As a Philadelphia Eagles fan, disappointment has been a regular occurrence. Just when my hopes would raise on a great play, someone fumbled or threw an interception. Real fans remain fans, even in such disappointment. When there is continual disappointment, however, faith begins to wane and hope becomes hidden in the sea of disappointments.
As a married man, I can say that disappointment occurs on a regular basis. Sometimes such disappointment is my feelings towards my wife, and other times it is my wife’s feelings towards me (I think even moreso). It’s an occurrence that happens more frequently than I’d like to admit. And as a marriage counselor, I can also say that disappointment occurs in every marriage to some extent.
This is not something we want to have inside of us, but we’d like to be happy with our spouses and the choices they make on a regular basis. Unfortunately, this is not the case 100% of the time. What causes such disappointment in our spouses and what can we do about it?
Disappointment in our spouses (or at any time) is often caused by three things: Our expectations for them, our expectations for God, and the other’s actions.
1) Expectations for Them – If our expectations are high, then chances are others will not meet them and of course, we will be disappointed. We have set standards for our spouses and they remain unmet. Sometimes certain standards are high and also appropriate. For example, it is appropriate to have a standard that you will not be physically hurt by them, that they will remain faithful, that they will treat you with love and respect, etc. It is inappropriate, however, to expect your spouse to do what you want when you want it. If you come home and expect the house to be cleaned, laundry done, for them to clean up after themselves at all times, kiss you when you desire, be open to talk when you desire, etc. then you are clearly having inappropriate or high expectations. You will be disappointed. Our happiness is never found when others meet our expectations. A happy marriage is not when others meet your expectations. A God-honoring marriage is when spouses practice forgiveness, over-look offenses, and they recognize that their spouses are fallible – meaning that they are not designed to measure up to our expectations. How could they? They are self-centered sinners, just like us (see #3).
2) Expectations for God – Sometimes we look at God as the cosmic Santa Claus or the Soda/Pop Machine where we give Him our prayer dollars and expect to receive what we want when we want it. We want God to live for us so that we become happy in this life. If our spouses make us happy and do not disappoint us, then we are happy. If there is no suffering, then we will be happy. If we are disappointed, then we say that God did not hold up His end of the deal. The death of a loved one, an unfaithful spouse, sickness, loss of job, whatever that may be – we blame God for not meeting our expectations. Isn’t he a loving God? Well, He allowed this pain and suffering to happen! If God allowed such pain and the end result of my prayers do not end as I would like, then He failed or God “didn’t work.” In our marriages, we will be disappointed. We may also be disappointed that God hasn’t “changed” our spouse or answered our prayers in relation to our spouses. Perhaps this would be a good time to recognize that “His ways are not our ways,” that He has never promised us that we would not go through suffering, but that He has promised He would be with us always (Mt 28:18), even in our suffering. The time of never-suffering will come, but not until we are with Him in eternity. (For more on this, read Philip Yancy’s “Disappointment with God“)
3) Spouse’s actions – Truth be told, we will be disappointed in our spouses because they are like us; sinners in need of a savior. Their hearts are like ours, often self-centered. Their motives towards us are like ours towards them, tainted. Some actions we all do may be out of pure love, and some loving actions may appear to be loving, but are self-centered. And sometimes there’s a mix of both. They also have expectations for us and when we don’t meet them, they get disappointed and angry, too. As sinners, they will not only be focused on themselves, but they will intently harm us with hurtful words, by ignoring us, or by doing something they know we will not like. When they purposely do these things, we are hurt. We are disappointed.
So How Do We Deal With Our Disappointment?
The one thing we can expect in marriage is that we will be disappointed. This disappointment is sometimes our fault and it is sometimes our spouse’s fault. When we are disappointed, first we need to look at ourselves. What are our standards and expectations for our spouses? What is our expectation for God? What is it that we “need” that the other person is not meeting? (Note: if it is a need or demand, it may be an idol in our lives. Our spouses are not designed to meet our greatest needs of value and worth. Only God can do this). Other people, including God, do not exist to please us or meet our expectations. On the other hand, we must recalibrate our lives and recognize that God is at the center and then practice forgiveness, adjust our expectations, over-look certain faults in our spouses, and love and honor our spouses. We must also recognize that we are sinners first and we are in desperate need of a Savior. If we solely focus on our spouses faults, we will place ourselves above them, judge them, and we will fail to recognize the change we need in ourselves…and we will remain disappointed.
After we look at ourselves and make any necessary heart changes that begin with repentance, then we can address our spouses and ask for what we desire. One can start by asking their spouse if they would like to change anything in the relationship, or if they are happy with how the relationship is going. While truly listening, respond well to them and then share your heart with them. “I feel hurt when you come home and don’t acknowledge me.” “I am disappointed that you have more time for our children and tasks in the house, but you don’t have time for me.” Sometimes, we may need to ask people only to listen and not to respond immediately because they may get defensive and not truly listen.
Disappointment is common, but it does not have to reign in your marriage. First address your own expectations or demands, then you can speak to your spouse about your struggle with disappointment. Note: For situations which include emotional or physical abuse, you will likely need different counsel to address disappointments and abuse.
For more in the “When You Are Disappointed…” series, click on the following links: