Choose the Road Less Traveled in Conflict

Are you stuck in a rut in your relationship with someone?

Do you find yourself having the same fight over and over again? Are you doing the same thing over and over, even though you know it doesn’t help you and doesn’t get you the love or the results that you need? Well, here’s your problem in a nutshell:

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, while expecting different results. Narcotics Anonymous

You are on a habit loop, doing what you do because that is what you do.  You do it that way instinctively, without thinking.  Your brain goes there automatically, unconsciously.

If you want things to change, you have to wake up your brain.  You have to make it respond consciously, rather than unconsciously.  You have to train it to do something different.

You have to jump the track and take the road less traveled.

The road less traveled will be harder going in the beginning.  You won’t know exactly how to do it.  You won’t know whether it will work or not.  It may feel uncomfortable.  Actually, it is almost guaranteed to feel uncomfortable at different points or even, if you don’t like change, all the time at first until you get settled into a new habit loop. 

Along the way, you may think, “Oh, this isn’t working.  I want to go back to where it’s safe and secure.”  And you can do that.  That is always an option for you.

However, you may find that you like your new road. Your decision to change may bring you joy. It may spark others to join you.

In either instance, you will be choosing your actions consciously, acting proactively, rather than reacting. This will result in your being better able to make choices in your own best interest. In the end, that will help you to navigate conflict successfully.

Do you want some help figuring out how to change things up and handle conflict differently? Reach out to Karen at 207-632-1111 or Meredith at meredithmediates@aol.com to set up an appointment.

When Someone You Love Disappears on You

Let’s talk about being ghosted. It feels terrible.

There are things that you can do that will make you feel better. There are also things that you can do that will make you feel worse. I’m going to give you some pointers on how to feel better in the short-term and in the long-term.

What does it look like when you’ve been ghosted? A person you were close to suddenly drops off the face of the earth, with no explanation as to why. Or maybe there is an explanation, but it’s a lame one. You know the person is still out there because you can see the person on Facebook messenger or you still have friends or family members in common who report to you on how they are doing. However, your efforts at contact are met with silence.

It can happen with a boyfriend, girlfriend, friend, parent, or other family member.

On the receiving end, it feels like death, only worse because it’s personal. It’s a bit like divorce that way, except with a divorce, you usually have to have some amount of contact to iron out the terms of your divorce. With ghosting, the other person just cuts you dead and ignores you. It’s sudden and you have no control over the matter.

You may find that you instinctively run after the person, trying to fill the black hole that suddenly appeared in your life. As you do, you are met over and over again with silence, a continuous rejection of you that you cannot understand or argue against. Each time that you reach out, you may feel your heart bloom with hope, and you may frantically check your phone 100 times per day hoping that the person has finally responded. Each time that you reach out, you reopen the wound, and you come crashing down when you realize that the person is still not responding, that you have not found the magic trick that will make the other person respond to you again.

Let’s look at what you have control over. You have control over you. Let’s work with that.

1. You control the narrative in your head. When someone you love ghosts you, you get to control the story as to why she or he did it. What do you most need to hear to move on with your life?

a. If you are a rescuer, don’t tell yourself that the person is scared, anxious, or needs help. You will keep chasing after the person to help them.

Tell yourself that she did it because that is who she is and you can’t change her. YOU CAN’T CHANGE THAT PERSON EVER. It’s true. You can’t. If the person doesn’t want to change, you can do everything within your power and still not change the person.

Tell yourself that whatever reason she may have for ghosting, you deserve better, and it’s time to take care of your needs for a change

Focus all of your change efforts on yourself instead. (Then you can see how hard it really is to change someone!)

(And if you later learn that the person really didn’t ghost, that she was in a coma and unable to use her phone as a result, then you can always reevaluate your options. You don’t have to continue to treat the person like a ghoster if she isn’t one.)

b. If you are a blamer, you can tell yourself that the person is a jerk, but only if you can then keep yourself from sending him nasty messages spelling out all of his failings. Stick to the message that he is not worthy of you (but don’t send him that in a text, either).

c. Don’t blame yourself. The one gift that a ghoster gives you is control over the narrative. You squander that gift if you blame yourself.

