Last week we highlighted our discussion on disappointing the one you love. Today I’d like to switch roles and talk about being disappointed by the one you love. Think about the last time you were disappointed by a loved-one. What did you want or need? How did your significant other let you down? How was that message delivered? And most importantly, how did you deal with it?
We all have our knee jerk reaction to hearing the word “no”. Dealing with disappointment is one of the most important relationship skills to build. Let’s hear Laura’s story and learn.
Laura has been dating Bill for a couple of years. For the most part their relationship has been good with the exception of one issue. Bill does not like Laura’s family. He feels like they look down on him as he comes from a working class background. He does construction work for a living and does not feel accepted and respected by Laura’s parents. Laura comes from a wealthy family. She is an attorney, makes a very good salary, and has investments in real estate. In fact, that is how she met Bill. He was working on one of her properties. They hit it off and have been dating steadily ever since.
Thanksgiving was just around the corner and Laura asked Bill to come with her to her family’s gathering for the holiday. Bill had politely declined the year before and as Laura sensed his discomfort around her family, she did not push the issue. Bill’s family resides in a different state and he flew home last year to be with his family. This year, Laura feels their relationship is on a much different level; they are talking about getting married and having a family and Laura wants—or needs—to have Bill connect with her family in a meaningful way. Laura feels Bill is simply being insecure—that her family does welcome him and wishes he could find a way to feel a part of her extended family.
Bill politely declines. He tells Laura that while he wants to share the holiday with her, he still feels obligated to be with his own family, especially since his sister has a new baby. This time, Laura is consumed with disappointment. The exchange quickly gets heated and ends with Laura slamming the front door as she heads home from Bill’s apartment. Bill feels disrespected and put off by Laura’s tantrum and lack of understanding.
There are many issues and dynamics taking place within Bill and Laura and between them. But for the sake of keeping things simple and focusing on dealing with disappointment, let’s look at what happened to Laura when she heard the word no.
- Laura went into the conversation knowing that her request was loaded. In other words, she knew how important it was that Bill agreed to be with her and her family for this holiday gathering. Bill on the other hand, had no idea.
- Laura’s strong reaction was in part related to how much meaning she attached to Bill’s response. In other words, when Bill said no, Laura heard, “I don’t love you enough to make the sacrifice; there is something wrong with your family and therefore, maybe something wrong with you; my family is more important than my future with you.”
- Laura also heard her own thoughts say, “This relationship will never work as we will never resolve the issue of family and holidays; what will happen if we do get married and have kids—are you going to avoid my family forever?; you are too insecure and blame my family for your issues.”
- All of Laura’s worst fears and insecurities came flooding through. She was reacting on all of these thoughts and assumptions. In doing so, Laura was unable to focus on the one request and the one response. Her reactions were based on so much more than Bill not being with her and her family this Thanksgiving.
So here’s the trick to dealing with disappointment. First, you need to separate out what you are truly disappointed with from what you had requested in the first place. In Laura’s situation, I believe it was less about spending Thanksgiving with Bill and more about her fears and insecurities about the future of their relationship. If Laura had taken the time to sort out what was really at stake when she made the request, she may have avoided the resulting meltdown.
Second, remember the big picture. Bill may have said yes a thousand times before, including agreeing to things that involved her family. Taking one no and making it mean a thousand no’s will get you into trouble. If Laura had remembered that Bill had said yes to other family events, she may have been able to hear his reasons with more empathy.
Third, as much as you like to get your own way, the world does not revolve around you. Laura was so invested in her needs getting met, she was unable to recognize that Bill had equally valid reasons for saying no. When two people focus on understanding each other rather than winning and getting their way, space is created for effective problem solving. If Laura had taken the time to hear Bill out, they may have come up with a great compromise, one that would have left Laura feeling more connected with Bill, not less.
So next time you hear a no, stop, look, and listen. Stop to understand what is really at stake for you. Look at the bigger picture and put this one no in perspective of your whole relationship. And finally, listen and understand why the one you love needs to say no. You just might find out something new. You just might create more love, intimacy, and connection.
Julie Orlov, psychotherapist, speaker, and author of The Pathway to Love: Create Intimacy and Transform Your Relationships through Self-Discovery
Create Relationships in Your Life That Work — learn more at www.julieorlov.com