In this blog post, I will talk about:
Of course, you don't have to deal with disappointment in any relationship. You can always move to a house in the countryside, get 25 cats, and live happily ever after in that way.
But if you're willing to make yourself vulnerable to the joys of life with other human beings, you're making yourself vulnerable to some degree of frustration.
So let's look into some of the reasons why we become frustrated within our relationships.
Common causes of disappointment in a relationship
Unless you master a very important part of your mental structure - your expectations. Which brings us to the first main reason your relationship is suffering.
#1: How you handle your expectations
All disappointment, especially disappointment in relationships, originates in our expectations. How we believe someone should feel about us, how they should treat us, or even how they should behave in the world. And the closer the relationship, the higher the expectations of behaviour and the stronger the frustration.
The keyword here is, as you probably noticed: should.
We create a bunch of “shoulds” in our mind about how our lives should look like. And how people around us must behave for us to be happy. But, while it’s good to have some ground values about life, holding tight to “shoulds” and “musts” can easily backfire.
When we’re dealing with close relationships, these preconceived ideas we have about life become even more pronounced.
Sure you feel disappointed about someone in the bus who doesn't stand up to give a pregnant woman a seat but, coming from a stranger, that's a minor disappointment for you.
But if the person you've been married to for more than 10 years behaves unexpectedly, the pain of disappointment and frustration can become very hard to deal with.
#2: Yours and your partner's attachment style
If you’re new to attachment styles, it could be interesting to understand more about it as it can give useful insights into the reason behind some of the conflicting behaviours.
The four styles are:
And you can know what’s your style by taking, for example, this quiz.
Discovering more about your attachment styles might also be the start of a conversation about why you and your partner have different approaches to things and how to find common ground between the two perspectives.
#3: After effects of emotional trauma
If you or your partner have experienced trauma in the past, it will likely to be affecting your relationship. Being open about these experiences and recognising their weight is a good start to begin healing.
While it might be a complicated subject to take on your own, if this is the case in your relationship, I strongly recommend you finding some professional help.
Emotional trauma can result from different things. It might have been a one-time event, an ongoing stressful recurrence, such a living in a problematic area, or other commonly underestimated causes such as the sudden death of a loved one, a tough break-up, humiliations, or surgery at a very young age (before the age of 3).
No matter what the traumatic experience was, it’s always possible to work through the effects it produced (and produces) in yours or your partner's life. Trauma survivors deserve to heal and live a happy life.
Mindset shifts you can make to overcome the challenges in your relationships
The way you think about a problem and the attitude you choose to have about it can dramatically change where it leads to.
A problem can result in a series of new issues, or it can lead to a lesson learned. Let’s look at some ways in which you can think differently about your disappointment.
Understand the origin of your disappointment (is it general or specific?)
Perhaps you're disappointed that your partner didn’t load the dishwasher as you expected. Or maybe you’re disappointed because you feel like there’s an emotional distance between the two. These are very different levels of frustration that need to be put under the right light.
So it’s useful to ask yourself, is this a frustration general or specific?
Sometimes, when we have other frustrations filling up our bucket, one small thing can send us over the edge. But looking at it more rationally, is this thing something you can live with, or is it just intolerable?
Why did your partner behave in that way?
One of the best things you can do when your partner is behaving in frustrating ways is to put yourself in their shoes.
If you try to think about what led them to behave in that way, what do you see? What kind of discoveries can you find when you try to see the world from their perspective?
Perhaps they didn’t load the dishwasher because they were so worried about an important meeting the next day. Perhaps they were having difficulties concentrating in the moment.
One important question to ask here would be, “was this attitude made with the intention to hurt me"? "Or did it just unintentionally resulted in that way?”
Knowing the intentionality (or the lack of) of a particular behaviour, can be a good path to forgiveness and mutual understanding.
Be grateful to see reality as it is
When someone does something unexpected and shows me a new facet, I'm always grateful to be given a broader perspective of reality. Even if it's a hard truth to bear with, it's still better than living with a lie. So the sooner the truth comes to the surface, the better.
To see reality as it is is to accept that things aren't always as I want them to be. That's a fact that needs to be accepted rather than resisted.
Accept that people aren't always the best version of themselves
We all have our faults, wishes, needs, traumas and wounds. We're all individual beings with big life stories. To expect others to be perfect is just unrealistic. People inevitably have faults, just like we do. Just like we might have disappointed people around us, most likely without even realising it.
Looking at things from this perspective, we see that dealing with disappointment in a relationship is a two-way street. It's not only about fixing the other person.
Negative vs Positive
How are you approaching the problem? Are you helping things become better, or worse?
Having a negative attitude results in a downward spiral of happenings and mutual frustration. You’re much better off adopting a positive attitude towards problems if you want to make things work.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk about the problem. But you’ll benefit more in doing so if you can focus on the reason WHY you want things to work.
