Recently my son and his friends asked me if I wanted to play a new card game with them. I jumped at the chance. It was not often that my teen-aged son invited me to participate in anything that he was doing.

We sat at the table and one of the boys shuffled the deck and dealt seven cards to everyone.

“What is the object of the game?” I asked.

The dealer set another card in front of me and said, “Penalty for talking!”

“Wait, what? I just asked a question,” I responded.

The other boys just smiled as the dealer threw down another card and said, “Penalty for talking!”

“Are you kidding me? You haven’t even told me how the game is to be played! Just give me the rules,” I demanded.

Once again the dealer said, “Penalty for talking,” as he threw another card my way.

After collecting three penalty cards, I wasn’t going to say another word. I watched carefully as each person around the table began laying down a card. I had no idea what they were doing. When it came to my turn I put down what looked like the right card, a King of Hearts.

As soon as I did the dealer threw another card at me and said “Penalty for not saying ‘All hail the king’ as you played a king!”

I picked up my penalty card, and the dealer threw another card at me and said, “Penalty for not thanking the dealer for the last penalty card!” Are you kidding me?

Not knowing the rules of a card game is difficult. Not knowing the rules in a relationship can be exasperating!

When I’ve talked to people about their greatest challenges in relationships it usually has to do with expectations or rules that were unspoken, misunderstood or just unrealistic. They shared how they were penalized for breaking a rule that they didn’t know existed.

We’ve all been there. We have either failed to meet someone else’s expectation or they have failed to meet ours. We may have rules on how we expect others to behave or how they should react or respond to our needs, wants, and desires.

Maybe these rules or expectation include how we discipline children, who does certain chores, how money is spent, how much time we spend at work, how we experience family traditions, where we go on vacation, how we settle disagreements, how we speak to one another, or even the proper way to load silverware in the dishwasher (some people get really touchy about this one).

Trying to live under others’ unspoken, unclear or unrealistic expectations and rules can be very frustrating.

A young friend of mine who got married recently was surprised when he was penalized for not calling his in-laws to thank them for a birthday gift. He had sent a nice note but in that family, the unwritten rule was to call the gift giver.

Another friend of mine would get penalized at work if he left before his boss. When his boss had to stay late, he expected this employee to stay late as well. This expectation never been verbalized, it was really unrealistic.

If you have rules or expectations about how you want things done but neither share or communicate clearly, you prevent others from meeting your expectations. They may find it difficult to be in relationship with you.

Reflect on the your expectations of others.

• Am I sure others know what is expected of them?

• Are my expectations communicated in a way that others understand?

• Are my rules reasonable or are they getting in the way of my relationships?

When we express expectations and communicate rules clearly, we make it much easier for others to love and be in relationship with us.

“Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude.” 1 Peter 3:8

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