This isn’t to say that you can’t do an honest assessment of your part in the break up of the relationship and the ghoster’s part in it as well once you’ve moved through some of the pain. You can and you should. Initially, though, when you are in pain and when your brain is looking for a simple solution (doing this stupid thing = pain), don’t feed the beast.

2. Reach out to those that love you. Let them tell you how great you are. Spend time with them to avoid thinking about the other person. They will remind you, just by being with you, that you are loved and lovable.

3. Get some exercise. Go outside. Get some sun and some Vitamin D as a result. Getting exercise will pump up the endorphins to make you feel better. Also, emotions are stored in the long muscles of your body, so when you exercise, you literally move through those emotions.

4. What do you need to do to keep from running after the person? If you need to, you can delete them from Facebook, messenger, Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp, and your phone contacts. You can delete all text messages you have shared. You can make it as hard for yourself to chase them as possible.

Can I help support you through this? You can reach out to me here.

When you are feeling better, when you have had some time and perspective, then you can take a deeper dive into it.

1. Do you have a pattern of being with people who ghost? If so, why? What do you see in them? Do you find yourself ignoring the early warning signs of ghosters? When they start to pull away, do you chase them instinctively? What are some changes that you could make to help yourself? Are there ways you could stage an early intervention for yourself if you see early warning signs of ghosting with a new friend or boyfriend?

2. Does the other person have a pattern of ghosting? Can you see the pattern without feeling a need to rescue or blame? You cannot hug them long enough to magically put all their broken parts back together again. You cannot blame them viciously enough to teach them never to do it again (in fact, direct shaming and blaming of them will probably have the opposite effect – they are ghosting to avoid feelings).

3. Can you be grateful for the time that you had together without having it trigger a desire to contact the ghoster? It may be that gratitude will trigger an ache inside of you, a longing for the ghoster. It may be that gratitude will trigger feelings of love for the ghoster. Either of those and more can make you reach out to the ghoster in a weak moment. If you cannot feel gratitude without wanting to contact the ghoster, then maybe you wait a bit longer to work on gratitude so that you don’t find yourself chasing the ghoster again.

Do you want some help working through the deep dive? Reach out to me here.

How to Break Free of An Addictive Relationship

Some people bring us a great deal of pain along with the joy, and yet we keep running after them anyway.

When people look at the relationship from the outside, they may not understand it.  “Why do you want to be with him?” they ask.  “He treats you badly,” or “He’s mean,” or “How could he do that to you?” or “You don’t deserve that.”

“Why do you want to be with her?” they ask.  “She doesn’t like your friends and won’t let you go out with them.”  “She is a b#@%%!” 

On the receiving end, you’re hearing what they’re saying, but thinking, “But you don’t understand.  You don’t see this person the way I do.  You don’t see the kinder, gentler side that the person only shows to me.”

And you may also be thinking, “And now I’m not going to talk to you about my love anymore.  You’re not a safe person to talk to.  You’re judging him and you’re judging me.”

On NPR, the singer Dessa was talking about her inspiration for heart-centered lyrics in her latest album, “Chime.”  One inspiration was a relationship she had which she described as breaking up from the beginning, but they kept at it for years.  “As soon as we started dating, we started breaking up,” she said.  After years of this, she still felt her heart explode with hope when she got a call from him. She ended up screaming at herself and her heart in her car in the rain.  Why did her heart keep leaping in hope for this man when she knew intellectually that the relationship was a bad one, forever doomed?  She went so far as to have a fMRI done, in which she was shown a picture of her former boyfriend, then a picture of a man who looked like him but wasn’t him, to find in her brain where the love was so that she could erase it.  Then, once they isolated the target area, she went to a specialist to stop reacting in that way to her former boyfriend.  She saw her behavior as the equivalent of a muscle cramp. She wanted a muscle that was strong and could flex without cramping.  Afterwards, she had another fMRI to see if she had successfully rid herself of romantic love for him.  The fMRI showed that she had been successful.

