• Elizabeth Payne

Dealing with the Disappointment of Unmet Expectations

Updated: Aug 10

Our wedding was beautiful. It was truly the cliche best day ever and all that. It was the magical kickoff to what would surely be the start to a wonderful life together. That first tiff as husband and wife ignited while exploring Barcelona just 10 days later and we were off the races of real life.

Valerie Joy Photography

That first year of marriage was pretty much nothing like I ever imagined. We the romantic newlyweds forged our own path in a new city, promptly moving away from our friends and family. The new jobs we accepted posed a variety of challenges and ultimately resulted in our resignations. Two months into our new life together I landed in the ER with a pulmonary embolism. Later testing revealed two genetic mutations, which means extra caution and high risk pregnancies with lots of blood thinner injections. Speaking of pregnancies, surprise! Endless hours were spent walking and talking (or crying) to God because this- lonely, angry, medical patient- pregnant girl- was not at all what I envisioned.


I can only look back on that year now with amazement and gratitude because the LORD truly walked us through a valley together full of mystery and surprises that now we see as gifts. So much relational, personal, and spiritual growth took place during that season. And while there will undoubtedly be MANY trials ahead of us, dunking Expectation Elizabeth into a tank of surprises right off the bat did establish a few key lessons in dealing with the disappointment of unmet expectations.



Identifying and Communicating Your Expectations

Many times our expectations of a relationship or how a certain season of life will look are hidden, embedded deep within us as part of a blueprint of sorts by which we organize our understanding of the world around us. This could be labeled as a schema. Growing up, my dad always worked hard outside of the home while my mom managed the household. I naturally assumed I would one day be the head chef of our family as well, but as it turns out, that's not my forte and we share in the grocery shopping and cooking responsibilities. A new family is constructed from existing blueprints, which means plenty of opportunity for conflict. And our schemas often feed into our expectations of roles, events, even ourselves.


The secret expectations emerge, usually in the form of confusion, frustration, or disappointment when real life events are unfolding in an unexpected way. The friction in our early married days, I believe, largely came from this phenomenon. Anger boiled easily when I sensed an unmet expectation- usually one I didn't even realize I had! There is no quicker way to marriage tension than the silent contract of expectations between partners.


What are your expectations in your relationship? One way to figure it out is to identify emotions first. Anger, that sudden stiffening inside that whispers "you've been wronged" may be the first to make an appearance. Identifying anger is good place to start, but also the worst place to stop. As a secondary emotion, I challenge you as I have been challenging myself, what is underneath the anger? Is it fear? Loneliness? Exhaustion? Hurt? A need not being met?


Living with an introvert is teaching me that stepping away to recharge or embracing solitude is not an offense against me. I could be with my person probably 100% of the time and feel great, but just because he needs some space- or at least needs me to stop talking periodically- doesn't mean I'm insignificant or unimportant, two things that used to often signal hurt feelings sealed up inside a package marked "anger." When life together wasn't panning out to what I had {mostly unconsciously} envisioned, tracking down the feelings shed light on some un-communicated expectations.

We are learning, gradually, to over-communicate. This means sometimes saying, "I'm feeling a little off and I'm not sure why yet." For some reason we seem to think that a twinge of disappointment because a new hairstyle wasn't noticed or a casual comment that actually cut deep isn't worth bringing up. It's silly, I tell myself. I'll get over it. So there's silence instead of sharing "hey, when you _____, I felt ____." It seems that the more the day-to-day not-so-important things are talked about, the easier it gets to approach each other with the big things. Don't rely on your telepathic abilities as soulmates- speak it out anyway, even if you think it shouldn't have to be said. We can't really expect anything to change if some uncomfortable steps aren't taken. A good rule of thumb: If it wasn't said, it won't happen. Not that verbal expression means that a magic wand will make every dream come true, but it's the place to start.



Preventing Disappointment from Sliding into Discontentment

In high school, we eagerly anticipate the long-awaited day we're "adults" with a diploma. College majors are carefully selected and tirelessly pursued with the end goal of that dream career. Scoring the dream job (which will happen immediately after graduation, of course) in a 9 to 5 life, we start to wonder what joy awaits us in marriage and parenthood. Maybe you have a different story, but I noticed a steady pattern of eagerly anticipating the next better life season. My sweet grandmother once told me something along the lines of, "you're too busy running to the next thing. Stop to smell the roses!"


If you're familiar with the popular TV show, The Office, you probably remember one quote by Andy Bernard: "I wish there was a way to know you're in the good old days before you've actually left them." What if we did live with that perspective- these ARE the good days. Savor them because with a snap of the fingers they'll be gone and we'll be wishing them back. It's tempting when we're in a tough season to look back on previous ones and long for them again. There's nothing wrong with reflection, but be careful that this doesn't provide a mental escape that only fosters further discontentment.


When faced with unmet expectations in your life, whether it be a disappointing job, relationship struggle, or things simply not going as planned, try this:


Put pen to paper and let the words flow. Write out everything you hoped this season/year/month would look like. Write where you hoped you would be in your career or relationship at this point in time. It's okay to lean into the disappointment, hurt, grief, whatever's in there. But then transition and jot down some things, maybe unexpected blessings you may have now that you wouldn't if things had gone exactly your way. 

If things went according to my plan, I wouldn't have my son. I wouldn't have the marriage I do now, maybe no marriage at all. I certainly wouldn't be writing this. You may not be able to see the blessings yet, especially if you're in the thick of a storm, but I hope that with time, you will.



Stepping into the Future with Confidence

So how do we proceed into the future when things aren't looking how we envisioned? What about when we feel like we can't walk forward? Are we destined for disappointment? While we talk about our innate tendency to develop schemas and have expectations for ourselves and the people we love, evaluate those hopes and dreams. Don't allow yourself to get whisked away by fantastical ideas of how your life could look, or should look.


"Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it." Proverbs 4:23, NIV

This also means making an effort to guard our minds from the messages we consume about how life is supposed to look. We may become too preoccupied with what our friends are doing or measuring ourselves against a cultural timeline of life events. If you haven't heard of Robert J. Morgan's book, The Red Sea Rules, check it out! His ten strategies for difficult times, I think, are applicable to this topic. Here are a few that stand out to me:



Red Sea Rule #1: Realize that God means for you to be right where you are.



Red Sea Rule #5: Stay calm and confident, and give God time to work.



Red Sea Rule #6: When unsure, take the next logical step by faith.



Red Sea Rule #8: Trust God to deliver in His own unique way.





Wherever you are in life as you read this, HE is doing great things in your story. Mysteries are yet to be unveiled! It helps to remind myself that His plans are good, even if they feel gnarly in a moment. They are plans to prosper and not harm, to give us a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11.)



 









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