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What To Do When You Disappoint Your Spouse

When you handle disappointment well, you can grow closer.

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

What to Do When Your Spouse Disappoints You

A healthy response to disappointment can be a game-changer for your marriage.

Disappointment hurts, especially from the one you love the most. And when your spouse disappoints you, you probably experience several emotions. Anger. Frustration. Hurt. Sadness. Bewilderment. (What were they thinking? Right?) 

Disappointment in your spouse can spark uncertainty and shake your trust. It might even make you wonder if you can rely on them at all. 

First, let me just say: You’re not alone, and every married person disappoints their spouse at some point. Your feelings are honest, legit, and okay. And even though disappointment is common in marriage, knowing that doesn’t really make things easier. So let’s talk about it. 

Some things to consider: 

Unmet expectations breed disappointment. 

Everybody enters marriage with a certain standard in mind.1 This is a good thing. It means you have relationship goals. You want your marriage to thrive. If your spouse lets you down, it hinders those goals. Enter disappointment and the emotions that follow. 

Ask yourself: 

What do you expect from your spouse? How do your expectations connect to your overall relationship goals? 

Disappointment comes in different flavors.

Although everybody experiences disappointment in marriage, it’s not all the same. It may stem from a specific issue. I can’t believe they forgot to take the trash out… again. Or, it can be more general. This is not how I thought it’d be.  

Disappointment can also happen over seemingly minor or explicitly major issues (whether it’s the trash or infidelity). Of course, disappointing situations feel major to you. That’s why they’re disappointing

Healthy responses to disappointment may be somewhat different depending on the situation.2 The big lesson here is to become aware of why you’re disappointed. 

Ask yourself: 

What exactly did your spouse do or not do that disappointed you? 

Is the disappointment in something specific or general? Issues that are minor or major? 

You are coping with your disappointment in one way or another. 

You can’t help but respond, whether involuntarily or by choice. Even if you’re not sure what to do, you may feel angry, passive-aggressive, secretly imagine getting back at them, or avoid the issue altogether. 

However, there are healthy and unhealthy ways to cope and respond. Choosing to respond in a healthy way is key to working through the disappointment.

Ask yourself: 

How are you coping or responding right now? Would you say your responses are healthy or unhealthy? 

Be careful about what your disappointment might lead you to assume. 

When your spouse disappoints you, it usually doesn’t mean

  • He or she is a bad person.
  • They aren’t right for you.
  • Your marriage is doomed.3

At the least, it means that expectations need to be clear. And for the more serious offenses, your partner may need help to overcome certain behaviors. (More on that in a bit.) 

Ask yourself: 

Why might your spouse have acted (or failed to act) the way they did that led to your disappointment? 

What do you do, then, when your spouse disappoints you? How do you handle it? 

  • Reframe it. Ironically, even though it feels like your disappointment drives you further away from your spouse, it can be an opportunity to grow closer. Try looking at it as a chance to clarify what you both expect and strengthen your marriage goals. 
  • Express it, but being aware of your composure is key. Remember: How you come across when you explain your disappointment influences your spouse’s response. 
  • Have forgiveness at the ready. Forgiveness is a process. But it’s tough to move forward if you harbor resentment and bitterness. 
  • Re-clarify your expectations. What do you specifically hope for from your spouse? Does your spouse think they can successfully meet your expectations? Work on compromises and talk about how expectations can be realistic and shared.
  • Ask your spouse how you can help each other be more successful at meeting expectations. 
  • Continually affirm your spouse for their effort. 

Realize that it might be best to seek a professional counselor’s advice at some point. This is especially true if your spouse’s behavior is recurring or addictive, or if they show apathy or disinterest in working toward a solution. Seeing a therapist together is best. But if they won’t go with you, seeing a counselor on your own can help you find healthy ways to cope. 

It’s not fun when your spouse disappoints you, but it is normal. And it’s a chance to be in a better place today than you were yesterday. Choosing healthy responses can help you grow closer to your spouse in the midst of disappointment.

Sources:

1Baucom, Epstein, N., Sayers, S., & Sher, T. G. (1989). The Role of Cognitions in Marital Relationships: Definitional, Methodological, and Conceptual Issues. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 57(1), 31–38.