I think that with any form of addiction, it can be a lot easier to see it clearly from the outside looking in than it is to see it from the inside looking out.

In a “normal” relationship, there are highs and lows, but they aren’t anything like the spikes of an addictive relationship.  It’s like comparing hills to mountains and fjords.  The highs are higher and the lows are lower in an addictive relationship.

In an addictive relationship, when your partner is attentive and happy, the sun shines brighter.  While most people experience this when first in love, it usually fades over time.  It may not fade as much in an addictive relationship because you cannot count on your partner to be this way on a regular basis.  As a result, when it happens, it is a much bigger event than when you are dealing with a person who is generally happy or even keel.  You can take for granted that your partner will be there for you, will be the same person that s/he always is.

In an addictive relationship, when your partner is sullen, withdrawn, angry, drunk again, neglectful, mean, cheating, threatening, etc., you may look to fix things so that your partner can be attentive and happy again.  You may rage against your partner.  You may cry.  Your lows are lower than they would be if you were not in an addictive relationship.  If you were not addicted to this person, then when she continuously acted this way, you would say, “Enough.”  You would not only say, “Enough,” you would act on it.  When you are addicted and chasing the high, you might say, “Enough,” but you don’t mean it.  Your partner returns to being attentive and happy, your heart blooms with hope and love, and you are still riding the rollercoaster of addiction.

Why do you do this to yourself?

1.       You may have an addictive personality.

Some of us have addictive personalities.  It is just who we are.  If we aren’t addicted to a person, we can be addicted to food, alcohol, drugs, shopping, sex, work, TV, our phones, video games, and more.

This person may feed your addictions.

2.       You may be repeating old patterns.

Some of us are recreating what we learned at an early age.

Some of us grew up with parents in addictive relationships.

Some of us lost a parent to addiction, whether because the addiction took over the parent’s life and left us with little time with the parent, or because the parent actually died from the addiction.

Some of us grew up without a parent.

Some of us grew up with parents who weren’t constant in their love for us or who showed us that love was conditional upon our meeting their needs and expectations.  We couldn’t rely on them.  We had to provide the love for them, as they couldn’t provide it for us.

Some of us were taught to put other people’s needs always before our own.  If we aren’t caretaking for others, we don’t know what to do with ourselves.

Some of us are afraid of getting close and so we do a lot to push people away, even if we really want to get close, or we think we do.

What would you like to do differently (if anything)?

If you suspect you are in an addictive relationship, take some time to answer the questions below.

1.       What do you see as signs that you are in an addictive relationship?

2.       If you could change your relationship in any fashion, what would you like to see happening instead?

3.       What are you willing to do to make your relationship better?

4.       What is the other person willing to do to make the relationship better? If you don’t know, that’s a conversation that you need to have, either on your own or with me, a mediator, counselor, or spiritual advisor, or another trusted, neutral professional.

5.       What will you do if the other person isn’t willing or able to do enough to meet your needs? (You can answer this question now or you may wait until after you have implemented the answers to steps 3 and 4.)

You can choose whether to continue with an addictive relationship.  You cannot choose whether or not the other person will relinquish their addictions or their addictive behavior for you.

Please let me know if I can help. You can reach out to me through this website or book time with me on fiverr.

A Tribute to My Favorite Co-Mediator, My Dog

Today’s blog isn’t about conflict.  It’s a tribute to my favorite co-mediator, my dog.

My dog and I had a solid relationship.  We spent a lot of time together and enjoyed each other’s company.  She was a bossy thing, but my husband says that I am a bossy thing, too.

On Monday, just four days ago, my dog died. 

For the first eight years of her life, I sheltered my dog from my work and my clients from her.  She was only in the office on days that I didn’t have private mediations.

