We have evolved for survival, not happiness. Life is difficult, for everyone…
As M. Scott Peck, author of “The Road Less Traveled” stated, accepting that life is difficult makes it less difficult. A common myth in our culture is that human beings are naturally meant to be happy and if we’re not, something must be wrong. This pervasive belief has some very nasty mental health consequences – depression, anxiety disorders and paradoxically, unhappiness. It’s this belief and expectation that sets us up for failure and unnecessary struggle. Think of how many times you’ve heard someone say, “I just want to be happy.” The underlying assumption in the word “just” implies that that being happy is a small, trivial and otherwise completely reasonable expectation of life.
The truth is we have evolved for SURVIVAL, NOT HAPPINESS. Our brains are hardwired for survival and when we feel threatened, either real or imagined, it’s very difficult to problem solve effectively and next to impossible to be compassionate. Compassion and fear are incompatible emotional states. Instead of working together as a team, couples find themselves at odds with each other – arguing about money, blaming each other and disconnecting.
5 coping strategies for couples:
1. Realize the opportunity. When I was thinking about this topic, I remembered an old quote, “10% is what happens and 90% is how you react,” or, said another way, it’s not what happens to you, it’s what you do about it. The word crisis in Chinese is two symbols combined – ? & ?. The first is one means “crisis” and the second stands for “opportunity.” The fact is all couples go through tough times and for many it’s an opportunity for positive change, to get closer and resolve long standing issues.
2. Be approachable. This is both physical and emotional. I talk about this to all of my clients because it’s absolutely necessary for success in all relationships. It can be hard to do under duress but it’s worth it. It’s the difference between competition and cooperation, heaven and hell. Friends cooperate, enemies compete. Social mammals relate to one another in one of three ways – attack, avoid or approach. Which way sounds better to you?
3. Have fun together. Couples that play together stay together. Set boundaries with your kids, work, hobbies, volunteering, electronic devices, etc. Have a weekly low or no-cost date night, connect every day and make sure you have a good child management system in place to manage your kids. For those of you with kids, ask yourself, “are you as dedicated to your relationship as you are to being a parent?”
4. Avoid avoidance. One of the worst things couples do during hard times is to avoid talking about money and finances. Face the facts of the situation openly and directly. Put all of the cards on the table and don’t leave anything out. Have regular meetings to stay updated.
5. Develop an action plan. Get into survival mode. Be creative and and develop a mindset of frugality. Cut back on discretionary spending, set a budget and stick to it. A good rule of thumb is to cut spending in half. A great website for being resourceful (and making it fun) is simpleliving.com.
There’s no better time for couples to focus on their relationship than during difficult economic times. The last thing couples need in times like this is conflict and hostility – or god forbid separation and divorce. I always say to couples considering divorce, “if you think you have problems now… separating will almost certainly become your next BIGGER problem.”