A few weeks ago during our weekly check in, Rich and I got into a disagreement.
I was getting frustrated because HE was getting frustrated. He was getting frustrated because I was getting frustrated. And around and around we went.
I struggle sometimes since I listen to so many self-help podcasts and read so many books, I have this really awesome, never annoying tendency to think I have the solution to everyone’s problems.
Everyone really loves this about me and never finds it imposing at all . . . .
Anyway, being the know-it-all that I am, I was trying to get my husband to see that this circumstance he was frustrated with was just that – a circumstance. And great news- our CIRCUMSTANCES never make us miserable, its our THOUGHTS about our circumstances that make us miserable (right Jody Moore?).
Great news I say- you don’t actually HAVE to be frustrated about this at all! Perfect. Bam. Solved your problem.
Weirdly, Rich didn’t take it this way.
I’m being flippant, but our conversation about this actually got rather heated and I woke up the next morning feeling really annoyed that he didn’t see my side of things.
Thankfully, I have this extremely helpful tool I like to whip out when I’m frustrated, disappointed or upset about something. I use it time and time again and it has calmed my anxiety immensely. (the conclusion of this story is at the bottom of the post, but don’t look ahead! the middle of this post is important!)
Learning how to self-soothe? Do I have to?
This whole month on Marriage Laboratory is going to be dedicated to self-soothing and regulating your anxiety. And guys, this is SUCH an important topic.
So important in fact that, as we established last week, marriage expert Dr. David Schnarch says that learning to regulate our anxiety is THE MOST loving thing we can do for our partners.
Really? The most loving?
What about when we’re feeling mistreated and need to bring it up to our spouse? THE most loving thing we can do is to regulate our anxiety.
What about when we had a hard day at work and want our spouse to take care of us? THE most loving thing we can do is to regulate our anxiety.
What about when we’re feeling lonely? Or our kids say “MAMA!” 76 times a day? Or when a family member hurts our feelings? THE most loving thing you can do for your spouse is to regulate your anxiety.
Please don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not saying we have to be positive and chipper all the time, particularly not in-authentically. I’m not saying we have to hide our negative emotions around our spouse. And I’m not saying its not perfectly healthy to ask for a massage, some time alone or a favor from your spouse in order to help you regulate yourself.
What I am saying is that when we have negative emotions, we need to be very clear in our own minds whose responsibility it is to deal with those negative emotions regardless of the source (even if the source is our spouse).
What is this mystical, magical self-soothing tool?
Alright, so now that we’ve recapped WHY we need to self-soothe- HOW do we do that???
I used to think self-soothing meant suppressing my emotions. Something would bother me and I would think, “That is not a nice thought. I’ll ignore it and hope it goes away.” La la la la, don’t think about it, don’t think about it, don’t think about it.
I now realize that ignoring and suppressing my negative emotions is not the same as dealing with them. Dealing with them, looking them in the eye, giving them a name and then an outlet feels SO much better. My negative emotions then don’t have to explode out or slowly ooze out in the form of less healthy coping mechanisms later.
Learning how to deal with my disappointments, overwhelm and frustration in a healthy way has been the most loving thing I have done for Rich in recent years. Truly.
Here’s my favorite tool when I’m feeling anxious or upset:
BYRON KATIE’S JUDGE YOUR NEIGHBOR WORKSHEET. (not a sponsor)
I first read Byron Katie’s book Loving What Is a few years back. The book was good, but this worksheet included in it has been LIFE CHANGING for me.
Its like giving myself therapy. A good therapist will offer you a healthy outlet for your emotions, help you question the stories you tell yourself and help you realize that you are in charge of your thoughts, feelings and actions. This worksheet does all of those things.
How does it work? Break it down for me.
Start with something that is bothering you about another human being (these statements almost always involve the word “should”).
Let’s take the example “Rich should try to understand my point of view.”
First you fill out the first six questions of the worksheet, which allow you to get allllll those negative feelings on paper. I love how in question 5 “What do you think of them in this situation?” Byron Katie specifically says, “Be petty and judgmental.”
