By Melissa Lafrance on January 8, 2019
What does your emotional wellbeing look like in the new year? Whether or not you have some personal objectives in mind, remember that reaching out for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. If you need support for your emotional wellbeing this year, or if you’re concerned about a colleague, friend or family member, reach out as early as possible. Your campus community cares, and help is available for you and your dependents.
Melanie’s Dilemma: When family relationships are more rocky than smooth
Melanie just returned from visiting her family. Although she was happy to see her loved ones, she feels emotionally drained after spending time with her younger brother. Since their parents’ divorce, Melanie and her brother have had a sensitive relationship filled with disagreements and confrontations. When they are together, there are tense moments that increase Melanie’s feelings of anxiety and frustration. Melanie really wants to address her emotional wellbeing in the New Year by dealing with the persistent issues between her and her brother in the hopes of improving their relationship.
How EFAP can provide confidential relationship support:
Through the Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) provided by Morneau Shepell, Melanie can connect with a professional counsellor who specializes in relationship challenges and conflict resolution. She can receive confidential, short-term counselling for a range of relationship issues, including communication and mental health challenges. Because EFAP services are available in a variety of formats, including video counselling and First Chat, Melanie can choose the support service that’s most convenient for her.
To help her communicate better, resolve conflicts and approach the situation with her brother differently, Melanie can access Morneau Shepell’s www.workhealthlife.com online hub for articles on improving family communication and resolving family conflicts. (Note: Please enter “University of British Columbia” as your organization.)
If the situation requires specialized care or long-term counselling, Morneau Shepell will find resources to best meet individual needs and budget.
EFAP could also refer Melanie to a registered psychologist, social worker or clinical counsellor. Through UBC’s Extended Health Plan, Melanie may be reimbursed for 100% of reasonable and customary charges, up to a maximum of $2,500 per year. No doctor’s referral is required to access this service.
Katie’s Challenge: The emotional toll of caring for an ill family member
Katie’s father has been living with her for the past two years. He’s physically capable of caring for himself, but is financially dependent on Katie and her partner. Recently, he was diagnosed with gout and is having difficulty coming to terms with the diagnosis and the diet changes his doctor advised him to follow. Katie would like some advice for herself as a caregiver and also for her father to support him through this diagnosis.
How EFAP can help:
EFAP is available for eligible staff, faculty, retired employees, and their dependents. Dependents include spouses and children, as well as parents that are financially dependent on the employee. Because Katie already enrolled her father in EFAP, they can both access Morneau Shepell’s support services.
For Katie’s father, a counsellor can help him cope with health changes. He can also receive nutrition advice and health-related consultations from naturopathic doctors, registered dietitians and nurses over the phone. As a caregiver, Katie can support her own emotional wellbeing through counselling. Confidential email or e-counselling for psychological support is available, which Katie might find useful since she enjoys writing and journaling.
By Miranda Massie on October 3, 2018
Recently, I attended an engaging workshop hosted by a colleague on the topic of resilience. Beyond being a “wellness buzzword”, resilience is the capacity in each of us to draw on multiple sources of strengths, social networks and resources to overcome adversities.1 The great thing about resilience and overall mental health is that we can learn skills, tools and strategies that allow us to effect positive changes on our wellbeing.
One such strategy is social connection. UBC has identified social connection as one of the institution’s top five wellbeing priorities going forward. It is also strongly linked to resilience and is one of seven key strategies for building our ability to bounce back and overcome challenges.
Four ways to build social support:2
- Talk to someone. Use this connection to seek help, gain perspective and insight, or just to vent.
- Reach out. Family members, friends, colleagues or professionals can support you in different ways, depending on what you need and what their strengths are.
- Connect with your community. Try being active in a community-based group or organization. Already a part of a community group? You’re already increasing your social support and building resilience!
