Dealing with Dissappointment in Marriage

Expectations of how things should go and when they should happen in relationships can be a deep source of pain and disappointment and can cause us to develop a short term view of relationships. The reality is that your spouse will let you down and you will let your spouse down. It is also reality that you will feel your spouses offenses against you are greater than your offenses against your spouse. We always weigh our own experience of pain more heavily. When we allow this evaluation and constant pondering about our woes and what we feel we are lacking in life because of our spouse to drive our emotions and perception of the world, we will grow resentful and heap all of the problems in our life onto our spouse. When we do that, the intimacy that we should have with our spouse goes out the window because who could feel close to someone we believe is the source of all of our problems? This then leads to emotional separation which, left unchecked, is how people get to the place of wanting physical separation. For those who leave a marriage based on this cycle, they believe there is someone out there who won’t let them down, not realizing that they had a major role to play in the downfall of the marriage. So they go out and find someone else only to experience the inevitable let down that happens when two imperfect people live together in close quarters and then experience the same process and wonder how they got there again. So how do we avoid this trap that has caused so many people pain?

Have a Long Term View of Relationships
The first thing we all need to do is to remember that great relationships are always based on a longterm view and are developed over time. There is no instant success in relationships. We never really arrive because marriages are living organisms of sorts. They are either growing or declining. We have to work at our marriages if we hope to stay connected and close with our spouse. This work takes place over a long period of time. I can’t tell you how many couples I have worked with who quit just before they could have experienced the greatest sense of peace and closeness in their marriages. A history with someone is not something that is easily developed or easily thrown away and a longterm view of a relationship allows couples to relax and not spend every moment of their lives evaluating whether or not the relationship is “working.” The relationship will work if both parties have a long view towards building a healthy marriage. It usually takes years to get over our own views of how things should “work” and when we finally let go of our demands and choose to love and move towards each other in life, we experience a rhythm to life that we never even had on our radar as part of the “dream.”

Admit and Respond as if You Are an Equal Part of the Problem
As I said earlier, we are all experts on how the other person is failing. Few of us are experts on our own failures or if we do admit we have areas where we have failed they are usually minor compared to what we believe our spouse is doing to fail us. When we work to fix our spouse or complain or criticize our spouse for all that he/she does wrong we are only causing more problems in our marriage and pushing our spouse away. If we really want to experience all that our marriage has to offer we have to look in the mirror and make our own behavior the project we are working to improve. If you have not been working on yourself as it relates to your marriage or if your list of what is wrong in your relationship is longer for your spouse than it is for you, you are probably still blaming your spouse for most of the problems. It is the rare case where only one person is causing all the pain in a relationship. It takes two to tango as they say and we all have to admit we have a part to play in the problems we face as a couple.

Get a Grip on Your Expectations
Many times we believe that our expectations are always reasonable and everyone in the world has the same view and is experiencing all the things we feel we are lacking. We get into the comparison game from a distance and assume that those we admire have it all together and are getting what we are not in our marriages. The reality is, everyone is experiencing conflict. Anyone who says they are not, either has a spouse who is dead, or someone is not talking and it usually isn’t the one who is saying everything is great! Take some time to evaluate how many of your expectations put an unfair burden on your spouse to come through for you in order to make you “happy.” Any expectation that puts my happiness or mood in the hands of another person is dangerous and unfair. Just as we teach our kids that someone else is not responsible for how they act, we too need to avoid making our spouses responsible for how we act or feel.

Marriage is a beautiful and difficult thing. It can be the source of our greatest joy and connection and the source of our greatest pain and rejection. But the measure of success in a marriage is not how much joy I experience on a regular basis, but how much we grow together in the midst of conflict and joy. It is the ability to work through difficult times and still stay connected that is measure not only of the strength of our marriage, but the character we possess individually.


Overcoming Patterns of Conflict in Marriage

In my work with couples I have found that we tend to follow certain predictable patterns when we allow our relationship to drift or get out of control. We all want to experience happiness and closeness in our marriages. None of us married our spouse because we wanted to learn how to fight better or because we wanted to work on patience. We genuinely thought this person would make us happy and we thought we would be happy together. Happiness is not a bad thing. In fact if you got married for any other reason there is something wrong. But when we make our happiness dependent on what the other person does and allow that person’s actions to dictate our mood, we have set up unrealistic expectations that are bound to lead to anger and despair.

