i cannot rescue you

Supporting Your Disappointment: BRAVING In the Arena of Love

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I’m going to disappoint my lover. Let’s get over that fact.

Your Disappointment Is Not Mine

In all of our efforts to maintain a healthy relationship, we’re going to fk up from time to time. Right? What happens next is of vital importance. Here are three approaches to the disappointments of your lover.

  1. Braving – the problem is not yours to fix, stand in support of your partner but don’t try to take it on, you can’t fix it
  2. Repair – if the disappointment is about something you did or said acknowledge their feelings, and if appropriate, apologize
  3. Give Advice – “you should…” or “i would…” or “why don’t you…”

As you can imagine, advice is not the best approach. You don’t really know what’s going on inside of your partner. You are not responsible for their deep disappointments, most of those happened long before you were on the scene. And if you can accept that much of your partner’s distress is not yours to fix it makes it easier to stand strong and supportive beside them. They may think you’re the cause of their pain, but most likely, you are merely the trigger. When the emotions flare into flames it’s usually about a bigger issue than the immediate disappointment.

I Was Trained To *Not* Disappoint Women

I was raised by three strong women. Two weak and dysfunctional men offered me little guidance about masculinity or being a man. I learned to appease my mom and sisters at all costs. I might lie to get out of disappointing them. I might internalize the shame when they blamed me for making them unhappy. That’s not how it works.

Your unhappiness is also an inside job. 

I am here to support you 100%. “I will be your trigger, but I will not be your target.” And from there, we can establish our trust. I will disappoint you. That’s a given. It’s what happens next that defines how well we support or BRAVE for each other.

It might look like this:

Lover: It really hurts when you…

Me: I’m sorry my actions caused you disappointment.

Lover: I can *never* trust you.

Me: Let’s take a time out. I’m sorry I upset you.

Lover: It’s always this same thing. You’re not listening to me.

Me: I support you.

And that’s about all you can do. If the partner continues to attack, blaming you for their rage or depression, it is your responsibility to shut down the attack but not try and fix it. You can’t fix your partner’s anger or disappointment. You can support them. When you become the target of hyperboles like *never* and *always* it is a good idea to take a break. Once you’ve both agreed to this relationship tool (BRAVING) you can both do a better job of understanding disappointment, contextual triggers, and how to be supportive even when it feels like your partner is attacking you.


The biggest tool in stopping runaway emotional triggers is to take a break. When you are feeling enflamed, ask for a timeout. When your partner is beginning to talk in absolutes, hold up the agreed-upon “time out” sign. Maybe a peace sign. Or the “time out” sign from sports. Whatever works, both of you need to be watching for triggers and escalations that can lead down the dead end of blame, shame, and rescue responses.

I cannot fix your issues. I can learn to modify my behaviors or words when I learn what hurts you. I can always do better. But I cannot take on your pain and recovery. Everyone has to do their own hard work. Having a brave partner who will stand beside you while you burst into flames is a powerful process for healing. I can hear your complaint, I can own my actions or words, and I can stay safely beside you and offer my ear and my support. But, I cannot offer the solutions. I cannot offer advice. I can, but 99% of the time unsolicited advice backfires.

You Have a Right to Your Disappointments

Your disappointments are your own. Even with another person in your life, most of your disappointments are related to past hurts, family of origin issues, and old trauma. “I understand you are disappointed.” Full stop.

As you process your disappointments I will be here. I will try and remain neutral. I will protect myself as necessary by asking for a time-out. And I will continue to support your processing of the disappointment. Apologies are easy. The work to get at what’s underneath the heat is a solo task. I cannot process your anger or sadness. I cannot fix all of your disappointments in the past. I can only take responsibility for my own actions and interactions.

It’s up to both of us to protect our partnership from blame and shame. When we find our temperature rising or the impending spark from our partner, we can BOTH ask for a pause. Just try it. Stop the blame. Stop the rush to rescue the disappointed lover. Just be together in the mess. Pick up your own issues and do what it takes to lessen misguided conflicts.

No, Really, Your Disappointments Are Not Mine

I want you to be happy. When I have done something to disappoint you I will be sad and sorry myself, but it’s likely that the opportunity for healing is just below the surface of my triggering action. If we hold each other in the best light and remain in our own hula-hoop we can learn to stop escalations before they boil over.


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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