Tag: Couple

When Things Turn Ugly

One evening after the boys were in bed I walked into the kitchen to hear Chris muttering under his breath. When he spotted me he proclaimed in frustration, “If you don’t clear out this cabinet I am going to throw all this junk away!” Wow! Where did this come from? I was caught off guard by my usually mellow husband’s intensity.

I immediately became defensive and angry. I met and raised his intensity with, “You cannot throw away my stuff! And if you do, then I will throw away your junk from the garage!” Wow! Where did that come from? I was quick and pointed in return.

We went back and forth a couple more times with short gunfire bursts of snappiness then we decided it was time to catch our breath. As you can see, this interaction was escalating and going nowhere fast.

I found a quiet place and turned to Jesus feeling very frustrated and angry. I poured out my upset to Jesus and told Him how miserable I was feeling. As I focused on talking with Jesus about how I was feeling (rather than expressing all the things I wanted Him to fix in Chris in that moment) I started to feel peaceful. I also realized I was feeling powerless in my interaction with Chris. My response to feeling powerless had been to make myself feel powerful by threatening to recycle Chris’ stuff in the garage. In truth, this was not an effective technique. Our upset had quickly escalated our misunderstanding which then widened the relational rupture between us. Our emotional brain was amplifying anger back and forth at six cycles per second – which is pretty fast. This means our emotional reactions were driving a Lamborghini sports car while our will power was driving a horse and buggy. We react first, we think second.

Jesus also showed me that Chris’ angry moment was actually a moment of weakness for him. I felt reminded that my goal whenever weakness arises is to stay tender. This thought really caught me off guard because I didn’t feel tender! “You mean, my husband was having a moment of weakness? But he was angry. He seemed powerful – not weak!” I exclaimed to Immanuel.

As I thought about this more, I began to understand that it is not like Chris’ heart to react towards me in anger or with threats. My shepherd husband was having a moment of weakness because he was not living from his heart. He forgot who he was. This realization provoked compassion towards him. My frustration melted.

After calming down we came back together to repair and connect. I apologized for my reaction. Chris also apologized to me. I shared with him the insight Jesus gave me about feeling powerless and I my reactionary attempt to be powerful. Chris also explained that the travel mug had fallen out of the cupboard on top of his head for the third time this week right before I walked into the kitchen. His frustration was a vain attempt to solve that problem.

We both acknowledged we could have handled this interaction so much better. We agreed to work on staying tender toward each other’s weaknesses.

What do you do when you feel powerless and out of control? Have you ever thought of someone’s anger as a moment of weakness? These may be new thoughts for you and I want to encourage you to read more about this in the book, Joy Starts Here. I suspect you, like Chris and I, will have a lot of practice learning how to be tender toward others.

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Flames of Fury

The other day Chris and I had a couple of interactions that did not go smoothly. Ok, this is an understatement. I walked away from them feeling FURIOUS. I felt boiling mad…imagine steam coming out of my ears!

I tried to calm down, but it wasn’t working like usual. Thankfully, the kids were not around at the time so I opted for a little alone time and talked with Jesus about my big feelings. As I interacted with Him, the intensity of my feelings did not lessen like they usually do. However, I began to realize that maybe, just maybe, I was overreacting; a little bit. It occurred to me that Chris and I often have misunderstandings, and usually I feel frustrated and we quickly recover to joy. This time was different. I didn’t feel frustrated, I felt FURIOUS. I wasn’t recovering. I gave my feelings and the situation to Jesus then I asked Him what else He wanted me to know. I realized I was feeling way out of control and like my husband did not care about what was important to me, which, sadly, is a familiar feeling from my past. While the interaction with Chris was upsetting, the intensity I was feeling was out of proportion for the current situation. My past was unapologetically invading my present.

If there is something I have learned over the years, it is this. When I react with out-of-proportion intensity, there is more going on than meets the eye. This is known as being triggered, and our friend Dr. Karl Lehman also identifies this as unprocessed implicit memory, which refers to the feelings that are present without the information or details that go with the feelings. When a situation in present day life unconsciously reminds me of unresolved feelings (or situations) from the past, we call this being “triggered.” The difficulty with being triggered is we usually do not recognize it at the time and the intense feelings from the past spill into the current situation. What should be a minor frustration sky rockets into big and unmanageable emotions that are “off the charts.” In these moments nothing is going to go well until I can can quiet and have Jesus help me turn down the intensity from the past enough to resolve the problem in the present.

