Let me tell you about Penny and Kenny. Living with Kenny would test anybody’s patience. How can Penny handle it?

Kenny thinks he can voice his opinion in the strongest possible terms, even to the degree that he insults others. He also doesn’t think he has to apologize because he should voice those very opinions; they need to be said.

His wife, Penny, has tried to get him to understand the damage he does that way, but he was stubbornly clinging to his position when we peeked in on their lives.

Penny has some very specific expectations of her husband. There are all the “shoulds”:

  • He should be more sensitive to others;
  • he should not argue;
  • he should see other people’s positions; and so forth.

Unfortunately, that is not the husband she got.

And, what’s more, if she were only to let go of these expectations, she actually has a chance to help her husband to become the person she wants him to become.

You see, people stiffen their positions when they feel backed up against a wall. They leave no room for compromise when others convey their expectations – and they don’t meet them.

On the other hand, when Penny told her husband, “I know in my heart that you are a good person,” she conveyed helpful expectations.

If he is already a good person, then acting good should not be too hard for him. Statements like this soften others’ positions.

However, when she said, “I get that you think my brother’s feelings shouldn’t be hurt since you didn’t mean to call him a murderer in your stupid argument last week, but you did actually say those exact words,” she was expecting more than Kenny could deliver.

TIP #1:

It makes sense to only ask people to do maybe just a little more than they already can do; too much more, and you will get resistance.

She was expecting him to admit his language was too strong; in short, she was expecting him to transform himself completely in one fell swoop.

Asking Kenny to apologize, too, would be too big a step for a person who has never apologized.

The rule is to keep your expectations for change low so there is some likelihood of success. So what could Penny expect that is within the realm of possibility? Perhaps she can get Kenny to–

  • see that he did hurt her brother’s feelings
  • recognize when he is becoming emotional before he says anything

The same is true for what we expect of ourselves. If we expect too much, we will likely disappoint ourselves.

TIPS #2, 3, 4:

What would be reasonable for Penny to expect of herself in regards to her interactions with her husband? She could learn to–

2.take some deep breaths when she starts to feel frustrated

3. continue to ask questions to understand her husband better

4. cut back on her recommendations to Kenny as his response is bound to disappoint her

What about our expectations of our God? When circumstances are bitter, do we blame Him? Do we ask, “Why?” It’s normal to do that but not very conducive to a good relationship with Him. It’s not that we should expect less of God, but rather that we should understand that whatever He gives us is meant for goodness.

How in the world can we say that a hurricane that destroyed hundreds of homes and wrecked hundreds of lives is good?

TIP #5:

Maybe it means that God gives us difficult situations and our job is to make something good out of it.

That makes so much sense to me. In this way we could truly see everything as for the good – because everything is what we make of it. And we can make it good.

If we see life in this light, then what, exactly, should we expect of God? The answer seems clear: We expect His constant goodness and His love of us. Beyond that, everything is what we make of it, or, in other words, how we turn those expectations on ourselves. Our expectations of ourselves should always be:

  • I hope and pray I can make something good of whatever is given to me. I will certainly try.

So how high should our expectations be in order to not disappoint ourselves and give up on ourselves, on others, and on God? How low should our expectations be if we don’t want to lose motivation completely? Where do we set the bar?


Here is my fun answer: Trial and error.

See, if we move that bar all the time, we will find the sweet spot, whether it is for others or for ourselves. In fact, everyone’s sweet spot is different and, just to make life interesting, it changes for the same person over time and circumstance.

It may be, for instance, that over time, Penny will be able to raise her expectations of Kenny. If it turns out that he starts to become reflective and Penny sees that he is making changes more rapidly than she expected (with her lowered expectations), then she can raise them.

You can see how this trial and error approach produces a consistent win-win. You always have the bar low enough to begin with so as to assure success. Then, if the person – or yourself – exceeds expectations, it makes sense to raise the bar, and you produce even more success.

If the low bar does not produce success, it could be that the fun and the challenge were missing. Or something else could be wrong.

If, for example, Kenny resented Penny because she was always angry at him, then nothing might work until she apologizes from the heart.

The beauty of this trial and error process is that by starting out low, when success is nearly guaranteed, the lack of success is great information; it means you have to search, ask, and figure out what else is wrong. It means that you can eliminate too-high expectations as the cause of the problem.

So just remember: don’t overdo your expectations and keep playing around with where you set that bar. May it be a fun process; it should be.

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