When Relationships Disappoint

When Relationships Disappoint

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in late September. I was relishing some alone time with my husband, something we didn’t get often enough and was feeling close and connected to him. My husband put his hand on mine, looked at me and said, “I think I’m going to go fly my [remote control] airplane.” I said, “Okay, that sounds fun. I’ll come with you and read my book while you fly.”

Then came the uncomfortable pause.
“What’s going on?” I thought to myself.
I waited.

Then he said, “Um, yeah, um… I don’t think I’m ready to share that part of my life with you.”

“Excuse me?” I thought. “What does that even mean?!!”

My mind immediately went in a million different directions, scanning for possible responses.

I could fall into shame and say, “You don’t want to be with me? You don’t want to spend time with me?” or even worse…”if you really loved me, you’d want to be with me!” “Don’t you love me?!!”

I could go the suspicious route: “Are you hiding something from me? What are you hiding from me? Why wouldn’t I be able to go with you? It doesn’t make sense! You must be hiding something!”

I could get passive aggressive and say, “Fine. I have better things to do anyway. Why would I want to go watch you do your silly hobby? You know what? I was trying to be nice! I was doing you a favor!”

I could get angry: “Are you serious?! How dare you tell me that you don’t want to spend time with me! Do you know how lucky you are to have me? I can’t believe you don’t even appreciate me!”

As I quickly scanned through these different options, none of them seemed to be very good ones.

Finally, I said,“Okay. I guess I’ll go for a hike.”

As I said it, I felt…mature. I also felt a little grief. A weighted feeling in my chest. “This is it,” I thought to myself. “This is a micro-disappointment.”

I drove up the canyon, carrying the grief in my chest with me. As I drove, I thought about what it means to have a healthy relationship and how all relationships come with their share of micro-disappointments.

Being a mature adult in a relationship can feel lonely sometimes. It requires bearing the grief of those moments when your expectations don’t align with your partner’s expectations. It doesn’t mean you’re in a bad relationship, it means you’re in a long-term relationship. A relationship consists of two separate human beings. Any time two people come into a relationship, there will be conflict, differences, challenges, separateness.

As a walked along the trail, my phone rang. It was my husband. He said,“Hey. I just wanted to check in with you. Did I hurt your feelings?”

I answered honestly,

“A little, but it’s okay. It’s a micro-disappointment and I’m glad that you can be honest with me.”

I told him that if the situation were reversed, I never would have been able to be so honest with him—but now it would be a little easier for me.

He said,

“It wasn’t easy for me either, but I appreciate you understanding.”

And so it goes in relationships. We are in a constant flux of harmony, disharmony and repair. But if we can keep the disappointments in perspective and not take them as opportunities to blow them out of proportion….we can minimize the damage we’re prone to do to them. We can accept each other as separate human beings, who have different expectations and needs. We can give grace to each other and space to be different. And the irony of that space, is that it brings us back together in a close and connected, intimate partnership.

by Kristy Gaisford, LCSW


Kristy Gaisford, LCSW, has a master’s degree in social work from Columbia University. She has been a clinical social worker for 20 years. For the past 10 years, she has been training extensively in couples therapy through the Relational Life Institute with Terry Real. Her practice specializes in couples/relationship therapy. She believes the most important relationship you will ever have is your relationship with yourself. She is a certified RLT therapist. Read more, click here.

Looking to reconnect, learn strategies and essential skills?

Our 2-day/weekend Relationship Boot Camp offered by therapists Jerry Sander, LCSW & Kristy Gaisford, LCSW can help give you the skills you need to change your relationship from “so-so” to the path of full-throttle intimacy.