However, in the fall of 2015, I started bringing her to the office for private mediations as well.

I wonder what she thought at that first mediation session.  It wasn’t as if I could prep her for it in advance.  “I know that you’ve been coming to the office with me for eight quiet years, but now, when you come to the office, people are going to yell and scream and you and I have to maintain calm and keep the peace.”  That’s what I would have said, if I could have said it and had her understand.  Instead, she just had to figure that all out on her own.

It worked out better than I could have hoped, as she practiced her own instinctive form of mediation.  She always greeted people enthusiastically, doing her part to make them feel at home.  If someone didn’t like dogs or didn’t want her attention, she would generally leave that person alone after the initial greeting.  Sometimes, she positioned herself between the two individuals.  Sometimes, she stayed with the person she thought needed her most.  Occasionally, she went back and forth between them.  And sometimes, she felt like I had it under control and she curled up near me and went to sleep. 

Clients looked forward to seeing her, asking after her if she wasn’t at the office when they came.

While she was being petted by a client, she would give me a look that said, “You see this?  This is how you treat a dog at the office. You should do more of this.”  I got a lot of those looks.  I thought the office was for working, not just petting the dog.

One day, my dog had gone to sleep when the clients were having civil discussions, only to be woken by their loud arguing.  She groaned loudly.  We humans laughed.  The tension was diffused and the argument softened to a disagreement.  She went back to sleep, confident that I had it under control again.

She was a good dog.

I knew she had a health issue and she had been struggling with it.  I had taken her to every vet appointment, trying to find some way to make things better for her, while watching things get slowly, inexorably worse.  I had occasionally cried to the vets and to family members, asking, “Is she going to die from this?”

At the same time, it just didn’t seem that bad.  She could still play with the dog next door or cop an attitude with a dog she didn’t like.  For the most part, she was healthy.  And most of the time, it just didn’t seem possible that she could die from this.  It’s like when someone you know dies from the flu or pneumonia.  You know intellectually that it is possible to die from the flu or pneumonia because people do die of it every year.  However, the vast majority of people survive the flu and pneumonia, so when someone you love dies from it, it takes you by surprise.

We like to believe that our loved ones will be there for us forever.  However, we all only have a finite number of days on this planet and we never know when someone’s time will be up.

Tonight, when you go home, please give your loved ones a little extra love, and let them know how much you appreciate them.  Let’s put as much love out there as we can while we are here.

How to Get Rid of 80% of Your Unhappiness in Relationships

APPLYING THE 80/20 RULE TO RELATIONSHIPS

Have you heard of the 80/20 Rule?  The theory is that 80% of consequences are a direct result of 20% of causes.

Have you ever applied it to your relationships?

When you think of your friends and family members, which 20% create 80% of your desired outcomes and happiness?

These are your peeps.  These are the people with whom you want to spend your time and, if it’s a healthy relationship, these are the people with whom you should spend your time. 

Take a moment after you’ve finished reading this and make time to get together with them.

Now, think of your friends and family members again.  Which 20% create 80% of your problems and unhappiness?

Here is the harder question.  Why are you sacrificing so much of your happiness to them?

Here are some of the answers I have heard:

“She’s my mother.”

“It’s not his fault.”

“I have nowhere else to go.”

“I’m married.  I made a commitment.”

“My (adult) son needs me.”

“I’m a rescuer at heart.”

“I’m Superman.”

“Who will take care of her if I don’t?”

“I’m too old to change now.”

“I couldn’t live with myself if I weren’t there for him.”

“He’s my brother.”

“I can’t afford to leave.”

Here are things that people often think but don’t say:

“I’m afraid no one else will love me.”

“I don’t think I deserve to be treated any better than this.”

“I’m so ashamed that it has gotten to this point.”

“I need to be needed.”

“I don’t know how to have a relationship where my needs are met, too.”

“I’m afraid of what will happen if I stick up for myself.”