2Lazarus R.S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. New York: Springer-Verlag

3Vangelisti, & Alexander, A. L. (2002). Coping with Disappointment in Marriage: When Partners’ Standards Are Unmet. In Understanding Marriage (pp. 201–227). Cambridge University Press. 

Grief is a response to loss. It’s characterized by feelings of sadness, hopelessness, depression, numbness, anger, and guilt. The goal of successful grief resolution is to reestablish emotional balance. Not everyone grieves the same things or expresses their grief in the same way. And then there’s what we call “disenfranchised grief.” (You probably know what it is, and you may have even felt it, but you might not know what to call it.)

Recognizing that loss comes in many forms has been one positive thing we’ve taken away from the pandemic. For example, loss of:

  • A prom or graduation
  • A dream wedding
  • Funeral attendance
  • Vacations
  • Family reunions
  • Other gatherings

People are more aware of “disenfranchised grief” now. Still, it’s helpful for us to think beyond the pandemic to other commonly overlooked losses. That way, we can support those suffering from them.

Understanding Disenfranchised Grief: 

  1. Grief that isn’t typically recognized by societal norms and/or lacks cultural expression.
  2. Grief that is often minimized, invalidated, stigmatized, marginalized, or misunderstood.

Disenfranchised grief (DG) leaves individuals to process their loss on their own or in secret. They lack the supportive benefits available to people whose losses are more socially accepted, expected, acknowledged, or understood. Often, people tell those in distress, “You didn’t even know them that well,” or “Move on,” or “Get over it.”

Even if we don’t understand it or agree with it, it doesn’t make the pain any less. The pain is REAL. 

Examples of losses that are frequently disenfranchised include:

  • death of an “ex,” an absent sibling or parent
  • loss of someone who was not a “blood relative”
  • loss of a co-worker or pet
  • an adoption that fell through
  • loss of possessions, loss of location due to a relocation or move
  • loss of mobility or health, loss of a body part
  • infertility, miscarriage, stillborn child
  • incarceration of a friend or family member
  • deaths due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, suicide*, or overdose
  • loss of personality due to dementia, etc.

Frequently, the loss itself may not be disenfranchised, but the manner in which an individual grieves may be. 

Those around them may criticize the length of their grieving process or the form their grief takes. Societies and cultures can have “unwritten rules” when it comes to grief. People often question, criticize, or invalidate expressions outside those “rules.” These things can complicate the grieving process. 

For many circumstances that individuals experience, there is no “race for the cure,” support group, lapel ribbon, hotline, celebrity fundraiser, foundation, or “public awareness” campaign. There may not even be a Hallmark card for it. This doesn’t mean that feelings of grief are invalid or illegitimate.

Often, people don’t even know they are experiencing DG, let alone know how to work through it. 

Instead, people have a tendency to minimize or invalidate their loss by comparing it to what a person (or society) believes is a “legitimate” loss.

Disenfranchised Grief. They say if you can name it, you can tame it. It might begin by being honest with yourself, admitting you’re grieving, and not feeling guilty about it. 

Stop faking smiles. Then find some support. The people around you are probably more than willing to help you. They just might not recognize your “outside the box” loss.

Don’t be afraid to seek professional help or to utilize resources like The Grief Recovery Method.

For those of us who may know someone experiencing DG, support might begin by expanding our definitions of “loss” and “grief.” We can follow up by making ourselves available to those who are hurting and grieving. We can listen and empathetically validate their sense of loss. 

About 2.5 million people die in the United States each year. They all leave an average of five grieving people behind. Not all those grieving people grieve the same.

If we can expand our perspective on grief, we can expand our support to those who are grieving. People are hurting, and we can help.

*If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, there are a number of websites and organizations with excellent resources for you. HelpGuide is a great place to start, along with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

OTHER HELPFUL BLOGS:

How to Help Your Child Deal With Grief

6 Things You Can Do to Help a Child Who Is Grieving the Death of a Parent

4 Ways You Can Help Someone Who Is Grieving the Death of a Loved One

How to Help Someone Who Is Grieving the Death of a Spouse

Many people are looking to do some cleaning out at the beginning of a new year. Whether it’s a detox body cleanse or binge-watching “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” on Netflix, people are interested in freeing themselves from toxins in their body and letting go of material things that seem to hold them back from living their best life.