- Identify five or more meaningful connections in your life. Evidence shows that having five or more meaningful connections indicates a strong social support network. Try making a list of who you would turn to for different kinds of support (friend, resource, fun, mentor, challenger, appreciator, etc.)3
This month, I invite you to reflect on your social networks both at work and in your personal lives. Within these communities lies a wealth of knowledge and support that can be shared in order to strengthen our wellbeing.
Interested in learning more about the power of social connection? Watch this TEDx Talk “Connect or Die: The Surprising Power of Human Relationships” (12 minutes). Or, consider registering for our Building Resilience Workshop (Nov. 1) to discover more contributing factors to our mental health and resilience. Lastly, I’ll leave you with an infographic of top tips for creating a support system from our EFAP provider Morneau Shepell.
Wishing you a wonderful start to the fall.
All my best,
1Youth Resilience and Protective Factors Associated with Suicide in First Nations Communities, 2014.
2Building Resilience Workshop, UBC HR Health, Wellbeing and Benefits, 2017.
3Adapted from Neilson, M. 2012. Complete Workplace Wellness
Photo credit: UBC Brand & Marketing
By Miranda Massie on July 4, 2018
Emotional intelligence is something that’s been garnering attention in recent years. Magazine articles, research papers and leadership courses continue to emerge, touting the benefits of high EQ (your emotional intelligence score) on work performance, happiness, leadership capabilities and even love .
So what are the key components to emotional intelligence and how might we harness this information to positively impact our relationships with others?
Emotional Intelligence is the “ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.” It is made up of the following components:
- Self-awareness: an in-depth knowledge of oneself (tendencies, emotions, behaviours)
- Self-regulation: our ability to manage ourselves (feelings, triggers, reactions)
- Motivation: how and why we reach our goals (values, setting intention, building resilience)
- Empathy: recognizing and understanding emotions in others (as separate from our own)
- Social skills: how we communicate and interact with others 
With this information, how can we build up these skills in ways that enable us to have healthy and satisfying relationships with others? Personally, I feel that it’s a bit of a “chicken or the egg” scenario. What comes first: successful relationships that lead to higher emotional intelligence or increased emotional intelligence that creates healthier relationships? Perhaps it is both.
Knowing ourselves, regulating our emotions, understanding what drives us, acknowledging and validating others’ feelings, and engaging in optimal communication are all ways that emotional intelligence can support us in building relationships with others. Sustaining these positive behaviours through healthy habits over time can help raise our EQ.
This month, I encourage you to try and be present in your interactions with others. Experiment with the different components of emotional intelligence to discover what resonates best with you. Hopefully your relationship IQ will get a boost in the process.
All my best,
Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace)
 Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (Salovey and Mayer, 1990)
 Emotional intelligence: Why it can Matter more than IQ (Daniel Goleman)
Posted in Editorial, Miranda Massie | Tagged communication, editorial, emotional intelligence, emotions, EQ, expectation, healthy relationships, IQ, judgement, Miranda Massie, relationships, UBC | 1 Response
By Miranda Massie on July 4, 2018
Impact vs. Intention
As human beings we love to make assumptions. It’s one of the ways our brains make sense of the world around us. Unfortunately, this can lead to conflict in our interpersonal relationships. Words are easy to misinterpret and we fill in the blanks by assuming we know the true intention of others – and often we get it wrong.
Try this mindfulness micro-practice from the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute as a way to reframe your interactions with others and decipher the impact on you from the intention of others.
Use this mindfulness tool during difficult conversations – if you notice feelings of strong judgment or criticisms toward someone, or when you feel frustrated in communicating with others.
- Notice when you feel irritated or frustrated by the words or behaviours of someone.
- Pause and ask yourself: “Does the impact it is having on me match their intention?”
- Say to yourself: “Impact is not intention” as a reminder to consider the content, feelings and purpose that might be driving the other person’s behaviour.
In January 2018, UBC HR offered a Search Inside Yourself (SIY) training program for UBC Vancouver faculty and staff. For more information about the SIY leadership program, visit the Search Inside Yourself website.
