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12 Healthy Ways to Deal with Disappointment in a Relationship

We are all disappointed sometimes. We might hope for a lovely treat that doesn’t happen or have someone in our lives not live up to our expectations. Learning how to deal with disappointment is an essential part of managing our own emotions and protecting our own mental health.

In this article, we’re going to look at what disappointment is and important tips for what to do when someone disappoints you. We’re also going to have some ideas for how you can adjust your mindset to avoid constant disappointment.

Understanding the Root Causes of Your Disappointment

Disappointment can be a relatively complicated emotion to understand1. Other emotions such as anger or joy can be straightforward because they are more direct relationships. Someone called you names so you became angry. You saw a beautiful sunset and you became happy.

Disappointment is different. It’s based on a comparison between your hopes and expectations and the reality of what happens. You have feelings of sadness, hurt, anger, frustration, and even loss because something didn’t happen the way that you had hoped or expected it to.

You can also have other emotions mixed in there as well. You might feel shame or guilt at being disappointed, especially if you know deep down that your expectations weren’t completely reasonable or if you had tried (and failed) not to get your hopes up.

You might also feel a loss of hope or a lack of faith in the future. This can happen if you hoped for something that actually happened, only to find that it didn’t actually bring you happiness.

It’s also important to note that we can be disappointed in something that happens but we can also be disappointed in a person2. When we’re disappointed in a person, we’re usually still disappointed by their actions, but we have added difficult emotions about a loss of trust and even the loss of a relationship.

Disappointment is a completely normal emotion, but feeling constant disappointment or struggling to move on from your feelings of disappointment can be a sign of depression.

12 Healthy Ways to Deal with Disappointment

Now we understand where our feelings of disappointment come from, let’s think about how we can deal with them in a way that’s healthy and strengthens, rather than weakens, our relationships. 

1. Take some time to understand the situation and your feelings

take some time to understand the situation and feelings

When you feel sad and disappointed, especially in your relationship, it’s tempting to try to find an immediate solution or to do something to make you feel better straight away. While this is understandable, it’s often not the best way to deal with your feelings.

Instead, try to accept and experience your feelings. It’s going to feel bad. Disappointment does. But accepting that and allowing yourself to experience those feelings can help you to access what’s going on for you at a deeper level3.

As well as accepting your feelings, try to think about the situation as a whole. The better you understand your feelings, and what’s driving those feelings, the easier it’s going to be to actually deal with your disappointment.

2. Be curious

Often, we start to have feelings of disappointment before we actually know what’s going on. We just get a sense that things aren’t going to go the way we had expected so we start to feel disappointed immediately4.

But having things turn out differently from what we originally had in mind isn’t necessarily a cause for disappointment. They can end up being better than our initial vision, but we won’t know that if we’re too disappointed to really pay attention and understand.

Counteract this tendency by trying to be curious about the situation you’re in. Keeping an open mind and being open to other viewpoints can be helpful. 

For example, you might be disappointed that your partner doesn’t take the initiative and plan surprises for you. Being cautious and asking him why might show you that he respects your autonomy and is worried about crossing boundaries.

This has to be authentic, and there are some things in life that are just disappointing no matter how you look at them. Don’t try to force yourself to “see the positives” if they’re not there. Sometimes your curiosity will simply show that you’re right to be disappointed, but at least you know and can work through that.

3. Evaluate your expectations

Disappointment comes from a mismatch between your expectations or what you had hoped for and what actually happens5. When you feel disappointed in your relationship, it’s often a good time to think about your hopes and expectations.

Having hopes and expectations isn’t a bad thing. We all need to have things that we expect and require in our lives. We need to balance our need to avoid disappointment with our desire to be treated well and to have nice things in our lives.

Sometimes we do have unrealistic expectations. We might expect that our partner will understand how we feel without us having to explain it or we might believe that our partner should always take time off work for our birthday, even though their work schedule doesn’t make that possible.

Other times, we have perfectly reasonable expectations which simply aren’t getting met. For example, we might expect that our partner will tell us about problems that they see in the relationship or we expect our partners to be faithful to us.

