In a perfect world, our relationships would be balanced, fulfilling, and never disappointing, but the reality is, whether a relationship involves our parent, child, friend, or partner, we will experience disappointment at some point. This disappointment will force us to emotionally distance ourselves. But just because we experience disappointment, this doesn’t mean we should just give up. After all, disappointment doesn’t come from a lack of love, but from our expectations not being met.
The importance of expectations and agreements.
People who get into any kind of relationship either have expectations of their partners or create agreements with them. For example, in a professional relationship, people have clear agreements. On the other hand, in an intimate relationship, you are governed by expectations. The problem with expectations in intimate relationships is that people often have different ones. For example, a woman may expect that her husband will tell her he loves her every day because that is what she observed in her parents when she was growing up. Meanwhile, her husband, who grew up in a less emotionally expressive family, expects that she will understand that being physical with her is his way of saying “I love you.” Expectations, like thoughts, are mostly unspoken and unexpressed, and the person affected by them is often not even aware of them. This is the reason we have difficulty handling them.
Disappointment in intimate relationships.
Disappointment in your relationship originates in your expectations for how you believe someone should treat you and feel about you. The closer the relationship, the higher the expectations, and thus, the stronger the frustration. When people create “should” in their mind about how their lives should be and how people around them should behave, especially their partners, it creates expectations that are impossible to meet. People also tend to behave according to their attachment style (secure; dismissive-avoidant; anxious-preoccupied; fearful-avoidant). Furthermore, a history of trauma in one or both partners could be a factor that is affecting their relationship. Partners need to be open about these experiences and recognize them in order to begin healing.
How to change disappointment in relationships.
Distinguish general disappointment from specific disappointment.
The way you think about your relationship, your partner, and the attitude you choose to have about them can dramatically change the result. Disappointment can come from many sources. Some people are disappointed that their partner didn’t wash the dishes as they expected. Others feel disappointed because they feel like their partner is emotionally distant. There are different sources that need to be understood, so it can be useful to first figure out if your disappointment is due to frustration at specific things in your relationship or just in general.
Be open to a different perspective.
When your partner is behaving in ways that make you disappointed, put yourself in their shoes. Sit down and think about what led them to behave that way. Try to see the world from their perspective. Knowing the intentions behind your partner’s behavior or lack of response can be the starting point for mutual forgiveness and understanding.
Accept your partner.
You need to accept that people aren’t always at their best; we all have our needs, wishes, faults, and trauma. Looking at things from this point of view, you will set yourself up for a lot less disappointment.
Understand your involvement.
It is important to acknowledge the way you approach disappointment. For example, do you have a negative attitude that results in mutual frustration? Or you do show a positive attitude and collaborate with your partner to reach your goals?
The most important tool in any relationship is communication. Communication can also be the most difficult part in any relationship, with many of us struggling to improve it. Healthy communication means a healthy relationship, but to communicate, you need to make an intentional effort.
Three steps to prevent misunderstandings from unrealistic expectations:
1) Become aware of your own expectations.
Most of the time, people are not aware of what their expectations are. All they know is that they somehow feel upset toward their partner. If this is happening to you, its time to dig deeper and figure out what expectation your partner has violated.
2) Express your expectations.
Once you are aware of your expectations, express them to your partner and ask your partner to do the same. That might seem simple, but expressing your expectations can make people feel uncomfortable because they have to be vulnerable. Taking emotional risks like this, though, can lead to deeper intimacy and a stronger bond.
3) Agree or compromise.
Make a clear agreement relating to the specific situation.
Four steps to make your relationship stronger:
1) Appreciate your relationship.
Appreciation is the opposite of disappointment, so, to overcome disappointment, you have to start to appreciate yourself and your partner. Instead of focusing on what didn’t happen, you should start to appreciate what they have done.For example, imagine you asked your partner to wash the dishes after dinner and you found all the dishes in the sink, but the table cleaned. Instead of focusing on how your partner didn’t comply with your expectations, focus on how they did a good job by cleaning the table. By focusing on the positive, you will start noticing all the things that your partner did or is doing for you, many of which are related to what you really want. In fewer words, when you manage your expectations in a way, you will begin to appreciate your partner and feel less disappointed and happier about your relationship.
2) Open a diode of communication with your partner.
After an incident, ask yourself honestly if you communicated exactly what you were expecting. Ask yourself if you were clear and whether your partner heard you and understood.Very often, disappointment comes from a misunderstanding.For example, if you asked your partner to clean their office and all they did was organize their books, you might feel like they are lazy and did the bare minimum. In reality, your partner had no way of knowing that when you said “clean,” you meant to organize the booksand dust the furniture. If you communicate your expectations in a clearer way, you will find it easier for your partner to meet them.
3) Understand that everyone is different.
One of the most important things to understand is that you partner, like all people, is unique. Very often, we expect something to be done exactly how we would do it. The truth is, just because you can do something well doesn’t mean your partner can, or vice versa.For example, you might be able to cook the perfect dinner for your partner, but your partner might know less about cooking. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. It is important to understand that these aren’t the same for everyone.To expect from your partner what you would do if you were in the same situation is only setting yourself up for major disappointment.
4) Adjust your expectations.
Don’t give up your expectations, but do think about adjusting them. One problem couples face is that partners lower their expectations for each other in order to avoid feeling any disappointment. It is bad to have unrealistic expectations, but also to have ridiculously low expectations. Instead on focusing on “should” and “musts,” focus on the way it is. If you focus on the reality, you will find you are less disappointed.
It is important to see things for what they are, not what you want them to be. Create an open and non-judgmental space for both of you to share your needs, desires, and expectations within your relationship. This space should focus on how you both see things or how you would like them to be. Avoid black and white thinking and words such as “never,” “should,” and “must,” which often come up when you are upset. Instead, promote a positive, understanding, and compassionate tone when you communicate with your partner. When you feel that you have done everything possible to fix your relationship and disappointment still persists, it’s time to visit a professional. Relationship coaching is necessary if partners feel disconnected and nothing seems to work. Couples who experience a major crisis in communication or have reached a state of constant disconnection in the relationship may have allowed too many issues in the relationship to go unaddressed. Relationship coaching can help both partners recognize their responsibility without getting caught up in blaming it all on each other. At that point, relationship coaching can help the couple understand the problem. Relationship coaching offers an environment where both partners feel safe to be vulnerable with each other and share all their thoughts and concerns. In some cases, relationship coaches can also provide solutions. For example, if partners are disagreeing about a specific thing, relationship coaching can help them learn how to compromise and meet each other half-way. Only then can partners start to be supportive and compassionate of each other; your relationship will flourish and your bond will become stronger.
McCarthy, B., & McCarthy, E. J. (2005). Getting it right the first time: Creating a healthy marriage. Routledge.
Vangelisti & Alexander. Coping with Disappointment in marriage: When partners’ standards are unmet. Noller, P., & Feeney, J. A. (2002). Understanding marriage: Developments in the study of couple interaction. Cambridge University Press. Coping with Disappointment in marriage.
Wallerstein, J. (2019). The good marriage: How and why love lasts. Plunkett Lake Press.