Relationships on the Spiritual Path—Part 2: Expectations, Intimacy, Freedom & Trust

holding hands

In Part 1 of Relationships on the Spiritual Path, we explored issues of comfort, soul growth and judgment—and how the tender parts of us need to feel safe in order for the heart to open to its full capacity. In today’s blog, we’ll dive into some juicy territory and talk about expectations, the interface between intimacy and freedom, and the anatomy of trust. Let’s start with the elephant in the room—expectations.

Sometimes I grow weary of being advised that if only I could release all expectations of people, I would be at peace. This sounds great, in theory, yet in practice, it only works when I’m in certain unsustainable states of heightened consciousness. Then when the spiritual high wears off, as it inevitably does, I am, once again, at risk of feeling hurt, disappointed and dismissed when my hopes and desires aren’t met. But I have to question whether we’re really supposed to eliminate all expectations. How are we to know who we can trust unless we put our hearts out there, take risks, hope that someone will show up for us, and then build trust when they do? Sure, if I expect nothing of someone, I can’t be let down. If my goal is to avoid disappointment, this might be prudent. But I also can’t rely on that person when I’m in need. Shakespeare says, “Expectation is the root of all heartache.” But when we dare to express hopes and they are met or even exceeded, isn’t this the root of all trust? Isn’t this where true intimacy lives?

The older I get, the more I cherish the people who show up—the ones who go out of their way to demonstrate loving action, the ones who are consistent with their loyalty and love. I didn’t value these people as much when I was younger, seduced as I was by charisma, talent, intellect, beauty, or celebrity. These days, I value the quietly faithful, who never seem to either approve nor disapprove of me, who simply show up consistently to celebrate life’s triumphs, offer comfort in life’s tragedies, share tea together on a full moon, and dream with me. I want to be able to expect that of a few discerningly select inner circle people. I want others to expect that of me. Of course, we’ll never get it perfect, this love thing. We’ll fail, fail again, fail better. But isn’t it okay to expect that when you’re feeling tender, and you take a risk and ask for love, those nearest to you will at least try to hold your outstretched hand? Isn’t it okay to expect that trust will not be betrayed, that those we let closest will protect our vulnerabilities while also helping us grow beyond our triggers?

Expectations with a Capital “E”

In response to something I wrote on Facebook, Sally Wallach wrote;

I’ve got nearly twenty years on you, so I’m going to offer some thoughts. There are expectations, and then there are Expectations. You have a right to expect to be treated with respect. By that I mean, you need not allow anyone to ride roughshod over you. But, you can extend your hand with love and vulnerability without expecting that it will be taken and held loyally. Some people can, but some can’t manage that kind of loyalty. The older I get, the more aware I am of my own moments of falling short of my best self, and the more I am able to understand that everyone has times of heroism and villainy. I hope my villainous times are mostly behind me now, but one never knows. I do know that I am able—and willing—to show up without requiring reciprocation.

I love this. It’s so gentle, so compassionate, with both ourselves and others.

Maybe it’s really a matter of semantics. Maybe we’re meant to hope but not expect.

Perhaps hope keeps alive the spark of the heart, while expectation is nothing but premeditated resentment.

When we learn to express our hopes from this expansive, vulnerable, heart-centered place, we teach people what our hearts need and give them the chance to show up. Then we have the chance to offer the same gift in return. Intimacy is the byproduct.

The Anatomy of Trust

In her book Rising Strong and on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, Brené Brown describes the anatomy of trust through the acronym “BRAVING.” I find this a useful tool when it comes to assessing how trustworthy I am being in relationship to others. It’s also a good discernment tool that helps me know who to let all the way into the sanctuary of my innermost heart.

B—Boundaries. You respect my boundaries and when you are not clear about what’s OK and what’s not OK, you ask. You are willing to say no.

R—Reliability. You do what you say you’ll do. At work this means staying aware of your competencies and limitations so that you don’t over-promise and are able to deliver on commitments and balance competing priorities.