A relational cleanse could also be helpful. Start by asking yourself, “What did I drag into this new year that is holding me back?” It could be things like:

  • bitterness and resentment
  • a toxic friendship
  • lies you have taken on as truth about yourself
  • childhood experiences that still haunt you
  • a lack of forgiveness of yourself and/or others
  • disappointment that weighs heavily on your heart
  • despair that things will never change
  • an addiction
  • a job you dislike, or something else.

Are there people who suck the life right out of you every time you are around them? If so, why do you choose to hang with them? How would your life be different if you moved on?

What purpose does unforgiveness, resentment and bitterness serve? Holding on to emotions may seem powerful in some way or that it is actually impacting the other person, but it’s really killing you instead. Letting go of the poison doesn’t excuse the behavior; It gives you the freedom to live.

What about disappointment and the complications of life?

Spouses walk away, jobs end, unexpected illness hits, children make poor choices, and sometimes the biggest disappointments come from the ones you care about the most. Is collecting and carrying around disappointments helping you move forward? Sometimes you look back and realize that one of your biggest disappointments taught you one of your greatest life lessons. But, if you can’t figure out how holding on to disappointments is helping you be your best you, then it’s time to let them go. Doing this might feel like letting go of a very heavy weight.

Excessive spending, gambling, alcohol, drugs, food, sex, pornography, video gaming, exercising, work and cutting are just a few of the addictions people often find themselves battling. Acknowledging that any one of these has a stranglehold on your life is the first step toward dealing with it and moving forward. Addictions are often bigger than what we can handle on our own, so don’t be afraid to seek professional help to get you moving in a healthy direction.

Oftentimes, the hardest part is recognizing that we each make a choice, consciously or not, to continue hauling stuff around that isn’t helpful or healthy for us. Making an intentional decision to stop dragging around unhealthy relational things and start tidying up your life can give you a completely different perspective on a new year and your life. Opportunity lies ahead.

Many parents would agree that a great deal of parenting time is spent teaching children right from wrong, the importance of honesty, responsibility, good character and much more. These are many of the essential qualities they will need to be successful in life – especially when your kids mess up. 

No matter how much effort we put into teaching our children, there are bound to be times when they disappoint us for one reason or another.

“I can remember the first time my son really disappointed me,” says Jim Smith.* “I was angry at him and at the same time I was beating myself over the head trying to figure out where I had gone wrong in raising him. For a long time, I felt sorry for him. Instead of trying to help correct what happened, I tried to compensate. Just when I thought things had turned around, he would do something else. It is hard to get past not thinking it is always your fault when your children make poor choices.”

This type of response from parents is common. Whether it’s bouncing checks, drug use, risky sexual behavior, driving recklessly, unhealthy relationships or lying, it hurts to see our children make mistakes, especially when their choices affect their future.

Often when children, young or old, do disappointing things, the first reaction is to try and fix it. When problems arise, parents often try to control their child’s choices and remove the consequences, thinking that their actions are the loving thing to do, but that may not be true. Sometimes the most loving thing a parent can do is let go.

When children are young, parents are typically directing behavior. When children enter the teen years and beyond, a parent’s role ideally shifts to coaching their children, along with helping them make their own decisions and accept personal responsibility for their choices.

If you are dealing with disappointment in your older child’s behavior, consider these things:

  • See your child as separate from you and making his/her own choices.
  • Understand that their behavior is not a direct reflection of who you are.
  • Stop rescuing. Let them fall and experience the consequences of their choices. Experience is a great teacher.
  • Recognize that you can love your child while allowing them to make their own choices. And it will probably be painful.
  • Make a conscious decision to go on with your life. Know that you have done the best job you knew how to do.
  • Take responsibility for those areas where you believe you fell short. Then move on and model healthy actions going forward. 

Smith says that he finally realized that he did everything he could to teach his son right from wrong. But his kid continues to mess up. 

“I finally told him that it isn’t that you are a bad person; it is the choices you keep making, and you will always have difficulty because of those choices,” Smith says. “At some point I had to stop taking it personally and let go, realizing I could not change him.”

Looking for more resources? Watch this episode of JulieB TV for an in-depth look on this topic!