“I’m afraid of change.”

Here is the part that can be too scary to even think:

“I don’t know how to put my needs first (in this instance or maybe in life).”

Here’s the reality:

First, let’s talk about the extent of problems and unhappiness you suffer as a result of the person.  Not all unhappiness is equal. 

When you have contact with this person, how do you feel on a scale of 1 – 10, with 1 being minor irritation and 10 being high level anxiety or anger, often resulting in a need to medicate yourself with food, alcohol, cigarettes, or other substances? 

How often do you currently have contact with this person?  How often do you really need to have contact with this person?  Could you decrease your time with this person?

Is the person causing you unhappiness because the person is emotionally, physically, or sexually abusive to you?  Has anyone told you the person has been abusive toward you, even if you would not describe the person as abusive?

Can you take a step back from the person to better evaluate the relationship?  Often, we don’t even know the reactions our bodies are having until we step away from the relationship.

There is a difference between someone creating 80% of your unhappiness intentionally versus unintentionally.  There is also a difference between someone creating 80% of your problems on a temporary basis versus on a permanent basis.

For example, if a loved one has cancer, you are likely to feel a great deal of unhappiness as a result.  You may be worried, angry that this person is suffering, sad, anxious, and more.  If you are married and there are medical bills piling up as a result, you may also feel anxious, worried, distressed, angry, and more.  Still, it is perfectly healthy to be there for the person as much as possible, to love the person and to also feel great pain.  You may experience caregiver fatigue and look to find ways to support yourself emotionally as a result.  You may experience caregiver fatigue and decide that you cannot do anymore.

In the alternative, if you love someone who rejects you, puts you down, always has to ensure that his needs are met (and yours are not), then it could be time to take stock of the relationship.  You know that it is not working for you – that is why you have listed it in with the relationships causing 80% of your unhappiness.

Can the relationship be fixed? Is the person willing to work on the relationship to meet your needs, too?  Is the person willing and able to talk with you, to meet in counseling or mediation to discuss it and put together a plan to get things back on track?

If it can’t be fixed, and you still want to maintain the relationship, then can it be contained?  Can you limit the amount of time that you spend with the person, spend less hours together, have a buffer present, opt for telephone contact, email, text, or Facebook instead of in person contact?

If it can’t be fixed, you know it’s not healthy, and it’s causing you a great deal of distress, it’s time to really look at why you are investing so much of your time in this person.  We have a finite amount of time on this earth.  Think of what you could do with all of that time that you currently spend unhappy.  Why is it more important to be there for that person than to be there for yourself?

Using the Four Tendencies for Happier Holidays

In her book, “The Four Tendencies,” Gretchen Rubin posits that there are four types of people in this world:  Upholder, Questioner, Rebel and Obliger.  You are likely to meet most of them at your family events over the holidays.

The Upholder loves rules and order.  She meets external expectations placed on her.  She meets her own internal expectations.

The Questioner will comply with rules if the Questioner believes that the rules are valid.  The Questioner resists having external expectations placed on her.  She meets her own inner expectations.

The Rebel instinctively rebels against any rules, no matter who is trying to set them.  He resists external expectations as well as his own internal expectations of himself.

The Obliger looks to meet the needs of others.  The Obliger meets external expectations, but resists meeting his own internal expectations.

I have assigned genders randomly.  Men and women fall into all four types.

Upholders want to know what should be done.

Questioners want to know why it should be done.

Obligers want to know what they could do to help.

Rebels want the freedom to do it however they want.

Now, think of these four people in conflict. 

The Upholder will want to know what the rules are and follow the rules.  If someone is breaking the rules, that will be a problem with the Upholder.

The Questioner will question whether the rules are valid and will only want to follow rules that make sense to the Questioner.

The Obliger will look to take care of everyone else’s needs and have a hard time expressing or even recognizing the Obliger’s own needs.

