Don't Miss the Point of Disappointment
Embrace the blow instead of sidestepping it.
Posted August 10, 2022 | Reviewed by Hara Estroff Marano
- Because humans are inherently different from each other, every relationship will always be somewhat "sloppy."
- Relational sloppiness means that ruptures and fractures in the dyad are inescapable.
- Ruptures lead to feelings of frustration and disappointment, which are natural and unavoidable in every relationship.
- Avoiding disenchantments actually harms relationships. Reclaiming disappointment can lead to individual and relational growth.
Disappointment. It's a natural and unavoidable feeling in every long-term relationship. And yet many couples fear it and actively avoid it.
They do so because they fear that feeling dissatisfied may cause a partner to leave. As a result, couples start sidestepping issues or events that might stir up feelings of disenchantment.
The sad truth
Research shows that up to 70% of every couple’s problems are unsolvable, which obviously leads to frustration and… disappointment. That means that sooner or later, you and your partner, will be disappointed with each other.
What happens when couples avoid disappointment?
There are several negative consequences of avoiding disappointment:
Boredom. Avoidance of hot topics limits the couple’s discourse to only "safe" themes, which narrows the breadth of conversation. This leads to dull and shallow conversations.
Lack of growth. Avoiding conflict points prevents each partner from confronting their blind spots and growing as individuals and as a couple. By not sharing frustrations with a partner, couples are essentially robbing each other of a chance to grow.
Bitterness. Since both partners will inevitably feel disappointment, by not expressing it, there is no outlet for those negative feelings. This may lead to bitterness, negativity, or self-pity.
Distance. Since both partners avoid the heat, fewer requests and emotional bids are made, resulting in a widening gap between individuals. Neither one takes a chance to put himself out there but rather keeps it safe and comfortably numb.
A window, a map, an invitation
But the truth is that disappointment is much more than people realize.
Disappointment is a window. You can choose to see disappointment as a window to your partner’s inner world. Sharing your disappointment with them shows them your expectations of them. By dodging disappointment, both partners lose a chance to nourish each other.
Disappointment is a map. It’s a map for you to understand your partner’s needs, hopes, and expectations. This is crucial learning for deepening the bond. A constructive conversation around issues of frustration is part of the essential process of rupture and repair, harmony and disharmony, which are the secret of a great relationship.
Disappointment is an invitation. Your partner’s discontent is an invitation for you to step up the way you show up for your partner and the relationship.
How to re-embrace disappointment
It will take some time, but you can rebrand dissatisfaction as a relation-building feeling.
Open the conversation. Share this article with your partner. Discuss the idea of reclaiming disappointment as a valid, even desirable feeling in your relationship.
Name it. Next time you feel it, share it gently and respectfully. Don't be afraid of it.
Keep it playful. Play is the lubricant of life. When you do share your disappointment, be playful, don’t take yourself or the disappointment too seriously. Emphasize the words somewhat dramatically so it lands less seriously. This will signal to your partner that you’re not emotionally flooded and they will feel less defensive and more open to it.
Let it land. Accept the fact that no one is perfect, including you. Embrace it. Breathe into it. Don't disconnect, attack, or move away. Let it burn your chest. Even if you don’t agree, it doesn’t matter because subjective is the only objective in relationships. What’s more important is that you partner feels heard.
Be curious. Ask your partner what disappointed them Practice curiosity to find out the need or wish behind the disappointment. And then be silent and listen.
Be grateful. Remember that when your partner shares their disappointment, it means that they care. Thank them for speaking up and taking a chance. This means they want more from you and the relationship.
Apologize. Take responsibility for your contribution to their feeling. It doesn’t mean that you are a devil, just that you are human.
Keep it clean. Make sure that disappointments don’t become a weapon to jab or hurt your partner but a way to get closer. If you are feeling sorry for yourself, angry, or revengeful, then it is not the time to share your disappointments.
Celebrate expectations made. When your partner does meet or exceed your expectations, be explicit and say so. “I’m so happy you put the kids to bed without me even asking; you’re an amazing father!”
Forgive and move on. There will always be areas in your relationship in which your partner will never be able to fulfill your needs. Having disappointment as a legitimate feeling helps us accept the shortcomings of the relationship lovingly and move on.
So don't miss the point of disappointment. Reclaim it for a great relationship.
Gottman, J. M., & DeClaire, J. (2001). The relationship cure: A five-step guide to strengthening your marriage, family, and friendships. New York, NY: Harmony.
Real, T. (2022). Us: getting past you and me to build a more loving relationship. New York, NY: Rodale.
Safran, J. D., Muran, J. C., & Eubanks-Carter, C. (2011). Repairing alliance ruptures. Psychotherapy, 48(1), 80–87.