Northwind Pharmaceuticals

Relationships Are Defined by Disappointments

relationship-disappointment-300x200So much time and effort are invested in the avoidance of disappointment, yet it relentlessly shadows our steps. Our obsession with anticipating and reacting to it is reflected in platitudes like “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” What kind of life is that? As long as I keep my expectations as low as possible, I might feel the sting of disappointment less. No thank you! We also manage disappointment with other expectation-lessening axioms like: “It could always be worse.” Yes, but does that make anyone feel better about it? Face it, in the contact sport we call life, disappointment comes part and parcel (forgive the idiom!) with our very existence.

The source of a significant portion of our disappointments is other people. There is something about the organically fluid interaction with another person that lends itself to disappointment. As our earlier discussed wisdom tells us, much of this comes from the intersection of our expectations with those of the other person. Every relationship is subject to it: friend, spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, parent, child, supplier, customer, peer and on and on. You want/need/expect/hope things to work a certain way and for some reason, that other person just doesn’t play along with your desires. C’est la vie!

Wait! Don’t bail on me yet! There is a point to this litany of circular frustration!

Think about your relationships from the non-disappointment perspective. Let’s start with your most important relationships. What makes a relationship important? It could be length of time or some degree of mutual dependency. It could be the “value” the relationship brings to your life. How did your most important relationships become important? Disappointments. Sure, the good times with others make us feel good and are important. However, at some point in every one of them, one or both parties was disappointed. Somebody let somebody else down. Right there with death and taxes, the disappointment specter rises. Interestingly, you still describe the relationship as important. Why? Because you pushed through. You found a way to move on, make things work and continue to invest in the relationship. Ironically, the disappointment led to an increase in the value of the relationship. The process of pushing through disappointment actually made the relationship stronger, more important.

The stories abound. I recently spoke with a business owner who was describing how his company implemented a fairly complicated service. The service had some complex billing elements and his team spent a lot of time with new customers helping them become self-sufficient. He told me that he considered it a good thing when one of his clients called upset over an issue. He paused for a moment so I could absorb this counter-intuitive notion, then he said that every interaction over an issue gave him the opportunity to make the relationship stronger with his client. He was more concerned when he heard nothing at all.

If we know that disappointments are going to happen AND that they can make relationships stronger, what are we doing to take advantage of this reality? The problem is that, in many cases, we don’t push past the disappointment. As humans, it can be difficult to forgive the failure/disappointment/transgression. We hold grudges. We take it personally. We are proud and it is often easier to avoid the difficult task of pushing through..

Understand, I’m not suggesting that there aren’t times when a disappointment or string of disappointments merits walking away. (Check out this post on walking away). That’s also part of life. We have to make those decisions. However, the most important, highest value relationships are forged through the disappointments.

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that we spend significant energy trying to protect ourselves from disappointment even though we know it will find us. Why not shift those self-protective energies toward the positive, creative side of our selves by finding ways to push through the disappointments? Perhaps a shift in attitude, a few deep breaths, and more expansive thinking might help us see how we can turn the disappointment into a positive result. And maybe, just maybe we’ll build something stronger and more beneficial in the process.

“If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment.”
Henry David Thoreau

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