Because, after all, you have chosen to be in a relationship with that person and you want that relationship to be the best it can be, right?
Remember your positive intentions when approaching the situation, and don’t let the negativity from the frustration take over your heart and mind.
How can you make things better?
In the same way as you’ll benefit more from having a positive approach, you’ll be much closer to a fulfilling relationship when you approach problems with a solution-oriented perspective.
In that regard, it’s important to be able not just to see what’s wrong, but also brainstorm a way in which things would be done better. Ask yourself: “how would I like this to be?"
Then think, is there anything YOU can do to make this happen? Or to facilitate this happening?
Take ownership of your happiness
“If only you would be more _____, then I would be happy.”
This kind of “if only this, then that” type of thinking is one the most harmful things you can do to yourself and your relationship.
There is only one person responsible for your happiness that that person is you.
So if you ever catch yourself handing over this responsibility and playing it in their hands, stop. Remind yourself that you’re the only responsible for your happiness and your life.
And that responsibility comes with a wonderful tool, which is the power of choice. Every single day, every single minute, you have the power to choose how you want to live.
Improve your communication
Probably the single most powerful tool in any relationship: communication. Yet, so many of us struggle to communicate effectively and find it hard to understand how to improve it.
But, let’s face it: what kind of conscious efforts have you made to communicate better with your partner?
A healthy communication, and a healthy relationship, don’t just happy by mere chance, they’re hard work. So if you want to become better at communicating, you need to make that intentional effort.
Do your research, communicate that intention, and then apply your findings.
Decide what's best for you
Part of dealing with disappointment in a relationship, it's our choice to whether keep that relationship alive (if there's any chance for that to happen) or to simply let it go.
If you decide to keep the relationship, forgive truly and completely, but if you choose to let that relationship go then also let go of any grudge.
I've decided to be very careful with the people I surround myself with so I had to let go of many "friendships" who were disappointing me, not living up to my standards of friendship, and pulling me down.
There was disappointment there, and it wasn't easy to let go, but I dealt with it by valuing self-respect and self-love over an unhealthy dynamic.
In romantic relationships, things can be a little different. There is usually more co-dependency, and with more intimacy comes more knowledge of one another, and more opportunities for frustration due to this or that attitude.
The point is, how tolerant are you? How high are your standards? How much are you willing to give up on your needs?
Some relationships simply don’t work.
If a relationship keeps disappointing you, it’s important to know where to draw the line.
If a relationship isn’t helping you grow, or it’s disrespecting your values and boundaries, it’s time to say good-bye.
You must always have in consideration your self-worth, and that sometimes things don’t work out.
It’s not like it’s possible to make every relationship work. You two might be incompatible, or not available to do the hard work necessary for a mature relationship to work.
Having enough self-esteem to see this clearly and act upon it is a sign of maturity. Having the courage to stay true to your values can sometimes be challenging, but it’s a pain worth enduring.
Practical tips for more effective communication and conflict resolution
It’s important to see things for what they are, no more and no less.
So, to give yourself a sense of perspective: how would you measure the object of disappointment in a scale o 1 - slightly annoying, to 10 - serious betrayal?
Create an open and non-judgemental space for both of you to share your needs within the relationship. This space should be held in a non-judgemental way and focus on how you both would like things to be.
For example, instead of “I hate when you do this”, you would do much better phrasing it like this: “when you do _____ it makes me feel _____." "It would feel much better if you could do ____ instead”.
Avoid black and white thinking and back and white terms
It never helps to think and use words such as “never” or “always”, which so often come up when we’re frustrating about something.
“You never _____”, or “I always have to _________”, are sentences that generalise the behaviours and create a personal and judgemental tone in the conversation.
Instead, promote a constructive and friendly tone when you talk.
Is this the end?
Just because things didn’t work out, you don’t have to become enemies.
You don’t have to stay friends either.
What you must do is continue to respect one another. And give each other space to heal from the pain of the break-up in the most compassionate way. Either by offering support or space. As long as the boundaries are clear and it doesn’t result in relapses into the relationship when you have decided it isn’t the way to go.
Be compassionate, but stay true to yourself.
Last but not least: Love yourself
Just because someone didn't behave the way you expected, it doesn't mean that it's your fault or that you're not worthy of a better relationship.
People will behave poorly because of what's inside of them, not because of you.
Beating yourself up for another person's poor behaviour is to take the blame for something that's not your fault.
You might have no idea of the reasons that lead to that behaviour. And the reason might be much more intricate, and related to the person's life's story, than you can ever imagine.
So, in case of disappointment, first and most importantly, love yourself.
And, if you can, love the person who disappointed you
Because that's the only way to let go truly.
Understand that they're doing the best they know, and can. And if that's not as much as the best we think they should do, then that's ok.
So to be able to love the other person as she/he is, or at least not hold grudges against them, is also to respect ourselves enough to let go of any negative energy within us. Instead, be an example of peace, love and high standards of living.