The Rebel will instinctively say no even when it is in the Rebel’s best interest to say yes.  The Rebel may come around later and change to yes, but it will be on the Rebel’s timeline and terms.

This holiday season, think about your least favorite relative.  Where does she fall in terms of the four tendencies?  Does it help to think of that person as just doing what she does best – upholding the rules or questioning everything or rebelling against everything – rather than as being a giant pain?  Do you see that her behavior makes sense from her perspective, even if it continues to be absolutely maddening from your perspective?

What about your favorite person?  Which tendency best describes him?  What are you drawn to in a person and why?

Now, which one best describes you?  If you’re not sure or you just want to make sure or you just love taking these types of tests and learning a bit more about yourself, take the Four Tendencies Quiz at happiercast.com/quiz.  What are you bringing to the table?  Where does your tendency, your beliefs and value system, get in the way of having a better interaction with your least favorite relative?  What could you take from the Four Tendencies to transform your holidays?

When in conflict, ask yourself, "What are the unmet needs?"

When you are in conflict, what are your unmet needs?  What are the unmet needs of the person with whom you are in conflict?

You may think that when you are arguing with your spouse about the dishes not getting done, that it is all about the dishes getting done.

It isn't.

There are probably other nights, maybe even a lot of other nights, when the dishes have not gotten done and you have not argued.

What is the difference between the nights that you argue about the dishes and the nights that you don't?  The unmet needs that each of you bring to the table.

Picture this.  I've worked a long day and I'm just getting home at 7:30 pm.  It's not only one long day that I've worked, though.  I worked all weekend as well, so I've really worked 9 long days in a row. 

I don't feel very well.  My stomach is bothering me.  I'm exhausted. 

I bought a can of soup on the way home because I just can't imagine either preparing a real meal or eating anything that isn't easy to digest.

I open the silverware drawer and find a couple knives and nothing else.  I know that there were clean dishes and silverware in the dishwasher that morning because I took a knife out for my breakfast, but the sign on the dishwasher is now set for dirty dishes, not clean.

"Honey, are there clean dishes or dirty dishes in the dishwasher?" I ask.

"What does the sign say?" he responds.

"Well, it says dirty, but I know that there was a lot of clean silverware in there this morning and there is no clean silverware in the drawer now."

"I thought I was doing a good thing by emptying and loading the dishwasher and that you would notice that," he responds.  "You're right.  I didn't empty the silverware."  He sounds dejected and defensive because I have noticed the bad stuff and not the good.

I have no patience for his feelings.  I'm irritated that once again, he can't be bothered to put the silverware away and now it's all dirty as a result.  I yank a soup spoon out of the dishwasher and start washing it.

It is only after I have eaten the soup that I can bring myself to thank him for taking care of the dishes and I only half mean it at best.  He responds half-heartedly as well.

This is not the first time that my husband has done this chore in this fashion.  He does not like putting silverware away.  Most of the time, it is just one of his personality quirks that I endure, just as he endures mine.  It may result in a fleeting moment of irritation on my part from time to time, but usually there is nothing more.

This time, however, I had a lot of unmet needs.  I needed rest.  I needed food.  I needed compassion.  I needed nurturing, even if only from myself.

He also had unmet needs.  He needed compassion and connection and recognition.  He had stepped up to do some chores, recognizing that I had been pulling many long days of work.  We had not spent significant time together for days.  Over that 9-day stretch, when we had had dinner together, he was the one who had made it.  I had just been too busy.

All of those needs, both his and mine, came to a head over dirty silverware.  It wasn't really about the silverware.  It wasn't even about the one soup spoon I had to wash in the moment.  It was about our needing rest and food and compassion and nurturing and connection and recognition.  That was the real discussion to be had.  Once I got some food, I could start to see that.

 

 

How to Give Your Spouse the Best Christmas Present Ever

When things are going well in a marriage, when you've been together for years and years, you can take your spouse for granted.  Of course we made it this far.  We are going to make it forever.