Photo: UBC Communications & Marketing
By Guest Contributor on May 3, 2018
Consent does not begin in the bedroom, it starts with how we listen, how we speak and how we live & work. Our personal culture of conversation can tell us a lot about how we respect and ask for consent. Consent is more than a question, more than a statement of boundaries: it is the entire terrain of communication. Listening is the foundation of how we communicate. Sometimes, we can fall into a pattern where conversation flows in a manner that suggests that neither party is listening. Instead of simply learning how to ask for consent, I think it’s worth being mindful of how we listen for it.
The 3 checks of consent:
The Interruption Check
If you notice that your conversations are filled with “Yeah, but…” or “Me too, and…” you are interrupting. If you are anxious to respond before the other person finishes speaking, you are interrupting. To notice when someone states their boundaries, you need to genuinely hear what they say. There needs to be space between where their thoughts end, and yours begin. Interrupting indicates that you are listening to respond, rather than to understand. You can only respect someone’s boundaries if you understand what the other person has said about them. When in doubt, take a moment to breathe in, then out, before saying anything in any conversation.
The Constant Chatter Check
Uncomfortable silence is called so for a reason. Sometimes, light conversation can be exactly what is needed, but sometimes it is not. Habitually filling space by chatting is a sign that you are preoccupied with your own experience. In an attempt to create comfort for yourself, you may be missing some non-verbal signals from others. Silence is not consent for conversation. Look for other clues that may indicate what type of conversation the other person is looking for. Notice your breathing when you experience an uncomfortable silence. If you can slow your breathing, you are more likely to be able to “read the room”.
The Dismissive Check
If you think you know what someone else is thinking, you are already not listening. By making assumptions in a conversation, you put on metaphorical earmuffs. This can lead you to view the other person’s statement as irrelevant, unimportant or incorrect. By dismissing, undervaluing or correcting someone’s statements, you are effectively shutting down a conversation. You may be missing what they are trying to communicate. If you choose to assume and dismiss, you’ve lost the opportunity to listen. Dive in when your impulse is to dismiss.
The way we converse may seem innocuous at first, but the downstream impact of our daily habits can end up leading us away from meaningful interactions. Our culture of conversation determines how we understand consent. Self-awareness consent checks are meant to show us our habits from the other person’s perspective. Make listening the foundation of your conversations, and you will gain more than you expected.
By Melissa Lafrance on January 11, 2018
“In stressful situations, mindfulness has helped me manage my own emotions and I am now open to resolving challenges differently.” — UBC Mindfulness Challenge Participant
“When I was in an emotionally charged meeting, I was able to notice, acknowledge and manage my own emotions more effectively as a result of the practice.” — UBC Mindfulness Challenge Participant
Since it was first offered in February 2016, more than 700 UBC employees have participated in our Mindfulness Challenges. Registration is now open at the Vancouver and Okanagan campuses for the 30-Day Online Mindfulness Challenge. The Vancouver campus is also offering a six-week, in-person Mindfulness@Work program to educate and bring the benefits of mindfulness to UBC staff and faculty.
30-Day Online Mindfulness Challenge (February 19 – March 20, 2018)
Could your department benefit from a team-building activity? Join the many individuals and teams who have collectively taken part in the Challenge and found it to be a perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness alongside their colleagues. Participants reported being healthier, more productive and better able to problem-solve and work in a team. Check out UBC Sauder’s Development & Alumni Engagement team’s experience with the Challenge.
This innovative and evidence-based training is aimed at UBC staff and faculty looking to incorporate mindfulness into the workplace and in their everyday lives. Content is delivered via any device, and focuses on simple yet powerful and achievable learning objectives.
You can expect:
- 10 minutes per day of mindfulness training for 30 days
- Expert-led and evidence-based programming
- Online platform that can be used anywhere
- Free to join and includes participation of a buddy or colleague of your choice
- Open to all staff and faculty (Vancouver & Okanagan campuses)
- No cost – this is a free program
Find out more:
- View the MindWellU orientation webinar
- Take a look at the orientation video of the online dashboard
- Learn more about the 30-Day Challenge at the Vancouver campus
30-Day Challenge Registration:
UBC staff and faculty can register now for the 30-Day Online Challenge.
