Imagine you need change for a 10 dollar bill (USD). You ask someone next to you if they have change for a 10, to which they reply, “All I’ve got is a 5”. That’s not what you want to hear. You want change for a 10, not a 5. You may get frustrated or upset because the other person doesn’t have change for a 10, but the reality is, that the most this person can give you is a 5.
It can be like that in your relationships with those closest to you, especially with family.
Picture an interaction rating scale ranging from 1 to 10, with 1 being the worst possible interaction (yelling, fighting, abusive language, a lack of caring or interest in you) and 10 being the best interaction imaginable (kind words of love and affirmation, good spirited laughter, and an appreciation of your presence).
Now envision going to a family event where you’ll encounter a family member whose interactions usually come in around a 3 or 4, with the occasional rare 5. Perhaps it’s a parent, a spouse, a child, sibling, or grandparent. If this person is someone close to you, you may find yourself hoping, even expecting, that this time your interaction will be closer to a 9, maybe even a 10! Perhaps this time, they’ll speak kindly to you and finally tell you how much they love and appreciate you.
This expectation is unfair to the person you are interacting with. If, on their best day, they are only capable of giving you a level 5 interaction, and you’re expecting a 10, you are not only setting yourself up for disappointment, you are setting them up for failure.
Here’s something to try at your next family get-together this holiday season. Instead of starting from the place of expecting a level 10 interaction, consider what the person is capable of offering, and adjust your expectations accordingly. If the best they can offer is a 6, set your expectations at a 4 or 5. They just might surprise you with a 6. Wouldn’t it be better to be surprised by a 6 when you were expecting a 4, than to be disappointed by a 6, when you were expecting a 10 that was never going to happen?
It’s worth mentioning that if interactions are always on lower end of the scale, you should consider putting some healthy boundaries in place, which may involve drastically reducing, or even eliminating, your interactions with this person.
We can choose to have unrealistically high expectations of certain people and set ourselves up for disappointment, or we can lower our expectations to realistic levels that other person can achieve.
Just remember, we can never get change for a 10 from someone who only has a 5.