Maybe we’ve found ourselves disappointed by our spouse. Or maybe our spouse is disappointed in us. Either way, the issue is very rarely the people. The real issue is the disappointment. But what is disappointment, really?
According to Merriam Webster, it means “failing to meet expectations.” For the Cambridge dictionary, it’s, “not as good as you had hoped or expected; not satisfactory.” And for Wikipedia it means the feeling “that follows the failure of expectations or hopes to manifest.”
Expectations. I write about them often. They are dangerous pursuits. Anticipation is more enthusiastic, and it’s more open-minded about where happiness can come from. Expectations are painfully rigid.
If we’re disappointed in our partner then, in plain terms, it means that we either did not accept our partner as-is when we married them, or we are not accepting the ways in which they are changing. But either way, if we’re disappointed then that can only be because our expectations aren’t being met.
Disappointment can’t exist except as the failure to achieve. Every time we won’t let a complaint go by, unexpressed, we are proving our own desire for perfection. That being the case, what are our egos looking for in our relationship(s)?
An ego is self-important, so it wants a hassle-free partner who’s attractive in all of our favourite ways, and who has absolutely none of the qualities or habits we disapprove of. Without even realizing it, we want ideal.
But because we’re realistic and sane, we say to others that we have a great partner and that we accept their faults. We say that because we know ideal is impossible. And yet, when we’re upset or disappointed, it’s always because we’re comparing the person to our ideal.
If people are married and it’s serious enough that they want to get past disappointment, then it seems safe to assume that they would hope their marriage lasts several decades. But people change a lot in several decades. One person could get cancer and be a complete drain on the other person for 3 years non-stop.
One partner could go through a period of feeling unworthy, so when someone else shows them attention it carries greater temporary meaning. That can lead someone to cheat. Then, later when they feel better about themselves, they’ll regret it.
In both of those cases and in many more, our relationships will demand periods of perseverance, and struggle and pain. They’ll require forgiveness and a huge dose of decency, especially if we want to hold onto a good partner that is self-respecting.
For some relationships the first of these struggles happens after many years of marriage. Others have one of these struggles shortly after their wedding. There’s no telling when these struggles can hit, but they will be in every good marriage for sure.
Some things will be small but will build up over time, like how tidy or in-shape people are. Some things will be major issues, like potentially dangerous parenting. Some things are worth breaking up over. But many of the things that end relationships are not those serious things –they are simply unmet, and generally unrealistic expectations.
It is not any spouse’s job to be everything we’d like our spouse to be. In fact, if we’re sane, we’d be smarter to list the ways in which our partner has to accommodate us. Then we might feel grateful enough that we could see our way to list how we will also allow our partner to be less than perfect.
In many cases, with most relationship issues, it’s easier to just internally deal with some things rather than agonize ourselves by constantly trying to wish or argue reality away.
No matter who we’re with, every couple needs to find their way. And on various issues. couples will never be completely equal. One might have deep knowledge of a subject, and the other could be only barely informed on it.
On vacations, one might like beaches, another likes mega-cities. One might like skiing, the other museums. One might enjoy reading, and the other music. One wants two dogs, one wants no dogs. One likes sex ‘X’ amount, and the other likes sex either less than, or more than, ‘X.’ That’s real life.
In many cases, the disappointments are simply born out of the fact that every couple is made from two unique individuals. We’re not LEGO. Our job is not to fit others perfectly, nor is the other person some piece in our puzzle.
We should fit very well, yes. But we should not expect perfection. We should just know and be comfortable with where we don’t fit.
If we want to go to Paris and our spouse can’t stand flying, then we should go to Paris. The marriage isn’t made good because they surrender their desire for ours. The marriage is made good when both parties love each other.
Real love is when the person staying home is happy that we are excited about our trip. And in turn, we are happy that our partner gets to avoid planes when we know they don’t like them. Then our separateness features no disappointment, and yet it does include lots of love and support.
People should leave a truly bad relationship. But this post is not about those for-sure, bad relationships. This is about the good ones that can really suffer if people don’t police their own expectations.
Even though virtually all of us would argue ourselves that perfection is impossible, if we’re not careful, we can end up subconsciously and constantly expecting it from the people we love the most. And that constant push for perfection can end up doing far more damage to a relationship than if we just accepted someone as-is, and if we were far more grateful that they did likewise for us.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.