Typically what happens in most relationships is the man pursues the woman to the point where they get married. He is the most charming man in the world and does things he normally wouldn’t have done all in the name of love. Once they get married, he thinks that his life just goes on as it used to with the addition of a wife in the picture. He doesn’t really think much in his life will change and, in fact, he is off to the next thing he feels he needs to pursue like a career. The woman has bigger plans for the relationship. She sees a man that she can talk with and relate with and feel safe with. Someone who will always cherish her and someone she can trust. During the dating phase she is caught up with this man who always thinks of her, is thoughtful, talks to her, and makes her feel safe. She admires and respects him and let’s him know it not only by what she says but in how she even looks at him. She knows her life will change when they get married and she abandons everything to put her attention on the marriage.

Once they get married these expectations hit reality and things don’t seem to work like they thought they would. The wife suddenly feels like she went from first place to somewhere down the list. While she wants to spend every minute with him, he wants space. So she pursues thinking that something must be wrong. He interprets the pursuit as her trying to control him or smother him so he withdraws to create space. She pursues even more because his withdrawal confirms for her that something really is wrong and he’s just not willing to talk about it. They might start to argue over things that don’t matter. He feels he can’t win a fight so rather than engage he starts to play the silent game where he communicates he is mad non-verbally but won’t engage in the discussion figuring he can’t lose if he doesn’t play. She starts to feel more insecure in the relationship because she has no idea what is happening in his head. Since he won’t talk she starts to be more critical of him which gets him mad but she figures bad engagement is better than no engagement at all. He takes the criticism as disrespect which causes him to withdraw even more. His withdrawal makes her feel insecure. Eventually he has completely checked out and she hates his guts for making her feel that way. So how does a couple get past this point?

In every marriage it takes two to cause an argument or a conflict. It really doesn’t matter who started it or who each feels is more at fault. Bottom line there is no perfect anyone in a marriage. If a couple is to move past this crazy situation there are a few things they need to consider:

Get Control of Your Mood
As I stated earlier, it is important that your mood is not dictated by your spouses behavior. If you tie your mood and how your respond to your spouse or your interpretation of how they act, you will feel bad more than you will feel good. Feels are not a good gauge of reality and to make someone else responsible for how you feel is a totally unfair situation that will only set you and your spouse up for disappointment. Feeling happy should not be the main goal. Connectedness is what you should be after and connectedness can only be developed when both parties own their own mood and responses.

Pinpoint Your Part
It is easy for each of us to point out what the other person is doing wrong. We are experts on our spouses failures. Yet when it comes to labeling our part most of us tend to struggle. Or, if we do admit we did something wrong, it always seems minor compared to what we claim our spouse has done to us, as if it is a scoring system. The reality is, there is no conflict without two people doing something wrong. The sooner you are able to label your part, the sooner you will be able to move towards a solution because your attitude and behaviors are really the only thing you can control. So know what your part is.

Seek Forgiveness
Be the first one to admit your wrong, label it, express your regret, and ask for forgiveness. The fastest way through an impasse is when one party is quick to admit, confess, and seek forgiveness for their part. When was the last time you said, “I’m sorry” and meant it?

Gain Empathy
The more you see the cycle you and your spouse have gotten into, the better you are able to have empathy for your spouse instead of blaming your spouse for all the things that have gone wrong. Just as you have been caught up in the cycle so has your spouse. The more you are able to see those things, the better you will be able to have empathy for your spouse and give him/her the benefit of the doubt. When we give our spouses the benefit of the doubt we create an atmosphere of understanding which causes us to draw near one another instead of apart.

Choose to Engage in a Positive Way
This is probably one of the more difficult things to do. The husband needs to stop disengaging for fear of being criticized or “losing” the fight and start engaging his wife in order to bring back a sense of security that she needs to move towards him. This won’t be easy and won’t even be believed at first. But if you choose to be consistent and engage, you will have more opportunities for positive things to happen than if you take your ball and go home because you don’t feel you can win. The wife must stop trying to make her husband into what she thinks she needs to be secure by pointing out all of his failures and choose to see the things in him that she can respect and point those out. Realizing that your happiness is not dependent on your spouses reaction and choosing to look and speak to him the way you did when you were dating, will cause him to want to draw near to you.

Conflict in marriage is something every couple that has ever walked this earth has experienced. It is not the end of the world, nor is it a sign that the relationship is in trouble. How we handle that conflict and how we choose to interact with one another is where most marriages get into trouble. If husbands would truly understand their wives needs for security and work hard to make her feel secure in the marriage, their wives would be their biggest supporters and their conversations would be richer. If wives would understand their husband’s need for respect and look for ways to speak into his life through that language and choose to define him by his successes instead of his failures, their husbands will be drawn to them. When this happens you have a marriage that is not perfect, because no one is perfect, but one that is connected.