Reasonable vs unreasonable expectations

Feeling disappointed doesn’t tell you anything about whether your expectations are actually reasonable or not. You can feel just as disappointed that an unreasonable hope or expectation isn’t met as having a reasonable one unmet.

So, how can you know whether an expectation is reasonable or not? This is really difficult because everyone has a different judgment about what counts as a reasonable expectation. There are some common characteristics of a reasonable expectation, though.

There are several questions you can ask yourself to evaluate whether your expectations are likely to be reasonable.

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  • Was the expectation discussed directly and explicitly?
  • Did the other person agree to do something?
  • Is there a balance between what you expect and what you are willing to offer?
  • Are you sure the expectation isn’t placing an unreasonable or unexpected burden on your partner?

If the answer to these questions is yes, your expectation is probably reasonable. If not, you might need to think about it a little more carefully.

4. Don’t just ditch your expectations though

It’s helpful to understand whether your expectations are reasonable or not, but make sure that you don’t reflexively try to lower or abandon your expectations in an attempt to avoid future disappointment.

Giving up on expectations that are important to you to try to avoid painful feelings isn’t being “sensible” or “mature.” It’s denying your own needs and values.

In the most extreme forms, this can almost become an act of emotional self-harm. When you drop all of your expectations and requirements of a partner, you’re sabotaging your chances of having a healthy, respectful relationship.

Your expectations and requirements in a relationship are a good guide to what is important to you and what you need to be happy in your relationship.

Lowering your expectations is usually a way to find yourself more disappointed, rather than less. Instead, try having fewer expectations. Let go of expectations that aren’t actually necessary for you to be happy, but keep your standards high when it comes to the ones that really matter.

5. Communicate your feelings

communicate your feelings

When you’re disappointed in your relationship, it’s easy to pull away from your partner. Unfortunately, that makes it much harder for you to work together as a team to improve your relationship. Talking about your disappointment can help you deal with your feelings and potentially deal with the underlying problem as well.

When you talk to your partner about your feelings of disappointment, it’s really important that you use I statements. These show that you’re not criticizing or blaming them. You’re asking for their help in dealing with something that upsets you.

6. Try not to dwell on it

We talked earlier about the importance of accepting and experiencing your feelings of disappointment, but that doesn’t mean that you want to dwell on it too much. Thinking over and over about the thing that has disappointed you is known as rumination.

Rumination is your mind’s way of trying to problem-solve, but it isn’t especially helpful. Having the same negative thoughts over and over is associated with both anxiety and depression6. It makes it harder for you to move on.

It can be hard to stop yourself from ruminating on things. Trying to just push thoughts away is usually counterproductive, as they rebound and come back stronger than before7. Instead, try writing your thoughts down. 

If you feel yourself getting into the same thought spiral again, ask yourself whether you have anything else to add to what you’ve written. Sometimes re-reading your writing can help you to feel like you’ve reached the ‘end’ of that thought process and allows you to move on.

7. Follow your normal self-care routine

Disappointment is an unpleasant part of life, but it is unavoidable. There will always be times in our lives when we will feel let down or disappointed. Practice treating yourself with kindness and fulfilling your own needs as you process those feelings.

Finding the things that make you feel better is important. Try to create a self-care routine that you can use when you’re having strong negative feelings, whether that’s sadness, disappointment, anger, or anything else.

Self-care doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, the best self-care is rarely a new, expensive candle or bubble bath. You could try having a tasty and nutritious dinner, spending time with supportive friends, or going for a walk in nature.

Lots of these are things that we know we “should” be doing anyway because they are good for our physical and mental health. Self-care is something we can all benefit from, whether things are going well or badly in our lives. It’s important to prioritize it when we’re sad or disappointed because that’s when we lack emotional resources and might let our self-care slide.

8. Think about what you can learn

Another way to try to adjust your feelings of disappointment is to look for things that you can learn and ways that you can approach the situation differently next time. This won’t stop you from feeling disappointed in the first place, but it offers you a way to draw something good from a situation that hasn’t gone as well as you’d like.

