. Things are not always black and white. There’s a lot of grey, unless the situation is unhealthy, like when physical, emotional or mental abuse are present.

Therefore, it’s important to look at the situation as objectively as possible. Sometimes we overthink things and make them worse than they are in our heads.

On the other hand, the evidence that we must let go is overwhelmingly obvious at times, especially when we can detect that our persistence will yield further disappointment and pain. Yet somehow, we fail to act because we’re still hopeful things will change.

Once you step back mentally from your thoughts about the relationship, ask yourself the following:

  • Which negative emotions constantly come up in my current relationship?
  • What has my role been in the relationship (actions, reactions, thoughts, etc)?
  • How does my partner behave both in general and when I communicate with them?
  • Have there been any additional stressors that might be putting some strain on the relationship?
  • What is my gut feeling about the relationship?

These and other similar questions are important to reflect upon, especially since they’ll assist us in deciding whether the relationship is something that you should invest in and can sustain long-term, or if it’s something you must let go off to have peace of mind.

What does the process of letting go look like?

If you’ve decided that you need to let go, either for your own good or the good of the other person, there are several ways to make the process a bit less painful.

Foremost, when you go out looking for answers on how to manage your emotions and actions throughout the process of letting go, understand that everyone is unique in the way they deal with the external world.

Some people are more resilient than others, while others are overly sensitive. Therefore, a piece of advice like “block your partner on social media” may or may not be necessary in your situation. You know yourself best. Trust that.

You will also need to be patient with yourself and love yourself enough to persist and not give up on your journey to get rid of the emotional pain.

Ask yourself the following:

What am I feeling at this very moment? When I think about this person and our situation, what do I feel? Is my behaviour now consistent with my behavior in past relationships? What are the things I want to control in this relationship, and what do I feel when I can’t control them?

Journaling is a great way to self reflect. Taking the time to answer these questions every day, for a period of time, can help bring you out of your emotions which will facilitate the other steps.

Just because you’re strong enough to decide that it’s time to let go doesn’t make the process any easier. Strong negative emotions will surface, and you’ll need to find a way to release them and fill in the gap within, a way that doesn’t involve the other person.

One of the best ways to do this is to cry. Lock yourself in a room and cry for a few minutes. Repeat this everyday or several times a days if necessary, for as long as the emptiness inside persists.

There might be other ways of releasing the pain, like exercising, or perhaps doing something that really takes you out of your head a hobby that you enjoy. (For me it’s singing, for example).

After taking the time to reflect about the emotions you’re feeling, and when you start releasing them in a healthy fashion, you can begin the process of analyzing the relationship much more objectively.

The reason we want to do this is that we don’t want to make a drastic decision without having as much information as possible.

Many times we tend to either romanticize or vilify a person in our minds, and this can lead to actions based on little to no objective contemplation.

Remember that our words and actions can be a point of no return, and you want to be sure that you can handle the consequences.

Talk about your relationship with someone you can trust. This could be a family member, a close friend, or a therapist.

You want to discuss both your behaviors and that of the other person. Doing so provides you with further clarity about what the next best step is.

It might also help to have the person you trust also keep you accountable. Whenever you’re feeling vulnerable, or are afraid of falling into destructive behavior, reaching out to that person might be an anchor that can help you make it through.

And if you don’t have someone to speak with or can’t afford a therapist, there’s a plethora of information and resources out there that can help you understand and manage your situation.

In my specific case, I consumed plenty of content on YouTube. There are many amazing people talking about relationships, both from a professional and from a personal perspective.

Listening to their advice and experiences can shed light on your own situiation.

If you’re more comfortable reading, and prefer something more practical, there are hundreds of books that speak on the subject of relationships. Whether you’re interested in understanding your behavior or that of your partner’s, this content helps you dive deep into perspectives you’d never consider on your own.

The idea of bringing up your concerns to your partner can feel threatening, especially if you’ve done so in the past and they’ve dismissed your concerns.

Or perhaps you’re terrified that bringing up the uncomfortable conversation will push them to the edge, and they will finally abandon you.

If this is your thought, then ask yourself the following:

Is it more terrifying for you that the relationship end, or that you continue living with the pain of uncertainty and frustation that the relationship produces within you?

You must be honest with yourself at this moment.

It is also important to be honest with your significant other. Our partners may sometimes hesitate to tell us how they’re really feeling, especially if we tend to behave in a toxic, manipulative, or anxious way. A change in your approach might be the solution.

By approching them with honesty about your feelings, they might find the courage to reveal their true feelings towards you.

Even if their actions were indicative of how they felt, their words might be sobering enough to knock you out of your anxiety just long enough for you to take the necessary next step.

Taking decisive steps

Reflecting on your current relationship, releasing your emotions in a healthy way, talking with someone outside the relationship, and speaking with your partner are great steps in the direction of achieving peace of mind.

From here, you can take decisive steps that will help you overcome the expectations.

It isn’t necessary to be drastic at this point. Letting go of your expectations doesn’t mean that your relationship needs to end, especially if the other person is willing to put in some effort.

For example, your partner might be interested in pursuing a relationship with you, but let’s you know they’re feeling overwhelmed by other aspects of their lives. In this case, and if both are willing to make compromises regarding each other’s actions and expectations, you might be able to hold on and make it through.

A small step in this case might be seeking tools that might help ease your symptoms of anxiety.

Meditation is a great way to calm your anxiety. It has been helpful in my situation. Focusing on your breath shifts your focus from your thoughts to your body, helping release the tension which feeds the negative emotions.

Another way to relief the anxiety of your relationship is to turn your attention towards yourself instead of the other person.

This may translate to working on your goals or meeting new people and spending your time with friends and loved ones.

In the case that the relationship is not salvageable, and you need to let go completely because the other person either doesn’t want to be with you, or that you can’t handle your emotions around them, you must both make the decision that the relationship needs to end for your own mental and emotional health.

I KNOW THIS WILL HURT, but think of it as a bandage that you need to rip off all at once. It will hurt like hell, but after some time dealing with your internal wounds more directly, you’ll find so much more happiness in your life.

In this case, severing contact with your former partner might be the right path, in addition to emotional management and support from those you trust.

It’s critical that you put yourself first, and that you don’t make the other person the villain. Rather, an empowered ending to a painful relationship will be one where you’re looking at the learning opportunities.

Looking at your relationship detached from the expectations will provide you with tremendous insights about yourself and about how you deal with others.

Things will get better

The process of letting go is painful, but this pain decreases over time.

Remember your previous relationship? Did you not feel that the pain of things ending in that relationship would never cease? You may barely even remember that pain now that you’re in your current relationship.

After some time you may meet someone new who will make you forget the current pain you’re experience.

Moving forward.

You can expect that you’ll make some of the same relationship mistakes in the future. You are only human, and you will not change overnight. It’s a process.

What you can work towards is learning how to manage both your emotions and your expectations more effectively, which will contribute to the success of your future relationships, and which will make you feel proud of how for you’ve gone.

And if you’re ever in doubt that letting go is the right thing, simply imagine what better person or relationship is waiting out there for you, and is unable to enter into your life because you’re not giving it the space to do so.

What has been the most difficult decision you’ve had to make in your current or past relationships in relation to expectations and the process of letting go? Share your experience and help others work through their own current situation.

Originally published at https://ontheforum.com on April 9, 2020.

Unlisted

--

--

Teacher, traveler, and language learner. Writing about productivity, personal finances, life abroad, speaking another language.

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Angela Martinez

Angela Martinez

Teacher, traveler, and language learner. Writing about productivity, personal finances, life abroad, speaking another language.