I had a hard phone call with a friend recently. He was reviewing his life and shared with me how “things haven’t turned out like I thought they would.” In my experience, this sort of comment usually means that the person believes their life should be better than it is, not just different. In this case, he had recently been looking back with disappointment after seeing other men he knows who have made a ton of money and a past girlfriend on social media who has a “perfect” family, causing him to wonder what might have been. It begged the question: What do you do when things don’t turn out as you thought they would?
Then there other examples of this such as the woman who “always thought she and her husband would adopt children” but it turned out her husband did not want to. Or perhaps you’ll relate to couples I’ve heard commenting that one or both of them has a radically changed personality from the fun, loving early years. They thought that was the way it would always be, yet now one or both are chronically cranky or have lost enthusiasm for life.
Maybe the job isn’t what you thought it would be. Maybe you’ve not met your financial goals. Maybe your spouse has been profoundly changed by a radical diagnosis like Parkinson’s. Maybe you never expected or wanted to move away from where you used to live, much less be where you are now.
Whatever the what-if is that vexes you, for the sake of your soul and your marriage, it is critical that you address this kind of circumstantial disappointment as soon as possible. Here are some important tips for you to consider when things don’t turn out as you thought.
Give yourself an opportunity to grieve.
Grief is not just for death. There are times when we grieve the loss of friendships, love, health, dreams, expectations…many things can be grieved. Giving yourself, and your spouse, permission to grieve is often an important step to healthy progress and growth.
Don’t keep blaming others, especially your spouse.
Assigning blame to others, especially your spouse can be bitter cancer in your soul and marriage. It’s one thing to identify that someone is responsible for something that has altered your goals or plans, it’s another to let that determination consume your heart and your relationship. That does not end well. The real “blame” can often be a complex web of circumstances and decisions. Forgiveness is crucial to progress.
Don’t keep blaming yourself.
Maybe you look back and realize that something you did or didn’t do lies at the crux of your disappointment. It can be hard to forgive yourself. Again, identifying that possibility is different than obsessing over it. You may need to forgive yourself as much as anyone else.
Accept what you cannot change.
A widely known prayer attributed to American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr says, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” It’s hard to change what we can when we haven’t figured out or accepted what can’t be changed. Letting go of what’s over and done is critical to embracing what can be possible in the future.
Accept the lack of control of most things in our lives.
Much of our disappointments stem from a false sense of control. When we can understand and accept that there is far less under our control than we probably wish, it becomes easier to own what little we can control.
Share your disappointments with your spouse.
Real and honest conversation with your spouse about your disappointments and theirs can revolutionize your marriage…but it must be done without blaming them. When you develop listening skills, broaden your empathy skills, and deepen your understanding of your wife or husband, you tear down walls you didn’t even realize you were building.
Be open to counseling.
Sometimes we need extra help. It’s hard to resolve complex emotions and circumstances that overwhelm us. Consider getting some external, objective help to sort through these issues. And don’t ignore the possibility that perhaps you both need some counseling. Here are steps to finding a good marriage counselor and 4 Ways to Know When It’s Time for Marriage Counseling.
What other steps have you found to help process such disappointments? Share yours below.