This is one of the big issues most couples have struggled with at some point in their relationship: who pulled the trigger on a toxic event – who was really responsible for the mess?
It usually goes something like this:
“If you hadn’t said ______________________ I wouldn’t have been so ____________________!”
“Well, if you hadn’t been so ________________ I wouldn’t have said ______________________!”
And round and round it goes. A circle of blame and justification for bad behaviors. Both partners not feeling understood around their respective grievances, because the context felt so critical to the sequence.
If you’ve ever been in one of these go-arounds, (and chances are, you have been, more often than you’d like to admit), then you know too keenly that this kind of exchange only contributes to raising blood pressure and your dog, who’s been witnessing it, getting more weirded out by the minute. (That’s another post: “Want the truth? Then watch the dog!”)
I’ve worked with couples who escalated so intensely around this kind of exchange that they fought for hours about this Who Started It All nonsense, then punished each other for days or weeks afterward!
So, what’s a more productive line of questioning to pursue around a fight? – one which might actually move the two of you toward some healthy ownership, some forgiveness, repair, resolution and some learning?
It’s a few simple questions to ask yourself:
“Where was I in that fight?”
“What were my contributions to that problem?”
“What do I regret about my own behavior in that situation?”
“What could I have done differently, even though I felt provoked?”
(My often blamed) but wise husband says: “In other words, take a look at yourself, because that’s the only thing you can actually change!”
There’s a word in Yiddish which has no literal translation in English: “kvetch.”
It means “to complain, to moan, to bitch, to bellyache, to crab, grumble, fuss, nag, squawk, whine, gripe, etc. We all do it at times, but it can be a real problem when the kvetching hijacks your brain. It’s then likely to intrude upon any experience you may be having, either alone or with a partner.
Have you ever been with someone whose constant kvetching ruined the day? It’s not fun for either of you. My antidote? “Kvetch dates.”
In the same spirit of “worry dates,” (where you minimize the intrusive nature of worry by legitimizing and scheduling it), so goes the “kvetch date.” If you’re alone and feeling overwhelmed or irritated or sorry for yourself, the last thing you’ll want is for those feelings to take over your day. On the other hand, there may be sufficient reasons for you to feel this way, so you also don’t want to negate your own internal experience. The compromise here may be to “prescribe the symptom,” as we say, and make a date with yourself to give those feelings some limited airtime. Establish a time when you allow yourself to fully vent those feelings, either in writing or talking aloud, or sharing them with someone you trust. Set a timer, and limit yourself to an allotted time, maybe ten minutes. Then stop, and change the frequency in your brain by directing your attention to something else, something neutral or positive. If your mind returns to “kvetch mode,” remind yourself that you’ll have another “kvetch date” tomorrow, and get back to the more positive activity. By practicing this, you’ll be developing significant thought-stopping skills which will serve you well when needed.
If you’re coupled up, you can make “kvetch dates” with each other, especially at the end of a long, stressful week, or in the midst of an emotionally challenging situation. Make a pact to avoid advice giving, solutions or judgments, and to simply listen to each other. Agree on a maximum time allowed, then change the frequency by engaging in something pleasurable or neutral. You’ll be protecting positive experiences by together getting the “kvetch” out of room.
Covid 19 has presented some difficult issues for most people, and particularly for couples who can’t safely explore many options away from home for stimulation, excitement, fun and connection. Many couples seem to have run out of ideas for what to do amidst these various constraints.
So, with her permission, I’ve republished Tamara Siegel’s article from Porch.com listing 13 at-home “Date-Night” type activities, which I think you’ll find useful!
Feel free to contact me with any ideas of your own you’d like to share -(PG rated only, please.)
If your experience of 2020 and early 2021 feels like the above image, you’re not alone! No matter what side of the political fence you’ve embraced it has been a year of loss, constraints, hopelessness, helplessness, hatred, anxieties and extreme division, often among members of the same family, or among friends. Not only have most of us faced differences which have felt toxic and relationship-breaking, but a daily onslaught of information and news about catastrophic events, happening now, or about to unfold. I think there has been a collective experience of trauma in this country, and probably in many places around the world. Covid 19 illnesses and deaths, loss of income, loss of faith in the System, violence, racism, uncertainty.
To that point I’m encouraging everyone to pause and reflect on a few things:
How have you been coping and how well has it served you?
- Over-drinking or drugging?
- Reviewing the horrors frequently with peers who get it?
- Over-eating or over-indulging in comfort foods or sugar?
- Targeting your loved ones with rage-outs?
- Overspending on Amazon?
- Denying anything unusual is happening and proceeding without any cautions or adjustments?
- Over-working and sacrificing sleep / self care rituals?
- Over-thinking and going to catastrophic conclusions?
In my psychotherapy practice I’ve seen how people’s responses to the trauma either exacerbate or alleviate some of the stress, bring people together for support and meaningful action or tear them apart. Depression and anxiety are off the charts now as people struggle with feelings and thoughts that can become runaway trains in response to such triggering events.
So, instead of going through a long list of more functional coping mechanisms I’m encouraging you all to begin by examining the strategies you’re already using and taking an honest look at how well these strategies are serving you. If they calm and energize you, at what cost to yourself or others? If they provide relief, how momentary or enduring is it? Do your coping mechanisms give you any sense of meaning, agency, or connection to others whom you respect and trust? Are you finding any joy amidst all this madness? Are you protecting your mental and physical health, or has that been one price of how you’ve tried to manage?
All meaningful change begins with Contemplation, so give that it’s due. Then, if you decide to seek out different coping tools you’ll be readier to use them intentionally, creatively and effectively.