What to Do When Things Don’t Turn Out the Way You Thought

I had a hard phone call with a friend who was feeling disappointed recently. He was reviewing his life and shared with me how “things haven’t turned out like I thought they would.” In my experience, this sort of comment usually means the person believes his or her life should be better than it is, not just different. In this case, he had seen that other men he knows had made a ton of money and he saw a past girlfriend on social media who has a “perfect” family, causing him to wonder what might have been. It begged the question: What do you do when things don’t turn out as you thought they would?

Maybe your job isn’t what you thought it would be. Maybe you’ve not met your financial goals. Or maybe your spouse has been profoundly changed by a radical diagnosis like Parkinson’s. Maybe you never expected or wanted to move away from where you used to live, much less be where you are now. Whatever the “what if” is that vexes you, for the sake of your soul, it is critical that you address this kind of circumstantial disappointment as soon as possible. Here are 7 things to do when you’re feeling disappointed.

Give yourself an opportunity to grieve.

Grief is not just for death. There are times when we grieve the loss of friendships, love, health, dreams, expectations… Many things can be grieved. Giving yourself, and your spouse, permission to grieve is often an important step to healthy progress and growth.

Don’t keep blaming others, especially your spouse.

Forgiveness is crucial to progress.

Assigning blame to others, especially a spouse, can be a bitter cancer to your soul and marriage. It’s one thing to identify that someone is responsible for something that has altered your goals or plans, but it’s another to let that consume your heart and your relationship. That does not end well. The real “blame” can often be a complex web of circumstances and decisions. Forgiveness is crucial to progress.

Don’t keep blaming yourself.

Maybe you look back and realize that something you did or didn’t do is at the crux of your disappointment. It can be hard to forgive yourself. Again, identifying that possibility is different than obsessing over it. You may need to forgive yourself as much as anyone else.

Accept what you cannot change.

A widely known prayer attributed to American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr says, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” It’s hard to change what we can when we haven’t figured out or accepted what can’t be changed. Letting go of what’s over and done is critical to embracing what can be possible in the future.

Accept the lack of control of most things in our lives.

Much of our disappointments stem from a false sense of control. When we can understand and accept that there is far less under our control than we probably wish, it becomes easier to own what little we can control.

If you’re married, share your disappointments with your spouse.

Real and honest conversation with your spouse about your disappointments and theirs can revolutionize your marriage, but it must be done without blaming them. When you develop listening skillsbroaden your empathy skills, and deepen your understanding of your wife, you tear down walls you didn’t even realize you were building.

Be open to counseling.

Sometimes we need extra help. It’s hard to resolve complex emotions and circumstances that overwhelm us. Consider getting some external, objective help to sort through these issues. And don’t ignore the possibility that if you’re married, perhaps you both need some counseling. Here are steps to finding a good marriage counselor and 4 ways to know when it’s time for marriage counseling.

Sound off: What other steps have you found to help when you’re feeling disappointed?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What would you like life to look like when you are an adult?”