Disappointment doesn't mean you're done.
We all know the story: In the beginning of a relationship, we’re infatuated with our seemingly Heaven-sent partner, idealizing him/her, blissfully caught up in the romance and excitement. We’re captivated, we’re smitten, we’ll do anything to be near them, we think everything they do or say is wonderful and hilarious. We feel like the luckiest person in the world. This is the idealization stage, a euphoric place we’d like to stay.
As time goes on, we start to notice, well, their flaws. (How dare they be flawed!) Things begin to irk us about our partner that we didn’t notice at first -- they don’t arrange the dishwasher neatly, they forget to make the bed or take out the garbage, they go to bed earlier than we do, they listen to bad music. Worse, they disappoint us on emotional levels by failing to pay attention when we tell them something important, or failing to support us well when we’re going through something difficult. How could this person who seemed so perfect suddenly seem so...well...normal? We had higher expectations for them, and we’re let down, disappointed, disillusioned. We begin to feel discouraged, and seeds of doubt take root. We have entered the stage of disenchantment, or disillusionment.
Unfortunately, many couples get stuck here, frustrated and discouraged by the changing tenor of their relationship, and wondering how they’ll ever return to where they once were. They convince themselves that something is very wrong in the relationship; that they should not be experiencing each other in these ways. They think such things as, “Maybe we’re just not compatible anymore,” or “Maybe we’ve changed too much and grown apart,” and some begin to doubt the relationship can continue. Here’s the good news: This is all normal. Even more than normal -- this is expected, and necessary, and helps you grow!
Before you throw in the towel on your relationship, here are a few things to consider as you navigate the disappointments and work to see your partner and relationship in a new light:
Disappointment/disenchantment is a developmental stage of relationships. You’re supposed to experience this to move from fantasy to reality and form a more comprehensive, accepting picture of your partner and relationship that isn’t filtered through the myth of perfection. This is the path toward a more mature love; rather than think something is wrong, reframe it as a challenging, but absolutely normal and important part of the journey.
Don’t assign blame. It’s easy to blame your partner during this stage, picking out all their flaws and putting the onus of the issues on them. Instead, look at the co-created patterns you two have adopted: how are the ways you’re relating to one another problematic or conflictual?
Shift from fantasy to reality. Romanticized, idealized love is perpetuated in our culture, giving us a plethora of examples to which we compare our own relationship and find it falling short. Recognize how an attachment to fantasy can prevent us from enjoying the “very good” in reality. We are not perfect; our relationship was never meant to be perfect. Don’t let the fantasy of perfection keep you from recognizing and continuing to work on building a good enough relationship that’s grounded in reality.