Criticism & Relationships

I see a lot of people in marriage who try to use criticism as a way to connect with their spouse or to help make their spouse a “better person.” I really believe that most people think that their approach to criticism is a good one and only have the best of intentions for their spouse. In fact they feel their form of criticism is constructive or not really criticism at all. The problem with criticism is no one really wants it. Think about it for a moment. How many people would raise their hands and say they could use more criticism in their lives because they really want to grow and be the best they could be? Would you really want to receive the criticism you give to your spouse?

Criticism in a marriage almost always leads to defensiveness and some kind of resentment. Criticism says, “You have something wrong with you and I am going to point it out to make sure you change it because I don’t struggle with those kinds of things in my life.” It almost always comes across as a superiority thing and usually feels condescending at best. It usually communicates that you do not really accept your spouse completely and won’t accept them until they get certain areas of their lives “fixed.”

So if criticism is not constructive, how do I help my spouse change the things that are off? First you need to check your motives. Are you really concerned with helping your spouse grow? Or are you trying to make your own life easier by getting your spouse to go along with your program? If you are doing it for selfish reasons then it will almost always come out wrong. Next, Have you built into the life of your spouse? If you have invested no time into your spouses life and haven’t recognized the positives in your spouses life and pointed them out, it will be difficult to hear your words of correction. Think about it this way, do you honor your spouse as much as you try to change her/him? How many encouraging comments do you give to the number of critical ones? Would your spouse even be able to hear your words of help in areas of her/his life that she/he may need to work on? Or, are you so negative that she/he can’t even hear your words anymore? Have you banked enough encouragement in her/his life that she/he respects and responds when you point out a fault?

If you want to have influence into your spouses life, you need to be a person your spouse trusts and knows has her/his best interests at heart. It is when you have that kind of relationship that it is easy to listen to things you may need to work on in your life. Of course in that kind of response it is not criticism at all but truly helping one another to grow.

Where to Start if You Are in Conflict with Your Spouse

A question I get frequently is what do we do if our marriage in not in a good place? What types of things should we do to move in the direction of making our relationship healthier? If you find yourself in a place of conflict and you want to start resolving it yourself, here are a few things you can do to get back on track and start moving in the direction of health:

First, you need to look at yourself. The problem most of us have in relationships is we are experts on what the other person is doing wrong. We instantly become mini-psychologists and can tell you everything that is wrong with our spouses and what they need to do get on the path towards healing. So all of our focus is on the aspect of our marriages we can’t control! If you have ever seen your spouse as a fixer-upper and tried to change him/her you have probably found what a frustrating and exhausting effort this is. The reason is, no one likes to be a fixer-upper and everyone wants to be accepted for who they are not for what they might become. So the only thing you can change in your marriage directly is yourself. Start with looking at who you are in the marriage and where you are failing and make changes in your own responses and how you relate to your spouse and see what happens. Many times it only takes one person to make changes in their life to cause the other person to have to adjust and make changes too. Now you must remember not to change as a way to manipulate your spouse to change. That doesn’t work. Make changes yourself because you believe it is the right thing to do and expect nothing in return and leave the results up to God.

Second, overcome your fears and choose to move towards your spouse. This is usually the most difficult part because we get into a stalemate in our relationships where we are waiting for the other person to flinch first. We figure we have tried everything we can think of and the ball is now in the other person’s court. The problem is both of you are thinking the same thing and no one moves. I usually ask couples, “whats the worse things that can happen?” If your relationship is moving in the wrong the direction the worst thing that can happen is it continues to move that direction. But if you try something different you might get different results. Most men are afraid of being put down and losing another argument so they check out. Guys you need to overcome those fears and choose to engage your spouse in a loving way and see what happens. Women tend to fear being a door mat and walked all over if they try to engage. Over come that fear and try to engage your husband without trying to change him and see what happens. If we overcome our fears and make positive strides many times that starts to move the marriage in the right direction.

Finally, focus on what you are grateful for instead of what you want to change. What you choose to focus on will dictate what your attitude will be. If you always focus on the negative and what is wrong with your spouse and marriage you will only see the negative which will fuel your anger. If you choose to focus on what is right and the positive aspects of your relationship your attitude will change to one of gratitude and your responses will be more positive. Your attitude needs to be checked when it comes to your marriage. Many times the only thing that changes is not the other person but our attitudes.

Now I know that this seems simplistic and in many ways it is. Sometimes it is the small things that can make this biggest difference and focusing on these things can really help the state of your marriage. Don’t expect instant results or some kind of miracle. These things take time and having a long term view will help with your outlook. Making these adjustments in our attitudes and expectations can lead us in the direction of a healthy marriage.