“While lecturing, I encountered some technical difficulties and by using mindfulness, I was able to remain calm and resolve the issues to resume the lecture.” — UBC Mindfulness Challenge Participant
Mindfulness@Work Program (April 5 – May 10, 2018)
The six-week, in-person Mindfulness@Work training program runs in the spring of 2018. If you are looking for more in-depth mindfulness training, Mindfulness@Work specifically focuses on integrating the practice of mindfulness in the workplace to promote effectiveness, teamwork and communication.
Spring 2018 Program at the Diamond Health Care Centre
Thursdays, 9:00 a.m. – 10:15 a.m.
April 5, 12, 19, 26 and May 3, 10
Retreat (mandatory): Saturday, April 28
10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
About the program:
- Delivers expert-led and evidence-based programming
- Content is delivered and classes are led by a mindfulness expert
- Learn and practice meditation and core Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
How it works:
- Six-week, in-person training in a group/class setting
- Must attend all classes including the one-day weekend retreat
- Practice daily home assignments for 15-30 minutes a day
- $100 per person (may be eligible for professional development funding)
Key impact areas:
- Reduces stress and improves resiliency
- Cultivates physical and mental health
- Promotes effectiveness, teamwork, and communication
- Develop a meditation practice
- Register online using this UBC Vancouver staff and faculty link.
- Submit the $100 registration fee (cash or cheque payable to UBC Human Resources, or journal voucher to KPGK) to:
Health & Wellbeing Associate
UBC Human Resources
600 – 6190 Agronomy Road
Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z3
- Most staff and faculty members have the option to access one of UBC’s professional development funding programs. Find out more about the reimbursement procedures.
“[I] participated with a colleague in my office and it was really helpful. We kept each other accountable and understood the impact of the Take 5 practice and chatted about the key learnings.” — UBC Mindfulness Challenge Participant
About UBC Mindfulness Programs:
Studies show that our minds wander 46.5% of the time.* There has been a tremendous amount of research over the past 20 years that demonstrates the benefits of mindfulness for physical and mental wellbeing.
Mindfulness is mental exercise for disrupting the wandering or day-dreaming mind and bringing it back to the present, something that becomes stronger with practice. When we dwell on the past and worry about the future, we become more reactive. When we remain in the present moment, we can make decisions clearly and be more attentive. By learning to be more mindful, we can pay attention with a sense of openness and non-judgment.
Benefits of Mindfulness **
|Physical Health||Mental Health||Workplace Benefits|
|Improves overall health and wellbeing||Increases sense of joy and contentment||Improves focus concentration|
|Improves sleep||Reduces and lessens symptoms of depression||Enhances performance|
|Reduces chronic pain||Reduces substance abuse||Elevates collaboration and creativity|
|Lowers blood pressure||Reduces stress and anxiety||Reduces conflict|
After completing a UBC Mindfulness Challenge, past participants were more confident in their ability to manage stress in the workplace, spring back from setbacks, and resolve interpersonal conflicts in the workplace. The top three most common achievements were learned new skills, increased ability to manage emotions, and reduced stress levels.
UBC was also involved in a research collaboration to study the effectiveness of the Mindfulness Challenge. Find out more about a larger study on mindfulness intervention in the workplace.
“[I] developed resilience skills and the ability to be less judgmental with colleagues with difficult personalities.” — UBC Mindfulness Challenge Participant
“I had multiple competing tasks and my mind was racing and unfocused. Taking a mindful approach, I efficiently focused on one task at a time through to completion.” — UBC Mindfulness Challenge Participant
Photo credit: Melissa Lafrance
* Killingsworth MA, Gilbert DT. A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind. Science 12 November 2010: Vol. 330. no. 6006, p. 932
** Aikens, K. A., et al. (2014). Mindfulness goes to work: Impact of an online workplace intervention. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 56(7), 721-731.
