What To Do When You Disappoint Your Spouse

When you handle disappointment well, you can grow closer.
By John Daum
January 21, 2022

Disappointment is a revelation. Disappointment in marriage – doubly so. Sadly, we usually don’t sit with it long enough to learn all we should. When you disappoint your spouse, you are faced with several choices. We’ll look at some practical actions you can take, but first, you need to address your relationship with disappointment. Remember, you aren’t alone in this. I’ve been there so much I’ve made up words for my options.

When you disappoint your spouse, you can choose:

1. “Self-Regretrospect.”

This is looking back on what you did, feeling appropriate regret, and learning from it. I can totally see how that disappointed my spouse. I need to make it right with them and learn from this.

This is sitting WITH the disappointment you caused.

2. “Self-Vulnercade.

This is barricading your vulnerability. It’s not a big deal. They disappoint me all the time. I would never do that. Just get over it.

This is sitting AWAY from the disappointment you caused.

3. “Self-Crucifiction.

This is fictional martyrdom. I’m the worst! Why do I always screw everything up? I can’t do anything right! I’m terrible!

This is sitting IN the disappointment you caused.

If you can muster some self-regretrospection and sit with the disappointment you inflicted, you’re in a place to learn something valuable. Disappointment reveals where hope is. You’re disappointed the recipe didn’t turn out because you hoped it would be tasty. You’re disappointed your team lost because you hoped they’d win. 

There is no disappointment without hope. 

So. You’ve disappointed your spouse. They’re understandably upset. Now, think about the hopes your spouse has that were let down. Be specific. They could be hopes for particular actions or hopes for certain character qualities. They could be hopes for a special kind of relationship. Learn into it. 

What better way to grow closer to your spouse than to understand their hopes?

I’ve been married for 28 years. Do you know what I’ve learned about disappointing my spouse and being disappointed? It happens often, but worse, we usually totally waste it. 

We don’t learn anything from it, so our relationship doesn’t grow. But disappointment is fertile soil for bitterness and resentment, even in the healthiest of marriages. For both of you. ¡No Bueno!

Sadly, it’s taken most of my 28 years of marriage for me to realize that we rarely have the right discussion/argument/fight. Instead of defending & deflecting, instead of wilting & wallowing, I should own more. Take more responsibility. And then explore my wife’s hopes. Study them. Celebrate them. THIS: Protect her hopes because they’re connected to her dreams.

That’s all good in theory, but let’s get practical.

“What if my spouse’s hopes are unrealistic, impossible, and romanticized? I’ll always end up disappointing them!” 

That’s a great point and a valid question. Our hopes need to be continually evaluated, calibrated, and recalibrated. But remember, hope by definition is a stretch between what is and what could be. 

Hope in marriage should stretch you as individuals and as a couple, but hope should never break you. If you’re continually being broken, that’s not hope; that’s hurt, and it needs to be addressed. The goal is to keep growing as you keep going. 

What do you do short-term when you disappoint your spouse? Like, now?

Your spouse’s hopes have been dashed and they are hurt and disappointed. Of course, this is not where you want to park your relationship.

You can hear and validate your spouse’s feelings in the moment and explore their hopes and expectations later.

(1.) Own your actions, words, and attitudes. 

(2,) Acknowledge your spouse’s feelings.

(3.) Apologize for disappointing your spouse. 

(4.) Then, at the right time, ask questions and listen to the answers. 

“What do you think is the hope driving that?” or “What is the hope beneath that?”

It might be trust, respect, feeling heard, feeling cherished – who knows? But that’s what you’re actually working on – not just dishes, taking out the trash, helping with the kids, folding laundry, and sending 😍 😍 😍 texts. 

★ Heyo! Your spouse might realize they need to address their hopes and expectations. Maybe they go beyond a healthy stretch to an unhealthy setup for perpetual disappointment. This is an ongoing convo that should strengthen your bond. This is the heart of marital growth.

Homebuilding is Hopebuilding.

Your goal isn’t to stop disappointing your spouse. It’s way deeper. Your goal is to always be working to protect their hopes. When your spouse sees you working to that end, so many of life’s disappointments, big or small, just seem to… fade… away.

Other blogs:

5 Ways to Reduce Resentment in Your Marriage – First Things First

How to Overcome Built-Up Resentment in Marriage – First Things First

How to Stop Resentment – First Things First

What to Do When Your Spouse Disappoints You – First Things First

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