Like I said before, I spend a good amount of effort trying to suppress all petty and judgmental feelings towards others, but for some reason allowing myself to go hog wild in writing down my petty and judgmental thoughts is so. freeing!
When I first started doing this, I was hesitant that if I let this part of myself out, it would be hard to reign it back in. This hasn’t been my experience at all. It actually feels like a release.
I write it down and just in the act of writing it down, those thoughts release their hold on me. Turns out paper is a MUCH better outlet for negative feelings than my kids and my husband are 🙂 (not to mention the contents of my fridge).
So then, once all the negative stuff is out on paper, you move onto where the magic happens- the four questions and turnarounds.
“Rich should try to understand my point of view.”
1. Is it true? Sure.
2. Can I be absolutely certain it is true? Well, no.
3. How do you react, what happens when you believe this thought? I feel misunderstood, I victimize myself. I become resentful toward Rich and don’t want to share my vulnerable points of view with him. I feel frustrated and annoyed. I argue with him in my head, further convincing myself my point of view is right.
4. Who would you be without this thought? I would be more relaxed. I would be more loving and understanding toward Rich. I would be free to really listen to Rich’s point of view instead of stuck convincing him of mine.
(those last two questions are really, really important in any situation of annoyance).
Now you turn around your statement in three ways and come up with three reasons why the new statement might be true. For example:
I should try to understand my point of view.
– I should clarify what exactly I think.
– I should seek to understand what exactly is bothering me about this situation.
– I should be in tune with both my thoughts and emotions around this topic.
I should try to understand Rich’s point of view
– Um, yes. If I want him to understand me, I should try to understand him.
– I need to practice active listening instead of thinking of my point of view when he talks.
– I need to put in just as much effort in understand him as I want him to in understanding me.
Rich shouldn’t try to understand my point of view.
– Rich is his own person, I don’t need to control his thoughts.
– I don’t need him to understand me perfectly in order to love him.
– Rich needs to figure out his life in his own way, on his own timeline.
Done and done.
But doesn’t this make me a doormat?
Once, after reading this post also about the “Judging Your Neighbor” worksheet, I had a friend straight up tell me to my face that the post made her angry. Gosh, I really love her for that (more people should tell me I’m wrong- it would improve upon my know-it-all tendencies)!
She said something like, “So what, we’re supposed to just be wrong about everything that makes us mad and let our spouse win every argument? I’m not always the one at fault in every situation, and I have no desire to become a doormat.”
I’ve thought about her words so many times since then. I can totally see her point of view.
But the point of the exercise is NOT to prove ourselves wrong and our spouses right. The point is NOT to change our minds about what angers us (even though it may seem that way).
The point, rather, is to QUESTION our thoughts, to zoom out our perspective, to see from the eyes of another, to allow room for the possibility our thoughts are not the final line in truth.
When I do the exercise, I don’t try to convince myself of anything. I don’t try to convince myself I’m wrong or right, I just answer the questions. On paper. That’s it. I don’t try to think too hard about anything. Merely by honestly answering the questions, something in my heart changes every time I do it.
Even though I made three cases for the thought “Rich shouldn’t try to understand my point of view.” I still think he should. But I have explored an opinion other than my own.
And that exploration is so, so important.
Why is this tool so helpful in regulating anxiety?
I mentioned this is like giving therapy to yourself specifically in three ways. Those three ways are how filling out the Judging Your Neighbor worksheet helps to regulate your anxiety:
1. Provides a healthy outlet for your emotions.
Not having a healthy outlet for emotions is behind SOOOOO many marriage problems. Instead of digging in and facing our emotions, we instead want to NUMB them by reaching for ice cream or video games or self-assured rage or controlling others or porn. So many numbing agents that cause so many problems.
If instead of reaching for our favorite numbing agent when we are feeling upset or disappointed or angry or overwhelmed, if we would reach for our journal and allow all our emotions to exit our bodies via paper, gosh what better marriages we would have!!