If you are dealing with disappointment in your relationship, try to look for ways that you could have dealt with the situation differently. For example, if your partner disappointed you by not doing something nice for your birthday, consider talking to them about how birthday treats make you feel special and give them a list of ideas.

As we’ve mentioned before, don’t feel obliged to try to find positives in an awful or upsetting situation. Finding something that you can learn from or do differently in the future doesn’t mean that you don’t feel sad or disappointed now.

Focusing on what you can learn is a way to feel empowered despite your disappointment, not a way to try to guilt yourself into not feeling disappointed.

9. Don’t look for disappointment

When we pay attention to something, we notice it more than we otherwise would. This is why you will notice more yellow cars on the road after you’ve just bought a yellow car. Or if you learn a new word, you’ll suddenly hear it regularly8.

The same is true for disappointment. If we look for things that are disappointing, we’ll notice them even if they’re relatively minor. If we focus our attention on looking for things that make us happy, we’re going to notice more of those instead.

One way to do this is to ask yourself “what am I enjoying about this?” If you’re out at a restaurant, ask yourself what parts of the meal you would like to recreate at home. This can focus your attention on the delicious burger relish and trying to work out how you’d make it, rather than fixating on the slightly-soggy fries.

10. Be clear about your expectations

be clear about your expectations

This tip is more about trying to avoid being disappointed in the first place, rather than dealing with that disappointed feeling once it’s happened. Disappointment occurs when our expectations aren’t met. Increase the chances of the people around you meeting your expectations by being really clear about what you would like.

Most of us have known someone who struggled to be clear about their expectations. Often, this is an inexperienced manager or boss at work. They don’t give you any detail about what they want from you, so you do your best. Unfortunately, it’s not quite what they had in mind so they’re disappointed with your work.

As an employee, this is really frustrating. You’re putting in loads of effort only to find out that you’ve been going in slightly the wrong direction. A really bad boss will even make you feel as though you’re not good enough because you didn’t understand their expectations.

The same thing can happen in a relationship. The clearer you are about what you want, the easier life is for your partner. They feel more confident and secure in the relationship and you get your expectations met. This is absolutely a win-win.

Being clear about your expectations can be challenging. You might feel as though you’re being too demanding or entitled when you say things out loud. But you have those expectations. Talking about them directly doesn’t make you entitled. It makes you honest and it improves your chances of having a healthy relationship without constant disappointment.

11. Really understand that you can’t ever change anyone else

One of the central tenets of a lot of forms of therapy is that you can’t change anyone else. The only things that you can change are how you think and act and how you respond to others9. This is important when it comes to dealing with disappointment because our instinctive response is often to want to change someone else’s behavior.

We’re disappointed when someone else hasn’t fulfilled our expectations. It’s tempting to focus on how everything would be fine if they would just change their behavior. We try to think of ways to push them to do things differently next time.

The desire to change others is actually a source of even more disappointment. When someone disappoints us a second time, despite our pushing them to change, we feel doubly bad.

To avoid this downward spiral, try to really understand and accept that you can’t change anything other than yourself. If you have needs in your relationship that your partner is consistently not able or willing to meet, you need to decide how you are going to deal with this.

For example, if you’re constantly disappointed that your partner isn’t supportive when you’re upset, you can’t make your partner better at this. You can ask them, but if they disappoint you again, it might be time to look for other strategies.

You could work on your wider social circle to make sure that you have people who can be supportive at difficult times. You might decide that you’re not willing to be in a relationship with someone who isn’t supportive, so you end the relationship. You might start asking for specific acts of support, rather than a vague “please be supportive.”

All of these are things that you are doing to improve your situation and reduce your feelings of constant disappointment in your partner.

12. Don’t let other disappointments color your relationship

Sometimes, it’s possible to feel disappointed in your relationship because of outside factors. Your other disappointments in life can spill over and leave you feeling as though there’s something missing from your relationship as well.

This is quite common if your education and career goals haven’t quite come about in the way that you had hoped. You can start to feel a general sense of being dissatisfied which you then attribute to your relationship.

