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Managing Your Own Disappointment

It was our first night out in 2 months.

I had been home-bound with a sick toddler for 4 days and I was very much looking forward to some adult company and conversation. He had a rough few weeks at work and was ready for a break. We dropped the kids at grandma’s and sat across the table from one another and while I was just excited to eat with two hands, he was excited to see a movie.

A movie? Really?

We have the opportunity to connect and you want to go see a movie? I haven’t slept sans toddler in 5 days and have been used as a human tissue and you want me to stay awake for a movie?  I’m sorry, but with Marcus Theater’s new comfy, reclining seats we’re about to shell out $50 for me to take a nap.

I wasn’t just disappointed, I was mad. Now, I’m not a great communicator, but I was able to communicate what I thought about this idea. (In grown-folk words, too!) To my surprise, he said “Ok, what do you want to do?”  

Huh? What? Oh, I didn’t think I’d get this far. Um…..take a walk? Go to a coffee shop? Much to my chagrin he said “Ok”.  Needless to say, I was very confused. I’m used to stuffing my feelings and then making him responsible for all the things I haven’t actually told him (the man can’t win).  

So we did.  We enjoyed one another’s company and I really felt connected to my husband for the first time in what felt like years.

I realized something that night:

I don’t handle disappointment well and I also don’t always make an effort to communicate it.

I was about to make my husband responsible for my own disappointment. I had just resigned myself to another boring night out rather than speak up about what I really needed. You know what? I was pleasantly surprised; I didn’t have to manage the disappointment of not having a need met and enjoyed a night out with my dude.

But what about those other moments in life when we do have to cope with disappointment?  

Disappointment can come from many places: our work, home-life, relationships, finances and a myriad of others. Disappointment can be trivial or tragic.

It ranges from the minor disappointment of having to cancel a brow wax because your kid is sick (I have my very own set of hungry caterpillars on my face) to the devastation you feel when your child makes a choice that brings them unpleasant consequences and you just have to sit back and let them learn. It can be the disappointment when your partner swore “never again” but never again came far too soon. It’s also realizing you’re out of coffee at 6 a.m (I’ll give you a moment to process the sheer trauma of this).

How do we manage disappointment in life, so we don’t become consumed by it?

We throw a hissy fit

We stuff our feelings until there is simply no more room to stuff.  

We indulge in our varied coping mechanisms that never fail to dull the ache for a little while.

Does any of this sound familiar? Bueller? Bueller? 

Let’s process this together with a few questions to help us deal with disappointment in a healthy way:

  • What does our disappointment communicate to us?  Sometimes being disappointed can make us feel unloved, unseen, or irrelevant. It can fill us with rage or sorrow, irritation or ambivalence.  Sometimes we internalize whatever this particular disappointment seems to communicate to us about our self-worth and that becomes our “truth.”  (P.S. – That’s dangerous!)
  • What happens if we share our disappointment with our partner, our kids, or our friends?  Is that something that has been welcome in your life, or is communication a barrier?  Sometimes we don’t share our feelings because they have been unwelcome or even discouraged; but that does not make your disappointment (or whatever emotion you might be dealing with) invalid.  It’s ok to share your disappointment. Your feelings may even be a stunning revelation to your loved one. (As in, “she has feelings?”)
  • Finally, which is more costly?  Is taking the risk and sharing our feelings more costly than keeping them inside?  If you ask me, sometimes the pain of holding something inside is worse than risking someone else’s reaction.  Speaking up may lead to change!

How we as adults handle the disappointments and struggles of life speaks volumes to our children about how to handle such things. If we can learn to speak and listen, we may find that we are not alone in our desires and disappointments; they are part of what makes us human.  While disappointments are unavoidable, our responses to them can make the difference between feeling heard and feeling hurt.  


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