Things were tense around here the other day. And by “things” I mean Al, my husband, was tense. And I do not make it easier on him, because when he gets tense, I get tenser. When he gets angry, I get angrier. When he’s in a bad mood, I catch it like a cold. If I could change just one thing about our relationship, I would change the way we interact in tense times.
It’s not even like those fights (some might say “disagreements” but at our house it’s louder than that) are about anything important. What’s happening underneath the surface tension is not even evident to us. We just get locked in battle and both end up defending our side and things just snowball.
It’s ridiculous. I hate it. I want to change the way we are with each other when things are not perfect. So of course I googled it. “What to do when my husband starts fight” or some such pithy search term.
I found out some interesting things. First, Al didn’t start the fight. I did! Because he was tense, I could tell by the way he was acting and the things he was saying and finally I was just sick of it and yelled at him to stop being so mean.
“I’m not being mean, you are!” Al said. Yes, at 64 years of age, this is the level of our discourse when we are upset.
Note that I “yelled” and Al “said” ~ he might have said it in a fed-up tone. We have been here before. All too often. I’m so tired of it. But I’ve also grown used to it. I had just about given up hope for change. I’d just have to “put up” with him when he was in a bad mood.
Then an article from Psychology Today gave me a much needed new perspective. And a way to fix the way we fight. It is true that I can’t change Al’s bad mood. It’s in the house, and I have to deal with it. Because I easily “catch” other people’s moods (and this is true for many people, not just me) it’s almost as difficult for me to change the way I deal with Al’s moods as it is to make it like his bad mood never happened.
But hey, I love learning, so I read on. We can’t control that another person has a bad mood and we can’t control that we catch that bad mood. What we CAN do, although it’s tricky, is to temper our reaction to that mood. For example, I yell. What I can learn to do instead is to take a breath and think about how I want to yell in the moment, but remind myself that that’s what I always do, and it makes things worse, not better.
So I can feel the way I’m catching Al’s mood, feel the emotion of it, and, instead of yelling, think about a better way to respond. I did start out responding better. Yelling was not my first response. First I tried to be compassionate. “I know how you feel.” I reminded him of a specific instance that had happened to me (losing track of important paperwork) which was exactly what he was irritated and upset about. I think I said “I know how you feel” three times in response to his irritated “Where is it?” His bad mood wasn’t soothed by my empathy. So I got out my journal and vented a little bit in it. That always helps me. His bad mood didn’t like that, either.
So then I yelled. What I could have done was just say “I need some space for a little while” and take my journal into my sweet little writing room. That would have solved everything. Al wouldn’t have said anything to that. He would have been okay with me leaving the room, dignity intact.
Part of what I begin to feel when the yelling and swearing starts is embarrassed and sad. I do not like yelling and swearing at my husband. I want to act mature and loving at all times at my age. But because my emotions are so many and so huge at these times, some get buried under other ones, which makes me even angrier. Because anger is the top emotion for me when we fight.
Al is calm and I am excitable. One of the many things I loved about him from the first was how zen he is. I wanted to be like that! I still do! Al would have gotten over his bad mood fairly quickly had I not lost my temper. Instead, he dug in when I yelled, as he always does. A man has his pride, even a almost always calm man.
We both want to win. But I realize now that I want to win at more than who can yell the loudest (it is always me) and who can swear most creatively and fluently (again, always me). I want to win at taking my own emotions in hand. I want to learn to be excellent at controlling my reactions. I still want, after all these years, to be calm like Al. With disagreements and a lot of other things, too.
So yesterday I told Al that I am up for his bad moods and tense moments in future. And I really need to be as he is retiring soon and we will be together a lot. We will be together in our little Florida condo much longer than we’ve ever been before. So any moodiness on Al’s part (and there will be moodiness and even, occasionally, snark) will be good practice in taming my own angry responses.
I’d like to tame all kinds of my typical responses, and not just to Al. For example, my craving response to even the thought of sugar. I can think about my favorite bakery’s white chocolate cranberry scones for hours a day for several days. Not even kidding. What this does is set me up for failure, because the next time I am in any store that sells any type of sugary treat, I will buy a lot of it and eat it all.
If I could tame the beast that is my response to just those two things, it would be a big life win for me. Mental and physical. So, I’ll see how it goes. And I’ll keep you posted!