Preventing an Expectation Hangover

I was chatting with my vastly-more-experienced-traveler friend Denelle, ahead of our trip to Copenhagen this past summer, filling her in on our planning dilemma: whether or not to get a hotel room during our 8-hour layover in London.

“Well, if you decide to get one, make sure you book it early,” she said. “You’d hate to get there thinking you had a room, and then have to sleep in the airport. Avoid the expectation hangover.”


Expectation hangover.  Is that not a perfect descriptor?

Hearing it immediately sent me into throwback-mode, remembering a couple months earlier: Easter.  Sitting in my bedroom floor.  In tears because the outfit I’d picked out and purchased for Abby to wear to church didn’t fit her.  The feeling that taking any pictures together as a family was completely pointless, because she wasn’t wearing the “right” dress.  The sense that I should just give up trying to plan or do anything, ever again, because this is always what happens to me.  (Dramatic much, Jessica?)

Expectation hangover.  That sensation of utter disappointment and desolation when reality fails to match up with my carefully laid plans. The desire to weep, or gnash my teeth, scream, or throw something, because everything I anticipated or imagined didn’t come to pass.

How many times has this happened to me?  Enough for me to instantly recognize Denelle’s phrase for the sheer brilliance it is.  Expectations are my downfall.

I expect my husband to know when I’m tired, and to offer to take over bedtime.  I expect Abby to behave like little angel in the grocery store.  I expect to get where I’m going in the shortest legal amount of time with no delays.  I expect recipes to turn out exactly as they promise.  I expect God to answer my prayers precisely as I’ve asked.

And when Dave is oblivious to my fatigue, or Abby runs shrieking down the cereal isle…  When there’s a traffic jam or my pork chops aren’t done after exactly the prescribed 30 minutes… When God gives me a “no,” or worse, a “wait…”

Well, I fall straight into the “depths of despair” right alongside Anne-with-an-E Shirley (another spunky lady with a knack for coming up with a perfectly concise description of the more abstract and complicated sensations of human emotion.)


Sometimes naming the problem is half the battle.  Since I’ve started to refer to these moments as Expectation Hangovers, I’ve found I am more aware of the instances when they are likely to arise.  And being more cognizant allows me to be more proactive.

Here are some strategies I’ve been using to mitigate the expectation hangover.

Communicating My Expectations

A couple weeks ago, Dave was out of town for a few days, a scenario which historically means I sleep fitfully.  So two days before his return, I sent a text which read “Consider this my formal request to sleep-in on Saturday.” He replied, “Request will be given careful review.”  (We might be dorks, but we think we’re hilarious, so don’t worry about it.)  And on Saturday, he got up with Abby and made pancakes while I caught up on a little sleep.

Communicating my expectations is an easy-to-implement strategy in most scenarios. (Well, a fairly easy one…I still have trouble sometimes…#Enneagram9problems… but I’m working on it!)  For my birthday this year, Dave asked what I wanted to do.  I thought about it for a few hours and then told him: a date night, cinnamon rolls for breakfast, a quiet morning to rest and read, and lunch at my favorite little tea-room.  He was thrilled to satisfy these expectations, and pointed out that he would never have planned those things on his own!

Simply telling him what I wanted to do allowed us both to be on the same page, allowed me to have the birthday I wanted, and allowed him to make my day special without disappointing me.  How many times have I set myself up for an Expectation Hangover, simply by not telling anyone what I was thinking?

Challenging Unrealistic Expectations

Over the summer, I was struggling HARD over needing to take Abby with me on errands I normally do while she’s in preschool, particularly grocery shopping.  When I realized that every grocery day was ending with me frazzled and her in tears, it occurred to me that we were both experiencing an expectation hangover.

I wanted her to sit quietly in the cart, patiently waiting for me to shop.  But she had other ideas. She wanted down, she wanted to help push the cart, she wanted to get things off the shelf. All the things, not just the things on Mommy’s list.  Also, she wanted to shriek and run.

Both of our expectations were unrealistic.  So I started with managing my own, and then moved on to communicating them to her.  We started reviewing them as we drove to the store.  Now she is allowed to walk beside me, and help me. If she’s misbehaving I can say, “How do we act in the store?”  She responds with, “We stay calm and we stay close!”  And 90% of the time, that’s enough to avoid things getting out of hand.  The other 10% of the time, she has to ride in the cart. But we both know that going in, so we’re both prepared when it happens.

Abby, chasing bubbles in the “wrong” Easter dress.

When It’s Not Black and White

I don’t want to make you think I’ve got this all figured out.  These are some examples of some simple situations where I’m managing my expectations, but there are bigger areas where things get more complicated: plans for the future, unanswered prayers, dreams I don’t know if I should hold onto or let go of.  Still, when I look at those two tips above, I realize they apply here as well.

Communicate….pray.  Tell God the deepest desires of my heart.  Pour it all out. Hebrews 4 tells me that I can approach God boldly with my requests, and I will find grace and mercy in my time of need.

Challenge the unrealistic expectations…do I expect my life to be easy and stress free? Do I expect to be conformed into the image of Christ with no discomfort or pain?  Do I want to be used of God for my own personal glory or gain?

His Word tells me that patience, a virtue, comes through tribulation (Romans 5:3).

That life isn’t fair (Matthew 5:45).

That in this world I will have trouble (John 16:33).

That if I truly wish to follow Him, I must deny myself and take up my “cross,” the device by which my flesh (my wants and desires) can be crucified (Matthew 16:24).

This doesn’t mean that I should give up on the idea of being happy, or I should just accept that my life will be terrible.  Just the opposite.

When I line my expectations up with the Word, I see that the happiness I would settle for is far less than the glorious joy He promises me (Romans 8:18).

That when I submit to Him, He will change my heart’s desire to match His (Psalm 37:4).

That even when things don’t go my way, He’s still working it all out for my good (Romans 8:28).

And even in THAT, I don’t actually KNOW what is good for me, but HE DOES (Romans 8:26).

HE is my expectation, my hope.  And Proverbs 10:22 promises me this: His blessings don’t come with a hangover.




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