2. Helps you question the stories you tell yourself.
We so often fall victim to our thoughts. We believe them to be unquestioned reality, when in fact they may not represent reality AT ALL. Thoughts like, “My husband is always mad at me.” “My wife is never satisfied with me.” Or even, “I am totally right about this issue.” THESE NEED TO BE QUESTIONED!
Our minds are such tricky little buggers. These thoughts that go unquestioned dictate how we act and how we show up around our spouse. Our thoughts create our results.
How we think about our marriages and our spouses create our reality, not the other way around.
I know, right?
3. Helps you realize that you are driving the bus.
Filling out this worksheet helps you remember that YOU are in charge of your thoughts, feelings and actions, and not only in charge of them, but responsible for them. And if you are in charge, you can change them. You can try on another thought that might suit you better. Another thought that may provide better feelings and a better reality.
As Brene Brown says, “If we own the story, then we can write the ending.”
These three tools combined-a healthy outlet for emotions, questioning our stories and owning our own responsibility in our stories- are like a 1-2-3 jab, cross, uppercut combo to your anxiety. BAM-O!
Take that anxiety!
Do I have to write it down?
Yes you do.
The key is to WRITE IT DOWN. For some reason, doing it in my head almost has the opposite effect for me- I fixate on the negative and convince myself I’m right. BUT when I write it down its like my negativity just oozes out of me and I’m able to think clearly enough to start to question my thoughts.
I remember the first time I ever filled out the “Judge Your Neighbor” worksheet. I was in the middle of reading Loving What Is and I was upset with Rich for something or other. Before one of our weekly check ins, I filled it out.
I was SO amazed at how quickly my anxiety left me. Left to my own devices, it would have taken me days to accomplish what the worksheet did in minutes. I felt calm, in control and ready to give Rich the benefit of the doubt.
It doesn’t solve all of our problems, but it does help me come to our difficult conversations with a clear mind and loving heart.
I find this tool so useful that I bought a little red notebook and copied down all the prompts on the Judge Your Neighbor worksheet on the front pages. I keep this little red notebook under my bed and when something is really bothering me, I get it out and answer the question prompts for whatever is bothering me. I use it at least once a month. I call it giving myself therapy.
I can’t overstate how helpful my little red notebook has been for me.
And when it is full, I do plan to burn it because ain’t nobody need to read that.
The end of the story
And now for the conclusion of the story that started this post.
So I was upset with Rich for thinking that his circumstances (instead of his thoughts ABOUT his circumstances) are making him miserable. I put the statement- “Rich should see that his circumstances do not have to make him miserable” through the four questions and turnarounds.
When I wrote the turnaround, “I should see that my circumstances do not have to make me miserable.” I literally slapped my forehead.
I was doing the EXACT same thing he was! I was thinking that my circumstance of Rich not seeing my point of view was responsible for making me miserable, when really it is my thoughts about this circumstance that are responsible.
I really don’t think I would have ever seen that if I hadn’t written it out and questioned my story.
I bet your problems are like that too. Sometimes we need a little outside perspective, which can come from questioning ourselves.
It is oh so helpful and healthy.
How can I participate in this self-soothing marriage magic?
So glad you asked!
This tool has been so helpful and healthy for me that I am making it THIS MONTH’S LOVE EXPERIMENT!!
Here’s how you can participate and create your own experiment:
- Print off this PDF of the Judge Your Neighbor worksheet (maybe a few, maybe more than a few 😉 )
- Wait until you are really bothered by someone, be it your spouse or someone else.
- When it happens, get excited knowing you have just the tool to get through those negative emotions.
- Get out said PDF and fill it out (write down answers to the four questions and the turnarounds on the back of the paper since there isn’t room at the bottom)
- Without trying to convince yourself of anything, notice how much better you feel after having filled it out.
- Repeat whenever you feel flooded with negative emotions.
- Pat yourself on the back for giving your spouse the most loving gift of all- regulating your own anxiety!