A number of things help me when I am triggered. Sometimes the simple act of quieting is enough. Since this is the easiest, I usually start there. If I need more, I talk with Jesus about how I am feeling and invite Him to help me calm down or show me what He wants me to know about the situation. This helps me feel seen, validated and understood so that I am not so alone in my feelings. I find that practicing appreciation warms up my brain and greatly increases the chances that I will be able to sense Jesus’ presence – even in the midst of my distress. When I have quieted and can clearly see where my past feelings are active, I can see the present problem and take responsibility for my part in the current situation.

After calming down I was able to follow-up with Chris on our earlier interactions. I could now own that the intensity of my reaction from earlier was not justified by the situation. I was able to express to him how I felt hurt by our interaction. My patient husband heard me and was apologetic. We discussed how the situation could be handled differently next time around. We were able to come up with a plan that felt good to both of us and we felt like we were again on the same team. Peace and joy was restored.

It is amazing how quickly things can spiral downward when triggered feelings go unrecognized. In most cases, our spouse has the response, “You are overreacting!” We may be overreacting but when our past pain includes feeling invalidated or minimized,things will be more explosive. Once we are able to calm down, recognize where the past is sneaking into the present and turn down the volume on the big feelings, the interaction has a much higher chance of resolving in a more satisfying way for everyone.

To learn more about triggers and implicit memory, I highly encourage you to read Outsmarting Yourself by Dr. Karl Lehman here or attend one of our Joy Rekindled Marriage Retreats to practice useful skills.

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When my dreams met reality

Ever since I can remember, I always longed to be a mother. I love children. Growing up I spent much time babysitting children and I volunteered as a leader at Vacation Bible School. I watched my nephews when they were little and I frequently remember people telling me that I was going to be a great mommy one day. It took us longer than we planned to get pregnant, but from the moment I found out there was a little life growing inside of me, I was thrilled. I was filled with a bubbling anticipation and I can remember talking to the baby in my tummy each day, telling him what fun he, Daddy and I were going to have. With a big grin I would tell him how excited I was to one day hold him in my arms.

As my due date approached, I entered full swing into nesting, scrubbing the floor on my hands and knees, decorating his room, washing and folding all his clothes and stockpiling diapers. My due date came and went and I became restless. Finally, at 9pm on a Tuesday evening my first labor pain arrived. It was happening! I was finally going to hold my baby in my arms! After a longer labor than I realized was possible, it was Thursday evening at 8pm when my little boy was placed in my arms and I fell in love. My heart swelled up, my eyes teared up and I felt like I could burst. I didn’t realize I could feel this deeply toward someone I had just met, but it took my breath away that this little life in my arms was my baby boy. At last, I was finally a mommy. My lifelong dream was realized in that moment, but my new life was just beginning.

From the start, things didn’t go as planned. After being awake for three days in labor, I was exhausted. The delivery took a toll on me. I was unable to get out of bed by myself for the first three days. I had difficulty walking during the first month. I needed help with my baby, but I knew as soon as I recovered and we arrived home, the wonderful bliss of being a mother could fully set in. I was right…sort of.  I fell more in love each day with our baby boy, but I didn’t have much of a chance to recover. From the start Matthew was a colicky baby. He would cry for no reason even when everything was right in his world (fed, clean diaper, burped, held). He wouldn’t sleep for more than ten minutes unless someone was holding him. I couldn’t sleep unless someone else was holding him, so those first months were a sleepless blur. I was very blessed to have the help of family and friends so that I could catch a little sleep here and there, but I remember thinking “This is not how motherhood is supposed to be, I am supposed to be delighting in every moment with my baby, but instead I am so tired I just want to scream!” Here I had dreamed of this moment my entire life, and instead of soaking in the delight, I was questioning whether I was really cut out for this parenting business. I remember telling God that He might have the wrong person for the job. I wasn’t sure I was cut out to be a mom, at least not the kind of mom I felt my baby boy deserved.