Dane, E., & Brummel, B. J. (2014). Examining workplace mindfulness and its relations to job performance and turnover intention. Human Relations, 67(1), 105-128.
Glomb, T. M. (2011). Null: Research in personnel and human resources management mindfulness at work, 115.
Good, D. J., et al. (2016). Contemplating mindfulness at work: An integrative review. Journal of Management, 42(1), 114-142.
Posted in Mental Health | Tagged communication, conflict, education, learning, mental health, Mindfulness, Mindfulness @ work, mindfulness challenge, personal development, professional development, relationships, resilience, thriving | 1 Response
By Melissa Lafrance on October 3, 2017
“Creating the best possible environment for everyone to live, work, learn and play leads to a stronger sense of belonging and connection and a happier, healthier, more inclusive campus community for all.” – UBC Wellbeing
As the seasons change, our moods and behaviours can shift also. With the days getting shorter and temperatures colder, we may not be as motivated to be out and about or to maintain vibrant social circles.
The following three articles by Shepell, UBC’s Employee & Family Assistance Program (EFAP) provider, can help support you with tools to improve and maintain your social wellbeing:
- Most people know that proper nutrition, exercise, and relaxation techniques can reduce stress, but being social is just as important in maintaining overall wellbeing. Learn skills and strategies to improve the quality of your relationships with “A friend, indeed: friendship as a source of solace and support.”
- Perhaps you are in a new work environment or in a new neighbourhood. Maybe you feel the need to build your social support network. If so, check out “Building and maintaining a social support network.”
- Managing a social life with a busy schedule can be demanding. “Maintaining friendships on a busy schedule” provides advice on fitting social time into your schedule.
Note: Please enter “University of British Columbia” as your organization to access these articles.
UBC’s EFAP provider Shepell offers counselling services for support with the following:
- Enhancing your relationships
- Relationship challenges
- Family support services
- Stress and resilience
- Family concerns (e.g. communication, parenting, dynamics, and more)
- Workplace communication and conflict management
To get started with Shepell’s Relationship Support Services, call 1-800-387-4765 or browse through their available services online.
For more information, check out these Workhealthlife articles:
- Working together: strategies to improve your employee-supervisor relationship
- Fun and easy team building ideas
Family/Couple relationships and communication:
- Building and maintaining healthy relationships
- Rekindling the couple relationship after having a baby
- Squeezing in your main squeeze: making time for your relationship
- Improving family communication
Note: Please enter “University of British Columbia” as your organization to access these articles.
For more information on how UBC is creating an equitable, inclusive campus, visit:
By Melissa Lafrance on September 13, 2017
What Exactly is Resiliency?
How can some people bounce back from hardship or remain in challenging situations while others get disconcerted and remain affected for a longer period of time? Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy and other significant sources of stress. Research has shown that resilience is ordinary not extraordinary, and people regularly demonstrate resilience. Having strong resiliency skills doesn’t remove challenging or distressed feelings altogether, but rather can help reduce the time it takes to return to “normal” everyday functioning. Luckily, resilience involves behaviours, thoughts, actions and skills that can be learned and developed.
Several achievable factors are associated with resilience, including:
- Having caring and supportive relationships
- The capacity to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out
- A positive view of yourself and confidence in your strengths and abilities
- Skills in communication and problem solving
- The ability to manage strong feelings and impulses
Developing or enhancing resilience is a completely personal journey. Here are a few general tips  to consider when developing your personal resiliency:
Make connections. Having a good support system involving positive relationships is crucial, as is accepting help from those who care about you and your wellbeing. Read more about improving the quality of your relationships.
Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems. You may not be able to control or avoid stressful events from happening, but you can change your outlook and how you respond to these events. Find out how you can maintain your inner strength amidst life’s daily challenges.
Accept change. It is part of life. This may change your course of action or make certain goals no longer attainable. Learn how to deal with the stress resulting from change and how to adapt and respond effectively to changes.
