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3 WAYS TO PROCESS THE PAIN OF RELATIONAL LETDOWNS

Disappointment is the gap between our expectations and our reality. The bigger the gap, the more disappointment we feel. The more disappointment, the more pain we experience.

Nowhere does disappointment seem to rear its head more than in relationships. When I take couples through premarital counseling, a lot of our discussion focuses on the subject of expectations. Trying to get the couple to a more realistic view of what marriage looks like is a top priority in those conversations.

Disappointment with relationships isn’t confined to marriage. It tends to impact a wide array of relationships: those at work, or school, or in our neighborhood. Disappointment can happen with vendor relationships, client relationships, and plain old regular friendships. Making matters even more confusing, relationships are dynamic, not static. So, the possibility of disappointment is ever present.

Sometimes relational change is due to geography. One of my lifelong friends now lives on the West Coast, and the distance has impacted our ability to stay connected like we used to. Sometimes relational change is seasonal—friends move into a new stage of life in terms of work, kids, grandkids, etc. and those relationships start adjusting to a new norm. Sometimes relational change is forced on you. Perhaps due to a variety of circumstances, some people simply decided to trash you and/or walk out of your life. Painful for sure.

What can we do when the pain of relational disappointment comes calling? How can we respond in a way that keeps us more emotionally steady when what we hoped the relationship would become doesn’t materialize? Here’s three ideas that may help you process the pain of unrealized relational expectations:

Work on what you can control—trust God with what you can’t

A scary thing about relationships is we can’t control everything. (I guess being able to control everything would be equally scary). Here are some behaviors under our control: kindness, thoughtfulness, intentionality, believing the best about others, being encouraging and loving, just to name a few. How those on the receiving end of those behaviors respond—we have zero control over. Stephen Covey writes about the circle of influence vs. the circle of concern. Circle of influence has to do with those things under our control. Circle of concern involves those items outside our control. The more we operate in the circle of concern, the more opportunity for disappointment and pain to occur. So, a better relational strategy is to work in our circle of influence—on those relational items we can control. And then to trust God with what we can’t.

Be open to new friendships

About six months ago, I remember telling a small group of men I’m part of that it felt like I was sucking wind friendship-wise. They asked some pointed questions, prayed for me, and wouldn’t you know it—two new possible guy-friendships presented themselves within a matter of weeks. I’m slow to become friends, but these two relationships are beginning to flourish, and I’m so grateful! When your existing relationships change, it may feel like you’re stuck with no options. The good news is you’re probably not stuck. Work on overcoming any apprehension you may have, and try reaching out to someone you’ve not been friends with before.

Rekindle dormant friendships when possible

Is it possible your relationships haven’t moved as much as you think? Perhaps they’ve just grown stale due to neglect. “They never call me! They never take the first step!” Thoughts like these can dominate your thinking when friendships seem one-sided. But even though it may feel like you’re always the one initiating . . . who cares who initiates? Pour some energy into existing friendships and see what happens. Maybe all that was needed was a bit of TLC. If it continues to go nowhere—perhaps that friendship truly was seasonal in nature. It might be time to accept the reality of a new (although unwelcome) stage in that relationship.

If you’re facing the pain of deep relational disappointment, I feel for you. Let me encourage you to ask yourself some pointed questions:

Are my expectations of the person in question realistic? Or do my expectations need to be right-sized?

Is it possible new friendships are on the horizon? Am I open to those new possibilities?

What can I control? What is outside my control?

Am I working on those things under my control? Am I trusting God for what is outside my control?

Relational pain is unavoidable at times. But it doesn’t have to throw you into despair. Try these three ideas, and it’s likely you’ll process the disappointment of unmet expectations in a healthier way.

I’m rooting and praying for you!

John Opalewski

Author John Opalewski

John Opalewski is a graduate of Oral Roberts University. He served as a pastor for fifteen years. He has worked in the business world for nearly two decades, serving in multiple leadership roles. John's experience as a leader in both the church and business arenas has made him a sought-after international speaker, coach and mentor.

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