Try to be really specific when you’re feeling disappointed. What are you feeling disappointed about? Which expectations or hopes weren’t met? What would have had to happen to mean that you didn’t have this disappointed feeling? 

These questions can help you to identify when you’re actually disappointed in your relationship or whether these feelings are spilling over from other disappointments in life.

13. Fulfill your own needs

Connecting with others, being vulnerable, and forming close, loving relationships are all essential parts of a happy life. It is helpful, however, to know that you have different ways to fulfill your needs. This is one way of taking responsibility for your own happiness.

We can easily become disappointed in our relationships if we believe that our partner should be able to meet all of our needs. It’s lovely if our partner can be our chief cheerleader, support system, confidant, admin assistant, personal chef, and therapist. But, that’s a pretty big job description.

Knowing that we have lots of people we can turn to, and knowing that we can thrive by ourselves, can give you resistance to feelings of disappointment. Other people helping you out feels like a luxury, rather than them simply meeting your expectations.

Try to build a wide support network of trusted friends, family, and even trained professionals to support you. At the same time, you can look for ways to increase your skill set to feel more confident and self-reliant.

A great relationship coach can be really helpful here. They can help you see where you might need additional support as well as identify ways that you can get better at looking after yourself.


Why does disappointment hurt so much?

Disappointment is hurtful because you have to deal with the appearance of a negative emotion and the loss of a positive one at the same time. The loss of hope combines with the appearance of sadness to create an especially powerful emotion.

What happens in the brain when you are disappointed?

There isn’t much research into how disappointment affects the brain. We do know that it seems to involve the lateral habenula region and the neurotransmitters glutamate and GABA10. These are also involved in depression, which suggests that disappointment might affect the brain in similar ways.

How do you lift your mood after a disappointment?

Use your usual self-care routine to help lift your mood after a disappointment. Allow yourself time to experience your feelings of disappointment and then seek out activities that are good for your mental and physical well-being and bring you joy, such as a walk in nature or visiting friends.


We all need to learn how to handle disappointment. Our partners won’t ever be completely perfect and life won’t always work out the way we’d planned. With the right mindset, you can use your disappointment to help you build a stronger, healthier relationship with better communication.

Let me know what you think in the comments, especially if you have any other fantastic tips to deal with disappointment. And don’t forget to share this article if you found it helpful.

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10 Sources:
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  2. ‌van Dijk, W. W., & Zeelenberg, M. (2002). What do we talk about when we talk about disappointment? Distinguishing outcome-related disappointment from person-related disappointment. Cognition and Emotion, 16(6), 787–807.
  3. ‌Pearlman, L. A. (1997). Trauma and the Self. Journal of Emotional Abuse, 1(1), 7–25.
  4. ‌Rink, F., & Ellemers, N. (2007). The Role of Expectancies in Accepting Task-Related Diversity: Do Disappointment and Lack of Commitment Stem From Actual Differences or Violated Expectations? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33(6), 842–854.
  5. ‌Tzieropoulos, H., Peralta, R. G. de, Bossaerts, P., & Andino, S. L. G. (2011). The Impact of Disappointment in Decision Making: Inter-Individual Differences and Electrical Neuroimaging. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 4.
  6. ‌Zawadzki, M. J., Graham, J. E., & Gerin, W. (2013). Rumination and anxiety mediate the effect of loneliness on depressed mood and sleep quality in college students. Health Psychology, 32(2), 212–222.
  7. ‌Wenzlaff, R. M., & Wegner, D. M. (2000). Thought Suppression. Annual Review of Psychology, 51(1), 59–91.
  8. ‌Durmus, M. (2022). COGNITIVE BIASES - A Brief Overview of Over 160 Cognitive Biases. Lulu Press.
  9. ‌Beck, J. S. (2021). Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Basics and Beyond (3rd ed.). The Guilford Press.
  10. ‌Li, K., Zhou, T., Liao, L., Yang, Z., Wong, C., Henn, F., Malinow, R., Yates, J. R., & Hu, H. (2013). βCaMKII in Lateral Habenula Mediates Core Symptoms of Depression. Science, 341(6149), 1016–1020.

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