Last night there was a huge misunderstanding with my husband. My babysitter's kids were sick, and I had a class I needed to teach today. I had already cancelled once, so I was panicking trying to find somewhere for my kids to go so I didn't have to cancel twice. I asked my husband if he could take the morning off, to which he said, "it would be impossible."
I scrambled, texting friends nearby who might be willing to watch them a couple hours. I could tell my husband felt bad, and he came and said, "is there anyone else you can ask? I can try and move a mountain so I can stay home, but I just want to make sure we've exhausted all options." To which I replied, "don't worry about it. I'll take care of it."
And I did. A sweet soul responded that she could take the kids. Success! The weight was lifted. However, unbeknownst to me, my husband was also shifting things around. And triumphantly he turned just minutes later and said, "Ok. I moved the mountain. I can stay home in the morning."
Confusion and frustration hit me. Didn't I say don't worry about it? He had to move all this stuff around for my puny little business, and it wasn't even that big of a deal to ultimately cancel again. I just didn't want my pride to be hurt a second time. I didn't even say thank you as he shared the news. I didn't do much of anything, actually. He was beaming, and then quickly became as confused and frustrated as I was.
My internal story: I told him don't worry about it! And now one of us is going to look stupid as we cancelled our "moved mountain." Why didn't he just let me take care of it? I'm capable of taking care of myself. Now his office is going to think I'm an idiot.
His internal story: I moved a mountain for her. Why isn't she grateful? I cancelled one of the biggest parts of my week just for her, and she couldn't even say thank you. I don't even know why I try sometimes.
Both of us angry. Neither of us were at fault. So what do you do?
First, you must must MUST get curious about why you're so frustrated or angry (or whatever other emotion is flaring.) My internal story was blaming him for not listening to me, and creating shame around my "little" business getting in the way of our family. His internal story was blaming my ingratitude, and stomping on his vulnerable act of kindness. These stories were creating our own internal frustration. NOT the other person's behavior.
Next, ask yourself good, productive questions to get to the root cause of your emotions and behavior. Here are some I used in my situation: Why am I frustrated? I told him I would take care of it, and I think he should have let me try. Why did I want to try and take care of it myself? Because my husband already does so much for us, and I didn't want to add one more thing to his plate. I also wanted to prove to myself that I am capable of doing these things. Why do I want to prove I'm capable? Because I think I'm weak and lazy, and I want to be able to prove to myself I'm not.
A-HA! The real culprit of why I'm frustrated. I have a deep seeded belief that in order to be a good, successful person I need to be strong and capable, but I currently don't think I am. (note: EVERYTHING comes back to fear or shame.) So really, I'm not frustrated with my husband at all. I'm frustrated at myself and my perceived imperfections and weaknesses. My frustration is really deep rooted shame because I don't feel good enough or capable enough. This is amazing information to have, because now I know that my work isn't in controlling my husband's actions and behavior, but within my internal self; my own beliefs and perceptions that are creating disharmony outwardly in my marriage and other relationships as well.
Lastly, use compassion and be willing to work through discomfort. If you could only view your spouse (or loved one) from a place of compassion, how would your internal story change? For my circumstance it would look like this:
Why did he cancel his morning, even though I told him not to? He wanted to be supportive of my business, and knows that the childcare responsibility is mostly left up to me. He wanted to help. Why is he acting withdrawn and upset after our encounter? He feels hurt from his own internal story that I wasn't grateful for his action. Am I grateful for his actions? Absolutely. I'm shocked he went through so much to cancel just so he could help me. He must really love me to try and be this supportive. When you work through your story using compassion to answer your questions, you will begin to create a story that is going to serve you WAY MORE than your confused, frustrated, blame-filled story. You will create MORE love and compassion, that will fuel your actions to a much greater degree towards being more of the person you want to be, and creating the relationship with this person that feels good to you.
Fueled by compassion, you can now work through the discomfort of having the "hard" conversation, because you're doing so with love and understanding. It may not feel easy to admit you are sorry and explain your deep rooted shame or fear, while also listening to understand his side of the story. Humans loathe admitting they were wrong; that vulnerability can sometimes feel unbearable. We want someone else to blame for how we feel, because in the short-term it's easier to blame than to do your own internal work, and accept responsibility for the outcome of your life and relationships.
I sometimes go through a pep-talk, because everything inside of me wants to run from the confrontation of these kind of conversations. As I walked up the stairs to have "the talk," I knew it was going to feel hard. I knew the guilt of admitting you were part of the problem, and the vulnerability of talking about the inner most fear and shame deep inside of you. It can feel uncomfortable, but I promise you the more you do it, the less uncomfortable and hard it feels.
My pep-talks looks something like this: "It may suck for a little bit, but in the end it will be 10X better than if I didn't go talk to him. It may feel hard, but I can handle hard. I hate admitting when I did something wrong, but maybe neither of us did anything wrong, and we both just have deep-rooted fear and shame we're working through. I love him, and I want to get better at telling and listening to our stories so we can grow closer. It's going to be uncomfortable, but a little discomfort now for a whole lot of feeling good later is well worth it. Remember to listen to him so I can understand his side, not just cover my butt, blame, and react to him."
It may not go as smoothly at first. Your spouse may feel confused that you've changed the dance of how you normally go about your relationship, as you do your own internal work to shift your story and utilize curiosity and compassion. Be open to the possibility that they may not understand at first. Be open to the idea that it's ok if they don't want to change right now. You can be their influence, as they see the goodness that is coming from your own mental and emotional shifts.
As you utilize these practices of awareness, curiosity, taking a look at your story, using good questions to get to the root of your pain, utilizing compassion, and being willing to be uncomfortable, you will see those subtle shifts. And those subtle shifts will turn into bigger shifts, and well... you get the idea. Little by little, sis, you will see big gains as you do your work.
It's truly some of the most important work you can do.
**I help women every single day work through their internal stories and emotions, to create a more loving compassionate marriage and motherhood story. If you find yourself struggling to enjoy your relationships and you're ready to do the work to improve them, click below for a FREE session, and I'll show you what life-coaching can do for you.
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