"What did you expect?"
I have to address something pretty much every person who has ever been in a relationship has been though:
When was the last time you felt disappointed?
Did you have specific (or general) expectations that weren't met that lead to that disappointment?
It's pretty likely you answered yes to that last question.
Let's go over an example to illustrate why this happens:
Many people like to celebrate holidays, anniversaries, birthdays and other special occasions. Each of these celebrations holds different weight and value for individuals, however. Christmas might be a really special day for one person and not so much for another. One partner might be all about celebrating little milestones like the anniversary of their first date while the other partner values their wedding anniversary the most.
This is normal.
When two people come together, you don't have to have the same exact value system. In all honesty, you won't and it will likely lead to disappointment if you believe the other person should match your system completely.
The same thing happens when we have expectations going into parenthood with our partners. Each of us has a unique background, history, upbringing, and parenting style. We also have our own ideas, dreams, and feelings. Sometimes, those two systems clash and conflict can occur.
This is also normal.
Whenever you have an expectation that is unmet, disappointment has the opportunity to take shape.
This is not to say don't have any expectations or make your expectations so low that you don't feel disappointed. Quite the opposite, actually. Voicing your expectations (especially with your partner) will help alleviate disappointment. As much as others may know you, they are not mind-readers and assuming that they understand your expectations is unrealistic if you don't say anything or leave it up for interpretation.
Communication is key both before disappointment has even happened and especially afterwards.
Today, I'd like to help you out with this relationship "bump" that many of us encounter.
Here are three ways to help you acknowledge expectations better with your partner:
1) Talk with your partner about what dreams and hopes you have for the future regularly. Let them into your inner world.
2) When you have expectations about an upcoming event, talk about them with your partner. Then take the time to listen to their expectations as well.
3) Be open to being flexible if your expectations don't quite go the way you originally planned.
And here are three ways to navigate disappointment more effectively so it doesn't grow into resentment:
1) Tell your partner about your disappointment and what you hoped would have happened instead. Recognize there may not be a quick fix but work towards how to do it differently next time a similar situation occurs. Work together to make small adjustments that could alter the outcome more positively.
2) Identify if what happened differently than how you expected was within or out of your realm of control. It will be easier to let go of if it wasn't within your control anyway and easier to alter if you know where to adjust.
3) Get introspective about why you feel disappointed. Did you voice your expectations clearly or did you leave it up to assumption? Was your expectation realistic and achievable or was it unrealistic and difficult?
One thing is certain: whenever a child enters a family system, there are bound to be expectations for everyone involved that don't get met. Don't let this trip you up! Move forward together with your partner to soften the blow of disappointment and lean on each other for support when necessary.
If you'd like to know more and do better in your relationship together with your partner, I'm happy to give you some easy exercises to work through in my Partnerhood Workbook. And the online course is always another option. Just let me know how I can continue to help you.
Christie Sears Thompson
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
The Partnerhood (www.thepartnerhood.com)
Trade Winds Therapy & Relationship Coaching (www.tradewindstherapy.com)