Explore, determine and move towards your goals. Learn the SMART guide to goal setting.
Take decisive actions. Act on adverse situations as much as possible rather than passively ignoring problems and stresses. Check out some tips for great decision making.
Seize opportunities for self-discovery. Learn to meditate or try a new team sport or hobby.
Nurture a positive view of yourself. Read more on constructing confidence and building self-belief.
Maintain a perspective view on things. Avoid making difficult situations a bigger deal than they actually are. View stressful events in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective.
Maintain a hopeful outlook. Being optimistic about the future allows you to expect that good things will happen in your life. Instead of worrying and fearing for the worst, visualize a hopeful outcome. Nourish your inner optimist. Consider using a journal such as the Five Minute Journal  to help you focus on the good in your life.
Take care of yourself. Read more on how to improve your relationship with yourself.
Explore Mindfulness and Meditation at UBC. Consider enrolling in our upcoming programs:
30-Day Online Mindfulness Challenge – Free for UBC employees
Two Start Dates: October 16, 2017 and February 19, 2018
Learn the core skills of mindfulness through evidence-based online training. The 30-day challenge does not involve a formal meditation practice, but rather teaches mindfulness-in-action for everyday life.
How it works:
- 5-10 minutes per day
- Online, anytime, any device
- 30 consecutive days
- Invite a buddy or colleagues to join you
Key impact areas:
- Health and wellbeing
- Increased performance
- Teamwork and conflict resolution
Mindfulness@Work – $100 for UBC employees (eligible for PD funding)
Two Start Dates: November 7, 2017 and April 5, 2018
For a deeper understanding of mindfulness and/or to develop a meditation practice, Mindfulness@Work offers an in-person educational program experience that uses the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) model.
How it works
- Six-week, in-person training
- Meet for 1 hour and 15 minutes once a week in a small supportive group led by a mindfulness teacher
- Attend a half day weekend retreat
- Daily home assignments for 15-30 minutes a day
Key impact areas
- Stress reduction
- Physical and mental wellbeing
- Effectiveness, teamwork, communication skills
- Focuses on integrating mindfulness in the workplace
Additional resources on building resiliency:
- More steps to building resiliency in your life
- Tips for balance and talking about resiliency
- Workplace and career resiliency
Photo credit: Melissa Lafrance
By Miranda Massie on July 1, 2017
I recently went to Ottawa for a series of work conferences and was lucky enough to stay in a cute little Airbnb for a week on my own. It was amazing! Coming home to silence at the end of a busy day filled with presentations, networking and social events was a revelation. Perhaps this is because I have never lived alone. I often wonder if this is weird, or if I willingly bypassed one of life’s fundamental experiences.
During the week away, I felt more independent, confident and self-sufficient. I was able to appreciate and better understand the experiences and desires of others who seek refuge in quiet time or choose solo pursuits. As an extrovert, I find strength and energy in the presence of others and have found it more difficult to identify with those who prefer solitude.
The experience in Ottawa helped me to better appreciate those around me and to reflect on a newfound desire for more personal time in my life.
The theme for this month’s newsletter is all about relationships, and I might argue that the one relationship we can sometimes forget about is the one we have with ourselves. I have come to believe that my strong inclination to extroversion, combined with a fear of missing out (FOMO is a real thing!) have held me back from fully understanding and nurturing my relationships with myself.
Here are some suggestions from a self-proclaimed extrovert on how to renew your relationship with yourself:
Sit with your emotions
Don’t be afraid to feel things and to sit in your emotions for a while. There is a difference between experiencing emotions and being able to understand and acknowledge them.
Embrace the quiet
Sometimes it is okay to be alone with our thoughts. We live in a very busy world and periodic silence can be beneficial for our brains. Listen to this TED Talk: 4 Ways Sound Affects Us.
Whether it be feelings, experiences or a nice meal, sharing parts of our lives with others can help us learn more about ourselves and to grow as individuals.
