My husband and I are learning what it means to tread water. Not literally, but we are leaning to stay afloat and together when there is no rescue in sight.
It’s been a rough couple of weeks. Our house was struck by lightning, leaving a ragged hole in the chimney and frying out the wiring in our home. Our 11-year-old miniature schnauzer contracted diabetes a few months ago and as the doctors warned us could happen, went blind. Tragically, he passed within a week of the lightning strike. The stress of not being able to see, being in several different houses before we moved to a hotel and other medical complications were too much for him and he shut down. To add to the frustration, two trusted advisors see our retirement financial plan differently which adds to the confusion.
So our heads are spinning. We’re distracted by too much on our plates; me, managing more than one business and working with clients, and my husband, trying to coordinate contractors and the insurance company while taking care of his customers. In other words, we are stressed!
The easiest thing for us to do is take our frustrations out on the closest person in our lives, physcially and emotionally. For us that usually happens to be each other. But that easily could also be our son, or best friend, or whoever is within breathing distance on a bad day.
It’s not that we intend to be mean or inconsiderate. Stress can turn the nicest of people into mud-slinging, insult-throwing, mean-spirited monsters. The words and actions can just bubble up from inside and then explode.
This is not normal behavior for either of us. We are generally thoughtful, happy people. So when we hit the wall of overwhelm, one of us can often morph into a version of ourselves that we don’t recognize and it can put stress on the relationships that we hold most dear. The saying, “We always hurt the ones we love,” comes to mind, but it makes sense. Those are the people in our lives that are closest to us and we feel safe in some way unloading our pain, sorrow and anger with the world on them.
These bursts of frustration can damage even the best relationships, steadily chipping away the love and trust. While one spouse or partner may feel safe lashing out, it is a safe bet your “loved one” doesn’t feel safe being around you, not knowing when the next emotional explosion is headed their way.
Communicating is key in any relationship and we work at it every day. Hurtful words and actions can be destructive and we work to make choices that avoid that path.
Here are 5 ways we learned to keep our cool and our relationships healthy
Think Before You Speak
Yes, take a deep breath. It’s the obvious method that most have heard about, but it works. Breathing deeply calms our nervous system and enables us to slow things down for a moment and find balance. It is like the refresh button on the computer.
Taking three deep breaths works even better and about equals the timeframe of counting to ten. It gives us space to gather our thoughts and speak them effectively and kindly, versus from a place of anger.
Divert Your Mind
Take a time out. Focus your energy on something else. Physical activity such as working out often helps disburse the negative energy. Or you might choose a creative outlet. Meditating can take your mind to a non-judgmental place, where you can tune out from your stressful thoughts and feelings and calmly explore solutions. For me, a long walk listening to an audio book on my phone takes me to another realm, while my husband heads to the bowling alley to work on his game.
Regardless of what attracts and inspires you, putting your attention in another direction allows space, time and energy between you and your loved ones.
Chill With Great Music
There is lots of research showing music calms and soothes the soul as well as lowers blood pressure. Our emotions respond to music, so it’s no surprise that music can decrease our stress hormones. It can also raise our energy and calm our senses. You don’t have to listen to smooth jazz or classical, (unless that is your preference,) just find the kind of music that feeds your soul.
Look For Humor
You have probably heard the saying, “One day we will look back on this and laugh.” There are parts of our situation that will never be humorous , for us losing our sweet dog is one of those. There are others that we will likely be laughing about in time – what’s the big deal about a hole in the chimney when we live in Florida and we might get cold enough for a fire one or two weeks a year? Sometimes we can find the humor in the situation and laugh now. It’s all a matter of perspective. Laughter relieves stress, soothes tension and is a natural muscle relaxant.
Ask For Help
Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to admit when we need help, but it is one of the most effective ways to move through a process. But who do you ask?
Start with the people you love most. The shift of asking for help versus lashing out builds the relationship and opens lines of communication. Let them know you are frustrated and needing each other’s help to sort the situation. This changes the paradigm from attacking each other to building a bridge together.
Maintaining healthy connections with others, especially those we hold in our hearts takes work, positive communication, and sometimes a little space away that allows us to rejuvenate and regroup.
Admittedly, sometimes my husband and I both get really tired and overwhelmed dealing with a problem we are facing, but facing it together takes some of the burden off both of us, strengthens us and helps us to find the laughter.
Originally published on The Good Men Project