Nothing about parenting has gone the way I planned. In fact, many of us are unprepared for parenting because in our culture most families are small and often live far away from extended family. Few of us grew up in a large family where we were the older sibling learning to care for our newborn brother or sister much less having the example of our parents as they navigate the overwhelm of young children. The reality of parenting a newborn, or multiple young children at once, is something foreign to most of us and the dreamy picture that many movies paint does not include the sleepless nights and postpartum emotions running rampant. Starting with a colicky baby who didn’t sleep who would scream for no reason left me helpless, feeling inadequate and, well, like a failure. My son eventually grew out of waking every hour during the night, although we have moved on to ADD and hyperactivity, asthma, migraines with food allergies – which add new dimensions that I had not anticipated. Of course, there have been seasons that have gone smoothly. Ironically, when our second child was born, this was one of those “calmer” seasons. Even though I had a newborn and a 21-month old at home, it was easier than it had been with only my first when he was a newborn. While Andrew still was not an “easy baby” – you know the kind you hear about from your friends who sleep 12 hours a night the week after they arrive home from the hospital – the transition from having one to two went better than I expected. Matthew welcomed his younger brother and was actually kind to him. Thankfully, he never struggled with jealousy or insecurity over sharing me and his Daddy with a new little person. As they grew, both boys have enjoyed playing together and turned out to be great companions for each other (despite the many moments of brotherly teasing.) Even in the seasons when things have gone relatively smoothly, I am discovering that being a mother means living in almost constant overwhelm. The baby needs to be fed, dinner needs to be started, the house is a mess, the laundry basket transformed into a mountain bigger than my washer and the sink is overflowing with dirty dishes. Or as the boys get older, I need a shower, the kids are hungry for breakfast, we are running late for school, I haven’t packed the picnic lunch I am supposed to bring for our playdate in the park this afternoon, the baby needs a clean diaper and the house is still in disarray. There is always more to do than I can keep up with at any given time. I used to pride myself on my organization skills, my completed to do lists and my ability to arrive early to every meeting. In this season of life, those seem to be things of the past.

With each season of life the overwhelm is different. In fact, it often feels like we have finally figured out “this parenting thing” just as our children grow into a new development stage and change the rules on us, or life throws us a curve ball. For us, one of our big curve balls has been when Chris injured his back a few years ago. At first it seemed like a minor injury, but as time went on he kept getting worse. He continued to decline until things were so bad he was only able to work a couple of hours a day and then was in so much pain he had to lay down on ice packs the rest of the day, and his head was fuzzy with little sleep. During the worst of his pain he was not able to bend or lift, which meant I could not leave our two or four-year old with him for any length of time because he was unable to care for them. It was a miserable time for me as well as for Chris, as he disliked feeling so debilitated and unable to play with his boys or help around the house. At this point I was parenting solo, while also trying to keep things going around the house as well as the ministry we run. To be honest, this felt like the perfect storm. Solo parenting due to a disabled spouse or even an absent partner makes everything harder and requires extra grace with ourselves and useful tools to make it through the day and still be able to say, “I did the best I could today with the circumstances I was dealt, I don’t regret how I handled things.”

I don’t consider myself a perfect mom. In fact, the truth is there are no perfect moms. We all make mistakes. Every one of us encounters seasons where the load facing us is more than we can bear on our own. We all have days when we feel like failures, and we want to lock ourselves in a closet for some peace of mind and a bit of quiet. When we are in the overwhelming seasons, it is easy to just wish it away and tell yourself everything will be better when…  The good news is that we do not have to wait for our circumstances to change in order to find joy in our lives. We no longer have to regret how we acted or responded to someone. We can look back on these times and reflect with a sense of satisfaction that our actions reflected what was truly important to us even in the midst of more than we could handle.
I am very blessed to be a part of the Life Model Works ministry. My life has been transformed by the 19 brain-based relational skills we train through our events. These are the skills essential to navigating life and relationships based on the latest discoveries in brain science as well as what scripture says about how God created us. Many of these skills have been crucial to the survival of my sanity during these early years of parenting when life feels overwhelming. My husband Chris and I are passionate about these skills that have so drastically changed our lives. It is a gift to train others to learn the skills and pass them on to others. I desire to share with you the tools that have carried me through the baby and preschool years with my sanity intact. These skills can help you do more than just survive those hard times but actually raise a thriving family in the midst of overwhelm. I know that when life is overwhelming the last thing I would want to hear are details how the brain works. Simply, I wanted something to help me survive the craziness, now! I want to share with you the tools and solutions that can bring you peace – without bogging you down with too many details. If you are interested in more information on the skills and how the brain works, I will use this blog to point you to additional resources where you can learn more.