Have you ever been disappointed in your relationships?
Although relationships are an essential part of our lives, whether they are with our family, friends, colleagues, or romantic partners, sooner or later they will be met with disappointment. This is just part of doing relationships.
As humans, we all make mistakes and (un)intentionally hurt each other. And these disappointments can be difficult to navigate emotionally.
One of the biggest disappointments I have faced in a relationship was with a close friend. We had been friends for over 20 years and had shared many memories and experiences. We hung out every week and watched our kids grow up together.
However, one day, she stopped all communication. I couldn’t understand why. I tried reaching out several times for months and even asked her husband if she was okay or if I had done something to upset her. He said she never mentioned anything, and she seemed fine, so I was left in the dark.
Fast forward, years later, I discovered that she stopped talking to me during that time because she was having an affair and was getting ready to leave her husband. I was gutted. I had no idea. Perhaps she felt too much shame sharing this with me, especially because I was a relationship therapist? I’ll never know.
Despite my disappointment, I felt sad for my friend, her husband, and her children. But I also felt sad that she couldn’t trust me to be there for her. I had to process the experience and try to make sense of it. Here’s what helped…
Self-compassion means treating yourself with kindness, understanding, and support, especially when you are facing challenges or setbacks.
Instead of blaming or criticizing yourself for the disappointment (or making up stories of why things went wrong), try to acknowledge and accept your feelings with kindness and curiosity.
You may say to yourself, “It’s okay to feel sad, hurt, and disappointed. I am doing the best I can with this situation. It’s hard when someone I care about stops talking to me without any explanation.”
You may also practice self-care activities that nurture your body, mind, and soul, such as meditation, journaling, or spending time with pets or loved ones.
Gratitude means focusing on the positive aspects of your life, even when things are tough or uncertain. Instead of dwelling on the disappointment, try to shift your attention to the things you are grateful for. For me, I focused on the people in my life who have been loyal, kind, and supportive—my husband, friends, and kids.
Having gratitude doesn’t equate to toxic positivity where you convince yourself the situation is not so bad or you force yourself to look on the bright side. No. Not at all. It’s quite the opposite.
Gratitude is about acknowledging full well that this situation sucks, I don’t like it, AND I can still be grateful for what I do have in my life and for what I did have with my friend, the years of friendship and the good memories.
Empathy means putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and trying to understand their perspective, feelings, and needs. Instead of assuming or projecting your own expectations and judgment on the other person, try to listen actively and respectfully to their point of view.
You may ask open-ended questions, paraphrase their words, and validate their emotions. You may also express your own perspective in a non-blaming and non-defensive way, using “I” statements and focusing on your own feelings and needs.
In my situation, I never had a chance to ask questions or discuss further. However, I had the choice of responding with bitterness or empathy. I chose the latter.
I could envision why my friend felt the need to walk away from this friendship. Knowing her, her family history, and her struggle with shame and with open communication, I understood why she ghosted me. It wasn’t about me. This understanding made it easier to forgive and let go of the friendship. AND at the same time, hold space for my disappointment, hurt, and sadness.
So as painful and challenging dealing with disappointments in relationships can be, it can also be a transformative and empowering experience if we approach it with self-compassion, gratitude, and empathy.
I encourage you to reflect on your personal stories of disappointments in your relationships and incorporate these tips when you struggle with similar challenges. May you learn and grow from your disappointments and create more meaningful, fulfilling, and authentic relationships.
To your relationship success,
Dr. Gloria Lee
Psychologist, Author, Educator