The textbook definition of disappointment is the negative emotion experienced when you do not get your hopes and expectations met. Disappointment, then, is an inevitable aspect of life. The feeling may include other difficult emotions, such as sadness, frustration, or anger.
I was surprised recently when I was talking with a couple about an upsetting experience during a weekend sojourn to the lake. One woman wanted to eat out at a nice restaurant for lunch, the other woman wanted to get takeout and bring it home in order to enjoy together on the beautiful deck of their rented house.
Eventually, the woman who wanted to eat takeout capitulated and ate at the restaurant. But unfortunately, her food was not good, and it was too fattening, and the room was too noisy, and she was sorry she had relented and gone to the restaurant.
I asked why she had not just spoken up and said she did not want to eat in the restaurant. She said she didn’t want to disappoint her wife.
I explained that disappointment was a normal part of every couple’s relationship, because no two people want the same thing every minute of the day.
She was surprised at my acceptance about using the word disappointed. And I was utterly amazed when she told me that her previous couples’ therapist had told them to never use the word “disappointed.”
I can’t get inside that therapist’s mind, but I can’t for the life of me imagine what she was thinking. I’ve been a couples’ therapist for more than four decades, taught courses, and given lectures on couples’ issues, and I have never heard of such a thing.
I think it is important that couples normalize the emotion of disappointment, which is just t is one person getting their hopes frustrated. How in the world could that not happen, periodically, when two people’s lives are entwined? People in a relationship are not twins or clones, so they won’t always want the same thing. Life with others is all about asking for what you want and negotiation.
The only thing I can imagine is that this therapist had parents who were forever telling her that they were disappointed in her, and maybe that made her feel so bad about herself that it turned her against using this very important and useful word in any and all situations.
I see way more problems when couples shut themselves down from expressing what their hopes and expectations are. When they do express themselves, there can at least be a discussion.
If you want pizza and the other person wants shrimp, speak up! Negotiate! Take turns. Someone will be disappointed some of the time, and that’s fine.
Of course, some issues are far more important than others. Some — like whether or when to have children, or how many to have — are literally life-altering. If wishes clash in those kinds of major life decisions, it might not be a bad idea to get some help negotiating from a third party.
My message to everyone is to try to communicate your wishes to your partner, negotiate, and to be unsurprised when you only get what you want part of the time. That’s the price of being in a relationship.
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