Work your strengths
Learn to understand and appreciate your strengths without minimizing the strengths of others who are different. Watch this video to learn about the individual strengths of both introverts and extroverts.
Living on one’s own can be a luxury and may not be an option for everyone, but it can be invigorating to find quiet places or moments to re-energize and reconnect with the self. This month, I encourage you to reflect on the relationships in your life that you appreciate and value and to look for opportunities to reconnect with yourself. It is self-preservation, not selfishness.
All my best,
By Guest Contributor on July 1, 2017
Guest contribution from Megan Pinfield, Senior Advisor, Workplace Mental Health
I’ve been a clinical counsellor since 2004 and in that time, I’ve worked with many couples and individuals struggling with relationship issues. One common theme I have seen over and over again is conflict due to unmanaged or uncommunicated expectations.
Dr. John Gottman, a relationship researcher and author of several books on the subject states that 70% of all conflict in relationships is actually unsolvable  and that conflict will exist no matter what.
Why is conflict inevitable?
The answer to this question is that we all have certain expectations about relationships that many of us do not acknowledge to ourselves, let alone our unsuspecting partners . Our expectations come from how we were raised, the society in which we grew up, the types of books and TV shows we watched, how we were treated by the people in our social worlds and many other factors.
For example, from our family of origin we learned how to show and receive affection, how to negotiate for things we want, how to communicate our needs and feelings so others will listen, and what to expect from the people who love us.
Each of us has developed a unique set of expectations for relationships based on our life experiences. In addition to giving and receiving love, we all have expectations around the following:
- Relationship longevity (how long we expect relationships to last)
- Sexual fidelity (whether we expect our partners to be faithful or not)
- Sex (frequency, style, etc.)
- Romance (what it “should” look like)
- Children (whether we should have them, how many, what sexes, etc.)
- Work, careers and money (how ambitious our partner “should” be, how hard we should work, etc.)
- Communication (how much, what about, what’s taboo, etc.)
- Degree of emotional dependency (how much to rely on a partner for emotional support)
- Power and control (who has it, how much, when and in what situations)
- Housework (who does what and when)
- Friendships outside a relationship (how often do we see friends or opposite sex friends, etc.)
- Religious and spiritual beliefs (do partners have to share beliefs)
Sometimes in my counselling practice, I meet couples who openly discuss these topics before marriage. But more often than not, couples never even consider these ideas much less discuss them with each other. Every one of them has their unique set of expectations for each category – even if they are not aware of it.
Conflict happens when one person’s expectations are not met by the other party. For example, A and B are in a relationship and A has the expectation that B will show their love by buying A small gifts and setting up romantic getaways for the two of them. But B grew up in a family that didn’t have a lot of money, and B learned that showing love means doing chores for the other person without being asked. So B washes the cars and cleans the house and picks up the dry cleaning for A. Unfortunately, A doesn’t recognize B’s efforts as love and B feels unappreciated by A. So neither person is happy in the relationship.
If this goes on for five to 10 years, A and B can build up a lot of resentment and anger towards each other that lead to arguments and tears. The solution is for A and B to have an honest discussion about their individual expectations for the relationship (ideally A and B should talk about what each of them expects from the other in all the categories).
Sometimes it is helpful to have these discussions in the presence of a therapist, especially if there is a history of resentment and frustration in the relationship. A good therapist can help teach each individual how to communicate his/her needs and expectations in a respectful and non-threatening way so their partner can hear them.
Obviously, some expectations cannot and should not be met by your partner; a good therapist will help you and your partner learn to accept differences and make compromises.
If you are experiencing conflict in your relationships, take a moment to consider what your expectations are. Ask yourself, “what did I assume about this situation that is upsetting me?”
If you need more help, contact a counsellor in your area or UBC’s Employee & Family Assistance Program (EFAP) provider, Shepell.
 (Gottman, 2012, Why Marriages Succeed and Fail)
 (Markman, H., Stanley, S & Blumberg, S. 2001, Fighting For Your Marriage.)