What is the most loving thing you can do for your spouse according to marriage expert Dr. David Schnarch?
Flowers? A foot rub?? Chocolate???
Nope, nope and nope (Better than chocolate?!! It’s gotta be good!)
Ok, Dr. David Scharch (perhaps my very favorite marriage expert) says that the most loving thing we can do for our spouse is to . . . . LEARN TO REGULATE OUR OWN ANXIETY!
Wait a minute you say.
Regulate MY OWN anxiety??
Pretty sure that’s my spouse’s job?
As it turns out, regulating our anxiety is actually our job, and it is a very important one.
Why is it the most loving thing we can do?
Because if we are unable to regulate our own anxiety and self-soothe, we will put that job onto those around us, namely our spouse. And they have their own anxiety to regulate.
Adding to someone else’s anxiety with the responsibility of our own is an unfair and psychologically-unhealthy thing to do.
We do it ALL. THE. TIME.
Shouldn’t my partner make me happy? Calm me down? Meet my needs? Make me whole when I feel broken? Isn’t that their job??
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but no. That’s actually your job.
Rich and I have bumped into this way of thinking many times. Here are a few examples from our lives:
I love my four children with my whole soul, but those little buggers are hard. to. manage. They wipe me out. If, at the end of the day, I am looking for my Prince Charming to come whisk me off my feet, rub those feet, and feed me grapes until my overwhelmed, frustrated and guilt-prone feelings go away, I am setting myself up to be slightly disappointed.
And I am setting Rich up to fail. We do try to be equal partners in our parenting (and I do request the occasional foot rub), but my feelings and my anxiety are not his responsibility, they are mine.
The most loving thing I can do for Rich is to regulate my own anxiety.
Rich LOVES his job. If you scrolled through the pictures on his phone, you would think his children were actually parasites in petri dishes. He loves them so.
However, as anyone who has ever been employed before may be able to tell you, a job does not come without stress. If, after a long day of tedious meetings, not getting half the things done he wanted to and having his boss disappointed in him, he expects me to take his load off his shoulders, rub those shoulders and feed him grapes until his stress and anxiety go away, well he is setting himself up to be slightly disappointed.
And setting me up to fail. I do try to empathize with Rich’s work-related stress and let him relax when he gets home (and he does request the occasional shoulder rub), but ultimately his feelings and his anxiety are not my responsibility. They are his.
The most loving thing Rich can do for me is to regulate his own anxiety.
This is probably making sense in the above examples since the source of stress in both cases was something outside the spouse’s control, but what about when the source of stress IS our spouse??
Same rules apply.
This is a common misconception.
It is easy to think that if someone else has disappointed us, made us angry or offended us in some way that it is THEIR job to fix OUR emotions. We were the wronged ones after all. However, this line of thinking gives the responsibility of our emotions to someone else.
And when we expect someone else to take responsibility for our own anxiety . . .
Danger Will Robinson indeed.
Our emotions are no one’s responsibility but our own. Always and forever.
In fact, another common misunderstanding is thinking that another person or situation CAUSES us to be angry or disappointed. It is never another person or situation that causes us to be angry or disappointed, it is our THOUGHTS about that person or situation that cause us to be angry or disappointed.
This is good news and bad news. The good news is that WE GET TO CONTROL our thoughts! And ergo, our emotions. Yay! The bad news is that well, we are responsible for our emotions and it is SO much easier to put that responsibility on someone else than it is to own up to it and accept it.
It can kind of be a bummer.
Ok, so we’ve established that the ability to regulate our own anxiety is the most loving thing we can do for our spouses.
That’s great, that’s good. Let’s do it.
Oh. But HOW?!?
Stick with us, for the rest of the month we are going to be talking about how to regulate our own anxiety. Next post I’ll be talking about the best tool I’ve ever come across for self-soothing.
(I feel like I’m breaking for commercial). So stick with us we’ll be riiiight back!