A Way to Prevent Heartbreak: Clarify Expectations

While what you don’t know may kill you; what you think you know but really don’t may kill you faster!


I have wanted to talk about this for months–how to prevent unnecessary hurt from unmet expectations–but last week an incident happened with one of my associates that really catalyzed me to share this urgently. So let’s talk about unmet expectations.

Whether it’s between spouses, parent and child, boss and workers or even among co-workers, family folk and church members, this is quite a common occurrence. This is particularly so African, Chinese, Japanese and Korean cultures that employ indirect communication.  If you’re like me, you’ve probably been hurt before by unmet expectations. In fact, sometimes we don’t even realize we had an expectation until it was not met!

Mark Twain once said, “What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”  We tend to have expectations that are unconscious, unrealistic,  unspoken and unagreed upon. Let me share how you can flip these four things around and protect your heart against heartbreaks from unmet expectations. I owe this life-saving lesson from my New Yorkan mentors, Pete and Geri Scazzero.s



How do you know your expectations are valid or not? As hard-to-take as this may seem, when the expectation is unconscious  it is invalid.  In fact, if even we don’t even know we have them until we are disappointed how on earth is the other person supposed to know and meet it? When it is unrealistic it is invalid as well. Even if it is reasonable and we are conscious of it but it has not been articulated, it is still invalid. The common lame excuse we tend to give is, “Oh, but they should know?!”

In the event that our expectations meet all the above three criteria–conscious, realistic, spoken–but the other party has not agreed to them, they are still invalid. While this may seem very Western, I have learnt as an African-Canadian that it is never wise to assume agreement!

Of course, important caveats include marriage (where the vows already spoken have created certain clear expectations like fidelity), parent-child relationships (expectation of chores) and employer-employee dynamics where expectations have been clearly laid out in contracts and policy and supposedly read and accented to. Even in these relationships with broad-stroke expectations, situations occur that demand clarifying expectations further.



To prevent heartbreaks from unmet expectations, ensure your expectations are:

(1) Conscious: I am aware of my expectation.

(2) Realistic: I have evidence to support that the expectation is reasonable in the sense that the other is able and willing.

(3) Spoken: I have expressed the expectation clearly.

(4) Agreed Upon: The other person has agreed to the expectation by saying “yes.”

I would highly recommend you take the Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Relationships course for a full meal and good skill-building in this area they call Stop Mind Reading and Clarifying Expectations.




In the event that hurt still happens from unmet expectations, valid or not, REFRAMING the painful experience is everything. As John Maxwell renders it in the Law of Pain,good management of bad experiences can lead to growth.” Reframe the painful experience as follows (modified from a Maxwell process):

a) Define the problem –> The painful situation I need to process right now is…

b) Understand your emotion –> My feelings about this are…

c) Articulate the lesson –> My lessons in is this are…

d) Identify a desired change –> The changes I want to effect are…

e) Brainstorm numerous pathways –> The ways out are…

f) Receive others’ input –> What I’m learning from others is…

g) Implement a course of action –> My course of action is 1. Embrace the reality of pain 2. Learn my lesson(s) 3. Share my lessons 4. Change a. ______ b. ______ c. ______  d. _____.



You know what they say happens when you assume: you make an ass of u and me. An expectation is only valid when it is mutually agreed upon. Let’s do less heart damage by providing and demanding clear expectations of others. Let’s ensure in all our relationships that our expectations are conscious, realistic, articulated and agreed upon. And when things fall through the cracks and we feel the sting of pain from unmet expectations, let’s reframe the experience well so we can still grow and flourish.



1 Comment

  1. Dora says:
    February 2, 2021

    Just went through the Law of pain in John C . Maxwell’s book. Good stuff!
    Love the Scazzero’s for their emotionally healthy series! Awesome!
    Thanks for sharing!!


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