4 Easy Ways to Improve Your Relationships
Break Free of Resentment with Realistic Expectations
by Dana Vaden
Bleary-eyed, I groped towards the glow on my bedside table. A dear friend had just brought home a new baby and I was signed up to bring her and her family a meal. My iPhone was flashing a Meal Train notification, reminding me that today I was on deck.
It had totally slipped my mind. And after a busy weekend of birthday parties and teaching, I felt completely spent. A little voice whispered, “Just go to Central Market and get them a prepared meal. Surely prepared meals were created for such a time as this!”
But as soon as the words “prepared meal” crossed my mind, a second, bossier voice stepped in and demanded, “Are you joking?! She’s a new Mom – she deserves a beautiful, scrumptious, home-cooked meal! And besides, all your other friends will be cooking for her. You don’t want to look like an incompetent, lazy friend, do you?”
The second voice got me moving, hurrying me through breakfast so I could consult Pinterest before heading to the grocery store with a mile-long list, two toddlers in tow. After lunch, they napped, while I whipped myself into a frenzy of Pioneer Woman casseroles, sheet cakes, and sides.
All the while the voices inside started up again. “What if she doesn’t like what I’m making? Maybe Italian food isn’t her thing. Oh no - are they gluten-free?”
And as the afternoon wore on, “Why does she expect me to bring her a fancy meal? I’ve got young kids myself. Shouldn’t there be a Meal Train exemption for mothers of young children? ”
Then my inner sweetheart chimed in, “Did she even make me a meal when I had Henry? I don’t remember it, so even if she did, it must not have been very good.” Yikes.
Every one of us has had the experience of setting the bar higher for ourselves than we ought to, then battling the resentments that follow. In her terrific book, Mirror to the Soul, Alice Fryling describes a four-part process by which we first judge ourselves and then judge others.
She says that we:
1. Lead with our strengths, setting a high standard for ourselves to make us feel like we are okay.
2. When we can’t reach that standard or we don’t get the reaction we were hoping for, we start to believe that others are also holding us to that standard.
3. We begin to resent them for our inability to reach standards that we ourselves have set.
4. Then, to quell our inner sense of unease, we judge others by the standard to which we hold ourselves. Anticipating and identifying their failures props up our own damaged ego.
She doesn’t paint a pretty picture. And as I took a ride on the Meal Train, I saw just what she was talking about. First I set the bar too high for myself, insisting on cooking a Pinterest-worthy meal myself. That was my choice. Then I began to believe that this was my friend’s expectation of me when she probably would have been just as happy with a store-bought prepared meal. Next, I resented her for saddling me with the burden of preparing the meal and then judged her to make myself feel better.
As I reflected, I discovered that my need to appear successful was driving my Meal Train experience. While I wanted to meet the needs of my sweet friend and her family, what I wanted, even more, was to hear her say that I was a good friend, a good cook, a competent person. My giving was sincere but mingled with a desire to receive affirmation.
Instead of acknowledging my desire for validation head on, I let it control my decisions and ended up feeling resentful and judgmental. These feelings posed far greater risks to my relationship than a prepared meal ever could. Expectations are resentments and frustrations waiting to happen. While it is easy to recall the ways in which our unmet expectations of others have left us feeling resentful, we rarely pause to consider the impact of the expectations we hold for ourselves.
Each one of us struggles with setting the bar too high in some areas and then holding others to that standard. Maybe it’s a strong need to be perfectly punctual that turns into feelings of resentment when others are running late. Or perhaps our strong concern for our children’s safety turns into judging others’ parenting for their free-range approach. When we ourselves are running late, or our kids get hurt, it becomes particularly alluring to soothe ourselves by considering the ways that others fail in these areas, too.
Whatever our tendency, it’s important to remember that these standards are ours, not God’s. Jesus’ “yoke is easy to bear,” and His “burden … is light.” (Matthew 11:30 NLT) But we tend to forget this in the throes of the judgment cycle. We can even feel resentment toward our Savior if we come to wrongly believe that He is the one setting the bar for our lives just a little too high.
But no matter how whipped up I become, His grace prevails. His still small voice reminds me that I am more than my Meal Train performance. And recognizing the places where I cling to my own need to achieve, to set the bar ever higher, is the first step in letting go. I can trust the nail-scarred hands of my Savior as He tenderly releases my grip, one white knuckle at a time.
Dana Vaden is passionate about helping others understand how intimately they are known and loved by God. A wife and mom residing in Dallas, Dana holds a master's degree in Conflict Management and Dispute Resolution from SMU. When she's not mediating disputes over legos, Dana teaches Bible studies at Stonebriar Community Church and blogs about the Enneagram. Follow her at