I'm sure you've heard the saying, “Make plans and God laughs.” John Lennon put it well when he said “Life is what happens while you plan other things.” Most of us past the age of thirty can probably think of at least one major event or catastrophe in our lives that we did not see coming. I can think of a few myself. Sometimes these unexpected occurrences in our lives are immediately followed by an 'Ah-ha' moment and we have the relief and understanding as to why this new path has been put in front of us. Other times, we never know the answer as to why we had to change gears and it never makes sense.
The bottom line is we have to march forward, sometimes with our heads down for a while feeling ashamed, sometimes with our heads up asking God, “Why?” If we are not happy with these unexpected changes in our life plan, what is the alternative to marching forward? We become stagnant, bitter or angry. This only further diminishes the prospect of joy in life. So, moving forward is the one thing that we must do. There are people who think their marriage wouldn't suffer, they'd make more money by now, they thought they'd have more kids, they should've gotten that degree by now, they thought they'd be higher up in the job ranking, or those who get hit hard with terminal illness, on and on...So, how do we march forward if we are disappointed or scared or angry?
Mark Merrill, one of my favorite writers, gives us some tips to consider when things don't turn out as you thought they would:
1. 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 progress and growth.
2. Don't keep blaming others, especially your spouse or other family members. Assigning blame to others can be a bitter cancer in your soul and marriage. It's one thing to identify that someone is responsible for something that has altered your goals or plans, it's another to let that determination consume your heart and your relationship. That does not end well. The real “blame” can often be a complex web of circumstances and decisions.
3. Don't keep blaming yourself. Maybe you look back and realize that something y ou did or didn't do lies at the crux of your disappointment. It can be hard to firgive yourself. Again, identifying that possibility is different than obsessing over it. You may need to firgive yourself as much as anyone else.
4. Accept what you cannot change. 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.
5. 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.
6. Share your disappointments with your spouse or loved one. Real and honest conversation with your spouse about your disappointments and theirs can revolutionize your relationship...but it must be done without blaming them. When you develop listening skills, broaden your empathy skills, and deepen your understanding of your wife or husband, you tear down walls you didn't know you were building.
7. 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. Don't ignore the possibility that you may need your spouse or loved one to attend counseling with you. At times, when we get stuck in a part of life and have a difficult time marching forward, it affects those closest to us as well.
Laurie Wallace is a Licensed Family and Marriage Counselor and is the Counselor at St. John Catholic School in Valdosta, Georgia.