John and Sarah spent The New Year holiday season in Las Vegas where they had hoped to have a relaxed time with little tension. Things went well until they decided to stop at a retail outlet mall in the way home which was attached to a casino. Both agreed they would “stop at the mall” on the way home, but later discovered that what they expected would happen when they stopped was quit different. To Sarah “stopping at the mall” meant that they would first stop at the casino, gamble about an hour and then shop at the mall. To John “stopping at the mall” meant driving directly to the mall and shopping, by-passing the casino altogether.
You can probably guess what happened! John was driving, so he skipped the casino and drove directly to the mall. which made Sarah upset and angry because she not only wanted to gamble, but had the expectation that they would eat breakfast in the casino coffee shop. John, who didn’t have a clue about all this, couldn’t understand why Sarah was so upset, as he was doing exactly what, in his mind, they had agreed upon.
In our anger management classes, we teach that adjusting expectations (Tool #6) is a major tool for anger control. Anger often results from the discrepancy between what is expected and what actually happens. Going one step further, the conflict between John and Sarah illustrates how important it is for couples to also share expectations they have so that they are on the same track. It is easy to assume that what you expect is the same as what your partner has in mind, but any married person knows that this often is NOT the case.
To share expectations, it is often helpful to simply communicate what you would like to happen specifically in a future situation. After all, neither you or your partner is a mind-reader; besides the same words often mean different things to different people, especially husbands and wives. Taking the time and trouble to spell it out and communicate clearly often goes a long way toward reducing misunderstanding, conflict, hurt feelings and anger.
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