One of the biggest mistakes couples make is having spontaneous, “in-the-moment” discussions about issues. Something our partner says or does triggers us and we feel instantly annoyed. Recently my wife and I were driving to a dinner party and when I glanced at the fuel gauge it was on empty. In that moment I thought to myself, “she always leaves the truck on empty!” I felt myself get triggered (emotional reaction). Note that I call the words never and always “un-relational” because they often lead to arguments and conflict. Rarely do behaviours “always” or “never” occur. Replace them with “often,” “sometimes,” “many,” etc. and you’ll avoid a lot of arguments.
Back to the “gas tank” issue. Now triggered, my knee-jerk reaction was to bring up this issue RIGHT NOW. Thankfully I did what I teach my clients to do when they’re in a similar situation. I STOPPED. I didn’t say anything. Mindfulness practice has helped me notice and be aware of sensations arising in my body that signal the early stage of an emotional reaction. It’s an alarm bell warning me that I’m on the verge of getting into an argument. Have you ever sent an email that you wish you could take back? Well, it’s like that. It was the end of a long work week and not only was the truck on empty but my “compassion tank” was also running low. I was edgy.
I took a few deep BREATHS and gave myself a chance to THINK. Here’s some thoughts that helped me keep my cool. Do I want to bring this up now when we’re on our way to a party? Is my wife open and ready to discuss this? Is the gas tank issue really an issue? And the most important thought of all was, “I’d better give this some time and if it’s still an issue I’ll bring it up later.” The next morning in our “daily check in” I brought up the gas issue and after some discussion I realized that it’s not a big deal for me. My wife assured me she would do her best to be mindful about fuel. What really matters is that I avoided an argument and I got to stay in love with my wife.
Here’s the technique:
WHOOSH (trigger, the knee-jerk reaction)
Stop. Breathe. Think. (the mindful response)
RULE: AVOID “KNEE-JERK-IN-THE-MOMENT” DISCUSSIONS