Guideline # 2 For a Healthy Relationship

Written by on May 1, 2012 in On Relationships

Guideline # 2 No Expectations and Obligations

Okay, I know this is a tough one but it has been one of the most transformational tools for creating  healthy relationships in my own life. No Expectations. I mean it too. Expectations are set-ups for disappointments for two reasons: things rarely happen in life the way we expect them too and by having expectations you are trying to control your life by seeking outer events to correspond to inner desires. It will fail you again and again leaving you bitter and jaded about other people and life in general. Expectation and disappointment are two sides of the same coin. On the face of it is expectation on the back side is disappointment. They absolutely go together.

It does take a bit of a shift to move from having constant expectations to letting them all go and learning to flow with life again. If it is so unproductive then why is having expectations in a relationship so common? Here is my short answer because of obligations.

If I, for example, feel obligated to do my husband’s laundry then isn’t he obligated to pay my credit card bill? If I am obliged to do things that I really don’t want to do then I am going to expect the other person to also suffer in like manner. It is human nature, an eye for an eye. I can see that is an effective regulator in relationships if both parties agree to the expectations and obligations. But that is quite rare and still not nearly as much fun.

I don’t want to feel as though everything I am doing is my JOB simply so that I can expect someone else to do what they do as a JOB. Would it not be more enjoyable and create an atmosphere of love if everything you did was done out of desire? Seem impossible? It isn’t. It is exactly how I have created my own marriage to be.

Together Aaron and I  have six kids, a dog, a mortgage, bills, school, housework, yard-work etc. I stay at home and take care of the house, school and the kids, Aaron goes to work and makes the money, pays bills and takes care of the yard. Earlier in our relationship these activities were JOBS that had to be divided between us and completed with the classic drudgery that comes with obligations and expectations. I still do exactly (for the most part) the activities I did before only now I do them because I want to do them. I don’t expect Aaron to pay the bills anymore, or take care of the yard or go to work in the  morning. I don’t expect him to talk to me, hug me, love me, support me, encourage men, help me, notice me, or any of the myriad expectations built into typical relationships.

Therefore, (this is the important part) everything Aaron does do, becomes a gift. If he hugs me it is a gift, if he talks to me, a gift, if he notices me or pays me a compliment, a gift and if he pays the bills, what a gift! When I see him out mowing the huge backyard I am filled with gratitude because I know he is out there mowing because he wants to be mowing and not because I expect him to do it. This inspires me to take him a drink of water or make sure he has something to eat, not because I have to do it but because I want to do it. Aaron in turn, feels cared about and honored when I bring him a drink or food because he KNOWS I am doing it as a gift to him out of love. The whole cycle builds on itself until the relationship is nothing but appreciation, love and freedom. But what happens in a less the perfect scenario?

Let’s say that Aaron doesn’t hug me in the morning, ignores my phone calls or doesn’t like the new bedding I picked out, no problem, I wasn’t expecting him to anyway. Let’s say he doesn’t pay the bills on time, that’s okay, I wasn’t expecting him to do it anyway so I approach the issue calmer and more lovingly. I don’t feel pangs of righteous indignation or the collapse of disappointment.

You can practice this without your partner realizing or agreeing to no expectations and obligations. Your partner may continue to have expectations but he or she will also continue being disappointed while you on the other hand will be free from that miserable cycle. Everything you do for another person will be performed as a gift to that person. It is a lovely reason to do things that need to be done anyway.

But what about duty? What about being a responsible person? There are times when I feel something must be done even though I may not want to do it. I do it anyway but not because it is my duty or I am obliged to do it but simply because it needs to be done. It is a gift I give myself. Then I am grateful to myself for whatever it is that I did. Does it sound a bit idealistic and unrealistic? Give it a try before you poo-poo the idea. Just focus on your own expectations and obligations. Forget about the other person. You can’t change them anyway no matter how much you expect them to change. It’s worked for me and it can work for you.

Do you think obligations or expectations are important in relationships? Tell me your thoughts.

One book that inspired this idea is The Mastery of Love by Don Miguel Ruiz


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  1. Jeanne says:


    In caps because I’m *that* excited!!!

    Thank you for sharing!!!

  2. Jeanne says:

    To add something more coherent:

    It brings to mind for me economic relations based on reciprocity and redistribution (gift-giving) rather than on trade. Such relations focus on the acquisition of social assets, not material ones. Material goods are secondary to the primary goal of human interaction, not the other way around as in the market society. (This is outlined in the classic The Great Transformation by Karl Polanyi:

    I can’t help but wonder whether, likewise, in societies where social well-being is the primary goal, it’s gift-giving rather than “doing one’s job” that is the primary motivator behind doing activities in the home, and whether there was a historical shift due to the emergence and entrenchment of market economic relations.

    I think it’s worth considering that even as we engage in market interactions, to acknowledge that there is giving on both sides of the transaction and to treat what is received as a gift even if we know that we paid for it or worked for the pay.

    The saying goes that “charity begins at home”, but I don’t think that human behaviour can be compartmentalized into either the public or private domain without spilling over, i.e. it wouldn’t hurt to practise gratitude in all arenas of one’s life, not just in personal relationships, because what we do in the outside world affects how we act at home as well.

    (I’m not saying that you advocate otherwise, rather I’m letting you know that this blog post for me was food for thought!)

  3. Jeanne says:

    Another thing: your description of doing what needs to be done when you don’t want to as a gift to yourself reminds me of Geneen Roth defining discipline as showing up for what you love.


  4. Susanna says:

    Jeanne, I love your comments. I really appreciate the insight that others can add to my own material. Besides it gives me something to ponder as well. Thanks!

  5. Jeanne says:

    My pleasure!

    I just want to add, lest I seem like someone who idealizes the past or the other, that I am not suggesting that traditional societies do not have their issues. I’m sure that not everyone feels welcome in the group, and people can feel stifled by convention, and get bored by stasis. I’m so grateful to the market system for its dynamism and the opportunity it opens up for change. I’m just adding a historical/comparative perspective to see whether there’s anything we can learn from it.