Or, in the alternative, you can be good about giving gifts when things are good and bad about it when things are bad.  I remember a bad patch with my husband when I didn't want us doing anything for Valentine's Day because it felt like there just wasn't any point to it.

In the divorce mediation business, I see a lot of people who either don't make it to their next holiday together or who have to celebrate at least one holiday while in the midst of their divorce.  Seeing this makes me appreciate the fragility of relationships.  I can be grateful for what I have because I could have so much less.

This Christmas, give your spouse the best Christmas present ever.  First, answer this question:  Which of the 5 Love Languages speaks most to that person: 1. Quality time; 2. Words of affirmation; 3. Gift giving; 4. Acts of service; or 5. Affection? 

Now, use that information to give your spouse a Christmas present perfectly designed to tell your spouse, "I love you."

If your spouse values quality time above all else, then give your spouse the gift of quality time.  Schedule a babysitter and go out to dinner and the theater.  Spend a day exploring a new town or city.  Go shopping with her.  Go fishing with him.  Go on vacation, even if it's a mini vacation of just a day.

If your spouse values words of affirmation above all else, then you already know that you have to give your spouse a card at every holiday and it has to be the right card.  Then you need to write at least a paragraph.  If you have the ability to write a poem, even better.  You can also whisper sweet nothings, but written words can be looked at again and again.  Did you have a memorable song, poem, or reading from your wedding?  You could have that framed. 

If your spouse values gift giving above all else, then your options are limitless.  Pick a great gift based on your spouse's interests.  Don't get a gift card.  Your spouse will want you to put more thought into it than that.

If your spouse values acts of service above all else, then you are going to get to do some chores.  What are some things that your spouse typically does for you that you could do instead?  Make dinner?  Clean the bathroom?  You could stay home doing the chores with the kids while she gets to go out with her friends for a spa day.  You could get tickets to see his favorite team and take him to the game. 

If your spouse values affection above all else, then spend the day doing little things to show affection.  Hold hands.  Kiss.  Cuddle.  Put on some music and slow dance.  Give your spouse the gift of massage.  It could be a foot massage or a back massage.  It could be that you spring for a couples massage for both of you.

Wishing you and yours the best Christmas ever!

When Your Game Face Makes You Out of Touch With Your Emotions

Our game face, or our poker face, is the face we put on for the outside world that masks what is happening for us internally.  We develop it over time, some better than others, some better at certain situations than others.  When we have our game face on, we can go out into the world feeling like a complete train wreck inside and still look pretty good on the outside.  We may look so good that those that don't know us well don't know that there is anything wrong at all.

I spent a day at the beach last month with my 20-month-old nephew.  He does NOT have a game face.  His emotions are written all over his face and they can swing wildly, depending on what is happening.

A new person?  Huge grin.  "Hiiii," he says, walking right over to meet the person.

However, if you tell him he can't eat goldfish crackers until he has just half a grape more, you get the pouty face, and he won't look at you.

I made the mistake of telling him he couldn't get the goldfish crackers himself (because his hands were covered in sand), but I was willing to feed them to him one by one (because mine were not).  This earned me an angry yell from him, which might be interpreted as something along the lines of, "You are the worst aunt in the world!"

Buddy, you have no idea.  I wish that the worst thing that ever happened to me was that somebody wanted to feed me goldfish crackers because my hands were too dirty to get them myself.

As we get older, worse things do happen to us.  Life gives us life lessons and at some point, we start to develop a game face.  We put it on at school, at work, with acquaintances, with family we don't trust, and so on.  We can get so adept with it on that we can forget what it is like to have it off.

"How are you?" someone asks.

"Good," you respond because that's the polite response, that's what's expected.  It doesn't mean that you actually are good.  It's just surface-level pleasantries.  If you know the person well enough, you may joke, "Do you really want to know?"  And if you truly trust someone, you put down the mask.  You know that when they ask, "How are you?" they really want to know the truth.

