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August 28, 2007

Expectencies - A Key to Relational Healing

One of the most influential movements in psychology in the past forty years has been that of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). What is CBT? It’s the theory that one’s thinking (cognitions) influences their behavior, and visa versa. Perhaps the most interesting application of CBT is with close, intimate relationships.

The posts below *scream* CBT from a relationships perspective. Let’s take Karen’s “Great Expectations and Broken Promises” experience with Target. Karen hit the nail on the head! People come to all relationships with what relationship scientists term “expectancies,” which are defined as “predictions about the future status of the relationship or how the partner is likely to behave” (see Epstein & Baucom, 2002). Karen had an established set of expectancies about how her good friend Target would behave, and when these were challenged, their relationship experienced distress. To be fair, Target too, has a set of expectancies about Karen, and when these are challenged (e.g., she doesn’t come to their sale), the relationship again experiences distress.

And thus, a relationship impasse ensues. However, this occurs not when partners have different sets of expectancies, but when they cannot effectively communicate with one another about their shared differences, and establish mutually agreeable ways of behaving in the future (we know this from 40 years of relationships research). Karen and Target MUST sit down and explore one another’s expectancies for how each is to behave in their relationship. Only then can they better understand their current and future behavior. This communication will not just help heal prior “transgressions,” but will help further deepen their commitment to one another.

The magnitude and influence of one’s expectancies cannot be understated, and are further illustrated by Evan’s “Consistency & Expectations” piece below where he comments on a restaurant’s inconsistent behavior with patrons, “The problem is that I now expect it [a phone call from the restaurant], and when the call doesn't come, I feel let down.” Again, expectancies influence how we think about our relationships and how we behave – it is unlikely that Evan will return to this restaurant due to a belief system he has established.

And how do we change these belief systems? Through friend/partner communication. YES, I propose people and brands actually speak about expectancies for one another’s behavior. Pick up the phone! Ask to meet with a manager! Ask to meet one another at a coffee shop! Hard to imagine? Perhaps. But it is the way to heal and deepen a relationship

What are your expectancies?

by Michael Reiter


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