From Expectations And Frustrations To Cultivation ‒ The World Of Blank Slate Relationships

When was the last time you had an expectation disappointed in a relationship?

What was the impact for you?

Are you still dealing with that impact?

Did the relationship last or did your frustration have you end it?

And if the relationship lasted, what is your experience of yourself? Expectations are almost designed to be a source of disappointment.


Because this is the relationship that humans create towards expectations from usually a fairly young age.

When things don’t go the way you want, there is some expectation that was there which was disappointed.

It could be that a parent said they were going to be at your concert, or match, and then they weren’t.

It could be that a parent was late to pick you up from school.

Or it could have been something which even as an adult we look on as having gravity for us.

Regardless, the way a child interprets this experience is one from it being of gravity to them.

I have coached adults in their 60’s, for whom their way of seeing the world was shaped by what it meant that their mum was late to pick them up. There they were waiting on their own.

What did it mean? My mum doesn’t love me. And I am on my own.

It was only when they got present to their way of seeing the world and experiencing not being loved, and being on their own, that they created an opportunity to move beyond this child’s outlook on life.

This is the world of expectations being disappointed that virtually everyone can relate to. And the meaning for why it happened is so significant as to what it means about us. As we mature we enter into different types of arrangements which also have a tendency to bring forth the world of disappointed expectations and experienced frustrations [where things don’t always go the way we want].

Through this history of disappointment, something can often alter. We get so used to being disappointed that we stop voicing – at least some of – our expectations.

And in romantic relationships, this can impact the quality and or the longevity of relationships. We stop feeling seen and heard because our partner has not met our silently communicated expectations.

We think, ‘they are meant to know me, know me better than anyone else. And yet they can’t even see that I am wanting them to…’

‘What hope is there for us if they can’t even do this…?’

I will let you finish voicing internally to yourself that likely silent frustration. In these moments we have taken on the role of assuming our partner can read our minds. This I see as distinct from being able to get cues about when they are frustrated, sense that something is up, … And if you are a coach, and your partner knows how well you hear what is not being said by your clients, then they might hold you to some standard where you actually have access to the neurons firing in their brain.

Whether you are trained around hearing the unsaid or not, our access to what our partner – or partners – is experiencing remains our interpretation of their reality. And when we are already living from our own noisy world of interpretation, we can often easily miss something that might seem obvious. So obvious that heck it does not, nor should it need to be, spoken about.

Does that all sound familiar? And I ask this to include those of us who like to think we are completely non-judgmental. That’s part of the beauty of being human – we say one thing and then the next moment we contradict ourselves. None of us is immune from contradiction.

So rather than relying on a form of communication that is ineffective and tends to bring forth disappointed expectations, let’s look at a simple habit for creating the opportunity for effective communication.

Experience has shown me that as humans our interpretation of reality is subjective. How I see something could be completely different from what is present to my partner. What is obvious to her might be something I am blindsided by.

And there have definitely been times when I have been blindsided.

So how do I deal with the fact that sometimes my interpretation leads to being blindsided? I ask my partner to tell me exactly what she expects from me. This is something that started to become a habit when I became present to frustrations that had not previously been communicated. They were effectively waiting for me to see what was obvious to them.

Now, once my partner has communicated the expectation and I have agreed to it, then if I don’t pick up my game then she can point out with candour that I am not playing by the agreed rules.

I either do something about it or I have to deal with the impact of not doing what I said I would do.

What kind of difference can this make? In our case, it has meant that in our 1.5 years together we have not had an argument.

And to be clear, that is not because I never do anything to frustrate. I absolutely do. Nor do I have a perfect score in playing by the agreed rules.

Rather, what I see is that we have created a mode of communicating where she knows that no matter what, she can share what she is dealing with. And if there’s something I am doing which is impacting her she has the freedom to communicate that to me. And even in the times where she thinks this is the exception, when I learn what it is, I make clear there is no exception with this general rule.

And on my side, when there is a frustration on her side, I look for myself at whether I can see what she is saying. If I can see this, even if I want to be right about my point of view, then I simply let go of the default human desire to be right. I am yet to see an instance where I needed to defend or justify myself by being right because once I saw what was obvious to her, then I could start to get the world of what it had been like for her, and do something about it.

This is distinct from being a walkover or some other disempowering take on what this means. Rather the context I come from is ‘How can I create love and affinity in this moment?’ This is also not a one way street.

If I have an uncommunicated expectation, I have to be responsible for communicating it.

And, whenever there is something I can see I am doing or planning to do which could impact her, I share it. Why?

Because I have told her that is what she can expect from me. That context is so powerful that where I act inconsistent with this I feel out of alignment. My body is in sync with this conception of alignment as if there is something I had initially considered sharing and then for whatever reason hesitated, I feel it in my gut.

That gut feeling becomes a key indicator, I am out of alignment. And from there I communicate whatever there is to communicate about, independently of whether it is a challenging conversation or not.

Each person has to be responsible for the fallout of what they share. This does not mean constraining what they share or pretending or avoiding in order to keep a false harmony. That is a house of cards that can easily topple.

Rather it means, dealing with the fallout when there is some impact of our words that we have not anticipated. In these moments, it is about restoring the experience of love and affinity between one another, so there is a space of being seen, heard and gotten.

This combination ultimately creates the space to get back to experiencing our relationship from a blank slate where we get to create a future ongoingly free from constraint.

Like anything this is a practice. If you stop cultivating the practice, then yes some aspects that have been working might remain, but the overall quality of the relationship is likely to diminish.

And this often happens without the person suddenly becoming a bad person, changing in some way, being not the person you thought they were [where that is conceived as a negative].

It just starts to become the way you see that relationship when the different micro incidents pile up and never get resolved. Or where the different disappointed expectations are not voiced.

Suddenly you wake up and you question, Do I actually want to be with this person? Is this really the person for me?

And often nothing has actually changed beyond stopping cultivating a practice that was working.

The funny thing about this practice, I find, is that the actual actions it comprises are simple. Where it stops being simple is when we suddenly restrain what we share out of worry about what it will mean:

If I tell them this … what will they think about me?; will they no longer love me?; will this destroy our relationship; will they still accept me?

If the answer to ‘what they will think about me?’ is negative, it is likely that we seek to look good instead and not share.

If any of these worries are present again the likelihood is that we don’t share.

Relationship anxiety in turn creates distance, removes intimacy, and moves you further away from what most of us want to experience being loved and accepted in spite of our imperfections.

Perhaps a better question to ask is:

What kind of partnership do I want to cultivate? And to guide you in distinguishing what you want vs what you put up with, you in turn ask:

Do I want to be in a relationship where I have to pretend?

Do I want to be in a relationship where the love is so weak that one comment can destroy it?

Do I want to be in a relationship where I don’t feel accepted?

Do I want to be in a relationship where I avoid challenging conversations?

Do I want to be in a relationship where fear is the driver of how I communicate?

If any of this is out of alignment with what you want, then a powerful question to ask is:

How can I learn to communicate so that we cultivate an ongoing partnership based not on survival but on love, acceptance, and intimacy?

This is the blank slate method I coach in relationships where you go on a journey called ‘who are they really’. It is about leaving you with the tools to create a relationship where not knowing who your partner is really creates the space to live a life of love, adventure, curiosity, excitement and wonder.

And if you are curious about seeing what that could look like, or would love to experience this for yourself, then get in touch.

Several of the ideas in this article are drawn from the work of Werner Erhard and are used with permission.

Brainz 500 Global award in 2021