A—Accountability. You own your mistakes, apologize, and make amends.

V—Vault. You don’t share information or experiences that are not yours to share. I need to know that my confidences are kept and that you are not sharing with me information about other people that should be confidential.

I—Integrity. You choose courage over comfort. You choose what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy. And you choose to practice your values rather than simply professing them.

N—Non-judgment. I can ask for what I need, and you can ask for what you need. We can talk about how we feel without judgment.

G—Generosity. You extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words and actions of others.

Are You Feeling Safe Enough to Be BRAVE?

When you read through BRAVING, what do you feel? If you view this with self-compassion and use it as a marker of how you’re showing up in relationships, are you demonstrating trustworthiness? When you hold it up gently as a tool of discernment and assess the people in your inner circle, are you making good choices about who you let into your circle of trust?

Sharing this tool with others can open the door for meaningful conversation. If you simply tell someone, “I don’t trust you,” you leave them on the defensive, feeling confused and helpless. But if you’re able to be specific, saying, “I don’t feel safe when you share my innermost secrets with others,” you offer your loved ones a way to build and demonstrate trust with you. Ultimately, we can trust that people will be who they are. The more we can just be with that without expecting it to be different, the more we can be in open-eyed truth in our relationships and relax into love.


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  1. Lily Jacobi

    Hi Lissa

    I have been through this experience myself many, many, many times. And recently I have gotten to the point where I have learned that I create space for others to enter into. And it’s more of a vibrational state of being, then an actual physical space. But what I have noticed is that when I honor my own boundaries and trust my inner pilot light as it were, paying attention to how far I should go in a conversation, I get a sense/nudges about what is appropriate and what is not appropriate.

    Some of this has to do with the behavior of others and what I will and will not tolerate from them . I have had to set some really strict boundaries with some important people in my life, with regard to what kind of behavior I expect. And after having set those boundaries, I am much more comfortable knowing that they will only approach me if they are willing to meet me where I am at. And at a high vibrational frequency, There is no room for Mistrust. It just cannot occur there.

    Once I have created this safe space with others it is easier for me to also keep it with anyone else who decides to enter my life. They have to meet me where I am at and that is a place of trust and integrity and honor.

    For what it’s worth, that is what is working for me now.

  2. Cromwell

    To me now life is but a test to complete before death takes you to God. All iife is for is to pass each hurdle and progress. Seeing it this way for me makes much sense and brings things into focus.All the trappings and riches mean nothing just help to keep you greedy. Hard to cope with as one cannot take a thing with you. So the love we have must be shared.

  3. Jyotsna

    Loved this post. Spot on!

  4. Iris van den Bergh

    good post! thank you

  5. Sherry Harger

    Thanks Lissa, great article! Expectation is an almost involuntary state, its something we do as human beings and we may not even realize that we have an expectation until it isn’t being met. I don’t believe that expectation is always premeditated resentment. It is an opportunity to look within and understand the expectations we have for ourselves, which inevitably can show us how loving or unloving we treat ourselves and how much we respect ourselves. Its difficult to love and respect others when we are unable to truly love and respect ourselves. Also, thanks for sharing Anatomy of Trust from Brene Brown’s new book, Rising Strong. I haven’t read it yet and I loved Daring Greatly. Two of my dreams/goals is to meet you both in this lifetime!

  6. Krishna

    Someone had rightly said “peace begins when expectation ends”. I, being an emotional person used to always think from others perspective and go beyond myself to help them, care for them. Over a period of time, i have stopped expecting and i keep on doing my task of helping or mentoring souls. However one two three relationships are such where u r bound to expect. Harsh feelingg comes when u realise that someone is in happy state of mind because of your sacrifices and that happy person forgets u or forgets ur contribution in their happiness. There lies pain and abundant pain.
    But m glad your blog and inner pilot daily doses is making me stronger.
    Please keep writing and inspiring us

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