Have you ever woken up in the morning from a wonderful dream to the reality of another ho-hum, ordinary day? Disappointment can quickly set in. Marriage can sometimes be like that, too. In fact, my wife, Susan, and I recently identified disappointment as one of 8 challenges every marriage will face in a heart-to-heart podcast conversation. No marriage is immune.
The simple reality is that the first rush of “love” simply can’t last because it includes a temporary flood of chemicals that is a form of actual intoxication. The second wave of love that follows is richer and deeper. But what do you do when the tide seems to go out, leaving you stranded on the dry sands of disappointment? Here are five steps to help you find hope for the days ahead when disappointment drowns you and the dream seems to die.
Identify the issue.
It’s been said that anger is often a secondary emotion—in other words, there’s something deeper that is going on which is triggering your short temper or envy. Maybe you are scared of losing your job or hurt by someone’s comments and feel defensive. In the same way, your disappointment may be hiding behind some other feelings, like the sense that your spouse is neglecting you. Dig down to the root of what’s really happening. Has physical intimacy waned? Does it seem like you are playing second fiddle to the kids? Clarify what is going on.
Isolate the cause.
It’s one thing to recognize what’s going on. It’s another to be able to clearly see who is responsible. Typically, our first reaction is to apportion blame to our spouse for letting us down in some way—it’s all their fault. But what if it’s our expectations that are unreasonable? Many times tensions arise because husbands and wives assume the other knows what they need or want, without actually telling them. Take a moment to consider these five common unfair expectations of wives and husbands.
Initiate the conversation.
Disappointment is about something you may not be getting from your spouse, whether that’s emotional connectedness, affirmation of some kind, or physical closeness. One step towards bridging the gap that exists between you and your spouse is by talking about it, telling them how you feel. The point is not to make them feel bad but to open communication between the two of you that can deepen intimacy. But with tender feelings on both sides, this can be tricky. So go gently, and spend some time thinking about the right way to prepare for difficult conversations.
Implement the change.
They say that a problem shared is a problem halved, and while the math might not be exact, simply putting it out there in the open is an important first step. Once you have both been able to share your feelings and perspectives on the issue, you are better equipped to see what you each need to do to reduce or eliminate the source of disappointment. It might mean changing your actions: getting home from work in time for a family dinner three nights a week so that your spouse doesn’t feel that she or he and the kids are less important to you. It may require revising your attitude: realizing that it’s not up to your spouse to make you happy. Instead, concentrate on how you can love them better, rather than what you think they should be doing for you. As you face your disappointment together, it can be a springboard to a richer marriage.
Improve the attitude.
Talking honestly with each other with open hearts and a commitment to being open to personal change can resolve many issues that lead to disappointment. But there are some situations that just can’t be changed: maybe financial hardship or long-term illness. What was won’t be again. Here it’s important to accept that while the future may be different, it doesn’t have to be bad. The glass is half-full, not half empty, as Nancy Jergins reminds us in writing about what to do when you’re disappointed with life. Draw a line in the sand. Put the past behind you and look ahead for what might be. You might find taking a symbolic action helpful: write your disappointment down on a piece of paper and burn it (carefully). This is like the “grieve, grow, grab” process outlined in my blog, 3 Things to Do When a Dream Dies.
Have you faced disappointment in your marriage? How did you move from the death of a dream to a new day? Share your experiences here.