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How often are you disappointed in your spouse? And what does it say about both you and them?
You may think you are the only marriage with disappointment, but the truth is that disappointment is a common emotion in marriage, even the best of marriages.
Some of us also think that if our spouse was perfect that there would be no disappointment in the relationship. But that can be disproved easily.
How disappointed have you been at times with your Heavenly father and Jesus? Be honest with yourself. How did you feel when you prayed and you didn’t receive what you prayed for, when you wanted it?
What this shows is that in any relationship, if there is just one imperfect person then there will be disappointment. So what if there are two? Well, that’s our situation today in marriage. So let’s dig deeper.
Disappointment occurs when our spouse fails to meet our expectations. A small amount of disappointment is not a big deal for the relationship. This is the type of disappointment that is short-lived. It is forgotten/forgiven and not brought up over and over. But often our disappointment in our spouse lingers and grows. And when that happens, we find ourselves hurt, bitter and withdrawing from the one God calls us to love. So how does disappointment grow to this point in our relationship?
It happens when we collect multiple disappointments together to build a larger list. We begin to recall what our spouse did last week, last month, last year and 10 years. Then we think of other ways they have disappointed us that we’ve overlooked for a while. And all of these disappointments add up. Plus the more we think about it the more we tend to see a pattern or trend in these disappointments.
And this will threaten your marriage if you compare your spouse with others. The reason is that we tend to compare our spouse’s worst qualities with the best or public qualities of others. If we knew the real truth about the other person we would be surprised and realize we are wrong to do this.
Lou Ann will often say that she is disappointed in me because “Rob doesn’t listen carefully to what I’m saying”. And she is right. I’m often disregarding her and trying to focus on something else when she has something important to say.
But to her credit, Lou Ann has learned how to handle disappointment and she rarely keeps “lists” of disappointments with me. And it’s not because I’ve somehow become perfected or because she is a perfected saint.
It’s because she knows something about true love.
The List behind our Disappointments
Love… keeps no record of wrongs.
1st Corinthians 13:5b
This is a hard thing that Paul writes about in his letter to the church in Corinth. It is hard because we are, by nature, great list-keepers. We even keep lists of good things about our spouse. (Read This Previous Post)
But we really enjoy finding faults in our spouse when we are not walking in love. And the irony is that it is easier to see their faults than ours.
Jesus mentioned this as the “log in our eye”, if you recall that parable. We more easily justify our behavior as situational (I was tired and frustrated) and our spouses as a character-issue (she’s always late).
So what can we do with our disappointments? How do we keep the list short and seek the good of our marriage? More importantly how do we allow God’s love to flow through us to our spouse?
Here are some ideas that we’ve found to work.
Step up to the Line
In football, players on both sides always move to the line before the play starts. That is where the action happens and it’s where you can best control the game. And there are some similarities in marriage.
In marriage, those who step up to the line and take initiative are the ones who address issues before they grow larger than life. They speak up and express their feelings (I’m feeling unvalued/sad/irritated/discouraged.)
Rather than sitting back and letting the list grow longer, they bring the topic up in a non-combative way. They work to find understanding in the relationship rather than making a point.
The benefit to them is that their highs and lows in marriage rarely move that much because they are stopping the disappointment at the line. They find more peace and understanding and unity.
Examine how realistic your expectations really are.
Expectations are good and bad. We should have them but also be aware that no expectation is perfect.
So be the mature person and examine yourself first with these simple questions.
- Is it really that serious or am I building it up bigger than it really is?
- Could we make a simple change and move on? (For example: Lou Ann expects the toilet seat to stay down at all times. We reduced that problem by adding “soft close” toilets seats. It was a win-win. Less noise and less work.)
- Who can help me discuss my expectations in a biblical way? Who will be honest with me if they think I’m expecting too much or too quickly?
Be clear about your expectations with your spouse.
We often assume our spouse can read our minds. That somehow they “know” how irritating they have been. But often they don’t “know” or are downright oblivious to their behavior. So don’t ASSUME, instead CONFIRM what they understand.
Express your Disappointment in a Loving Way
Usually the first thing we want to do is “drop the bomb” on our spouse. We’ve held it in for a while and that seems so reasonable. But thankfully God doesn’t treat you that way and he doesn’t want you treating your spouse that way either. So try this method of expressing your disappointment.
Here’s one way to say it: “When you do/don’t do XXXXXXX, I feel XXXXXX. I would really like to see us change that.” Let’s face it, when we directly criticize our spouse we will rarely get their cooperation. But when we focus on our feelings and how it hurts/harms us, it opens the door to conversation and understanding. But there is often the spouse that will invalidate your feelings when you share them. (Example: I don’t know why you would feel that way. Are you just having a bad day? You need to just get over it. You shouldn’t feel that way.) BTW, if that’s how you respond to your spouse when they share their feelings, you are picking a fight with God that you cannot win.
To help out, here is a really good PDF that explains the “The H.E.A.R. Process“. I recommend you discuss it with your spouse. It is based on the work of Debra Moncrief at the Houston Center for Christian Counseling.
Get God engaged in the Process
Many times our spouse will respond to the first four approaches. But it’s also possible that they may ignore or downplay your valid expectations. When that happens you can either become bitter and try to force your spouse to change or you can pray and pour out your frustration to God. The Holy Spirit is always there for you and He will support you with His Word and godly friends. Without gossiping, have others pray with you for changes. And remember that choosing bitterness doesn’t lead to you being a better person. Just look at others who experienced disappointment in the Bible.
Jesus was rejected by the the very people He came to redeem. Moses was hated when Pharaoh responded by giving the Hebrews more work instead of letting them go. Joseph helped interpret the dreams of the Baker and Food Taster for the Pharaoh but they forgot about him in prison. He spent several more years imprisoned unjustly. Hannah could not give birth to a child for years. And even Paul spent nearly three years wasting away in a prison in Caesarea when he could have been out preaching and starting churches.
Each of these faced disappointment. But their secret was their perspective that God was at work and He was responding to their prayers at the right time. So they avoided bitterness and found peace in the middle of great disappointment. And we can too.
Our disappointments show what we actually believe about God. If we respond with patience, love and understanding we are expressing God’s character. And though it is hard and difficult at times, God will change us and others in the process.
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;
Where does your spouse regularly disappoint you?
What steps do you need to take to address your disappointment and reconcile with your spouse?
What are some ways you have disappointed your spouse?
Are you seeing areas of bitterness growing toward your spouse?
P.S. Here’s another resource to consider!