The problem with the game face is that it blunts our emotions, so we experience them less and others may not experience them at all.  It is very easy to read my nephew.  You know exactly when you have upset him and why he is upset.  He knows all of this, too.  You can react in that instant to address the problem.  You move through the conflict in five minutes or less (usually), all is forgiven and mostly forgotten, and you move on.

When you have your game face on, it is harder to emotionally hurt you in the moment.  However, by being less reactive to what is happening, you may also be dulling your senses and allowing some pretty hurtful things to take place without your knowledge.  You may internalize them and feed on them later.  You may just internalize them and have them become part of what you say to yourself, without ever processing whether you should be saying these things to yourself. You may never address the issue with the other person and the other person may never even know that there was an issue. 

Think about where and with whom you wear your game face.  Why have you chosen to maintain that facade with that person?  What keeps you from revealing your true self to that person? Are there unresolved conflicts between you?  Or does it go deeper to a lesson you learned from another person before?

Would it help to talk it through with the person who taught you to wear the mask?  (Not necessarily.) 

Would it help to process what is going on for you and whether you want to make any conscious changes?  (Probably.) 

Could Your Relationship Survive a Crisis?

Last Sunday, I broke my arm while paddleboarding.  That's a story in and of itself, but we'll save that for another day.

The bigger story, at least for the purposes of this blog, is how it impacted my relationship with my spouse and what that says about our relationship.

First, there was the immediate impact.  I called him from home, dripping wet.  "Where are you?"  I asked.  He knew from my tone that something was wrong.  He came home immediately to help me to change into something dry and accompany me to the hospital.

Two big empathy tests there and he passed both of them successfully.  Not everyone does.

1. Can your spouse discern when you are in crisis just from the tone of your voice?  Check.

2. Is your spouse there for you when you are in crisis?  Check.

Then, there is the short-term impact.  It turns out that while there is a lot you can do one-handed, there is also a lot that requires two hands.  Since your spouse still has two working hands, these chores fall to him, even those of a more personal nature. 

For example, there is clothing that requires more than one hand, but which doesn't need to be removed throughout the course of the day, and a spouse can help you to put that on in the morning and remove it in the evening.  There is other clothing that just needs to wait to be worn until you have two working hands again.

Then there are dishes to be done (can't hold a dish and wash or dry it at the same time), laundry to be done (can't fold or carry a stack of laundry or put a pillow in a pillowcase or make a bed), meals to be made (you try making dinner one-handed), floors to be swept (it's getting what you've swept into a dustpan using only one hand that's the challenge), dog to be walked (can't hold the leash and pick up poop one-handed, let alone tie the poop bag).

His chores have more than doubled.

What I can do takes twice as long and I'm learning as I go.

In the first few days, how does it go?  If you are someone who hates asking for help, as I do, then you can feel like a burden.  Truthfully, you are a bit of a burden. There's a lot more work for your spouse now, as I've pointed out.  However, in the short-term, it shouldn't be a problem.  My husband opted for the white lie:  "You're not a burden."

3. Can your spouse handle the additional work in the short-term?  Check.

4. Can you ask for what you need? Check.

Let's talk longer term.  We have been at this a week now.  It's time for a fight.  He's been doing double-duty for a week.  I have been doing less than usual, except that my body is healing a broken bone, so it's pretty sure that I'm the one working overtime.

So, we argued.  He's got a little compassion fatigue and I'm a bit frustrated and fatigued as a result of my current limitations.  It was a quick flash, followed by some time alone in separate corners, and then time to talk it through and make up.

5. Can your spouse ask for what he needs?  Check.

6. Can the two of you work through the problems that arise as a result of the shift in responsibilities?  Do you still have compassion and understanding for the other person while doing so? ("While doing so" may be extended to include not just the immediate moment.)  Check.

In times of crisis, we learn a great deal about ourselves and our partners.  We learn who will be there for us and who will not.  My spouse will be there for me.  Will yours be there for you and will you let him/her do so?