The Expectations Trap

Psychology Today

Susan Pohlman, now 50, reluctantly accompanied her workaholic husband on a business trip to Italy believing it would be their last together.  Back home in Los Angeles were their two teenagers, their luxurious home, their overfurnished lives – and the divorce lawyer she had contacted to end their 18 year marriage.

They were leading such parallel lives that collaboration had turned into competition, with fights over things like who spent more time with the kids and who spent more time working.  But knocked off balance by the beauty of the coast near Genoa toward the end of the trip, Tim asked, out of the blue, “What if we lived here?”  ”The spirit of this odd day overtook me,” recalls Susan.  At 6pm on the evening before departure, they were shown a beautiful apartment overlooking the water.  Despite knowing no Italian, they signed a lease.  Two months later, with their house sold, they moved with their kids to Italy for a year.

“In L.A. we were four people going in four directions.  In Italy, we became completely dependent on each other.  How to get a phone?  How to shop for food?  Also, we had no belongings.  The simplicity forced us to notice the experiences of life.  Often, we had no idea what we were doing.  There was a lot of laughing at and with each other.”  Susan says she “became aware of the power of adventure and doing things together, and how they become a natural bridge to intimacy.

Both Pohlmans found Italy offered “a more appreciative lifestyle.”  Says Susan: “I realized the American Dream was pulling us apart.  We followed the formula of owning, having, pushing each other.  You have all this stuff but you’re miserable because what you are really craving is interaction.”  Too, she says, American life is exhausting, and “exhaustion distorts your ability to judge problems.”

Now back in the U.S. and living in Arizona, the Pohlmans believe they needed to remove themselves from the culture to see its distorting effects.  ”And we needed to participate in a paradigm shift: I’m not perfect, you’re not perfect; let’s not get hung up on our imperfections.”  But the most powerful element of their move could be reproduced anywhere, she says: “The simplicity was liberating.”

Great case study, and many of us have been there.  Jennifer and I recently had an opportunity to get a “bigger and grander” house with a big pool and back yard overlooking the Las Vegas skyline.  We pondered for a few days… and realized that the house, although nice, wasn’t the focal point of our happiness, we were.  With that, we decided to keep it simple and chill.


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