Developing Code Words

The other day my husband Chris innocently walked into the room with a request. I am normally delighted to see my husband, and I frequently like to offer assistance. Unfortunately for him, this was not one of those times and he caught me at a “not good” moment. Our sons had just arrived home from school. I was in the middle of preparing snacks, helping with homework, and prepping dinner. Chris, caught in the whirlwind of his own workload, walked into the room and did not notice the “I am maxed out!” signals on my face and in my voice.  
 
I honestly do not remember what he asked me, but it felt out of sync with the three things I was juggling. I lacked the emotional capacity for one more thing. Simply, my brain was full!
 
At first, I tried to understand what he was asking. Then, I just reacted and became frustrated. I quickly chirped, “I don’t have the capacity for this right now, please talk to me later!” Sadly, my tone was not what I would have wanted. Instead of kindness, it conveyed, “You are not seeing me right now. Can’t you tell I’m busy? I NEED SPACE!” My husband, surprised by my intensity, graciously backed off and left me to complete my tasks.
 
After my dinner preparations were stabilized and the boys were settled with their snacks and homework, I searched for Chris. Once I located him, I quickly apologized for running him over with my intensity. I shared how my tone was, well, “less than ideal.” I was able to help him with his task then I returned to my mission of dinner and homework.
 

I am deeply thankful Chris and I work on a language for the need to take a breather.

Once I reacted, Chris knew what was happening and gave me space. When I can recognize that the request or conversation is too much for my emotional capacity, I can convey what I need. Usually, this means I need a break, which makes interactions go more smoothly. On his end, I appreciated Chris respected my request.

This “backing up” increases trust and provides safety in the relationship.

To be honest, there are times Chris tells me I am overwhelming him, but I don’t want to stop the conversation. My relational brain is off, and I have shifted into a problem-solving mode where I just need him to answer one more question so I can get back to ___. (Fill in the blank with a task.) I have noticed that when I do “back off” and give him a breather, everything goes much better.

After all, who likes to feel pushed, pressured, even unprotected?

We all have moments when others do not respect the need for a breather. Honestly, it doesn’t feel good. Most of us have moments when we fail to see and respect the need for a breather in someone around us. If this is something you struggle with, I suggest the following.

  1. Notice the activity in your body. You may not be used to paying attention to the knot in your stomach, or the increasing tension in your shoulders, but your body is telling a story. Take a moment and notice what you are feeling and thinking. When you scan your body and hone your awareness of how you are feeling, it leads to better clarity for when you reach your limit and require a breather or some rest.

  2. Have a conversation with the people close to you about this. Invite friends and coworkers to tell you if they need a breather and convey there are times you may ask for a breather as well. Rather than this becoming an exchange of shame, the common language and permission provide freedom and flexibility. In our household, we have code words to remind each other to “take a deep breath” when an interaction is beginning to feel intense or head south.
It is no small task to use this important skill. As you notice the nonverbals in yourself and in other people, you will be a source of joy and blessing. Make it a goal to notice when people appear to hit their limit, even before they have to say something. The more tuned in we are, the better we will be at the joyful dance we call relationships.

Comments 6

  1. Kendra Adams
    February 8, 2018

    Love this! Thank you dearest Jen!

    1. Jen Coursey
      February 8, 2018

      Thank you Kendra, glad it was encouraging!

  2. Douglas Kellenberger
    February 8, 2018

    I can relate. Encouraging.

    1. Jen Coursey
      February 8, 2018

      Thanks Doug!

  3. Marsha Kumar
    February 8, 2018

    O wow love this. We may think we got this message but how easy it is to forget when we are in overwhelm. Thanks for being so transparent.

  4. Jeff Newburn
    February 9, 2018

    I love how you are real with real life situations, and how we can apply healthy relationship skills. Thank you!

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