DOES, DOESN'T and SOMEWHAT.
Much of what we get upset about or spend time obsessing over falls into the category of "DOESN'T MATTER.” The slow driver ahead of you made the light, but you didn't: "Oh, the injustice of it!" The cake you baked was a little dry: "I am so incompetent!" Little Tim spilled the juice. “You are so clumsy!?" (Do you really want to destroy his confidence?)
We not only annoy ourselves with these distractions. Our families, friends and coworkers also pay an unfortunate price. Ever wonder why we blow things out of proportion? I have a theory. I'm not sure if it’s correct so judge for yourself if you think it has merit. Here it is (drumroll please): we know deep down that we are here for a limited and uncertain amount of time. Our actual control over our lives is very tenuous. Other people have an impact on us. Illness, political situations, earthquakes, weather and even the occasional asteroid can change our lives in an instant. Even when the annoyances or disappointments are of no real significance, our recognition of our powerlessness triggers a defense mechanism. Instead of evaluating the circumstances as they are, we overreact, sometimes with anger, sometimes with rage. Arguments begin and, invariably, when the arguing starts, the opportunity to communicate effectively ends.
We desperately want to build a tower to Heaven, so that we can cry out: “I am important! I have control in my life!”
Our mood changes when we respond to something that triggers our insecurities. When the trigger occurs outside the home, we often drag our grumpiness with us and ‘share’ with our loved ones. Are there triggers at home, too? Of course. Lots. The ideal is to work on ourselves so that we can at least see the difference between a real threat and an annoyance.
Try this: sit down with your beloved and create a list of issues that trigger arguments between you or at least sour your mood. Here are some sample issues:
- Supper was late.
- The house is messy.
- Your partner speaks to you with disrespect.
- You have differences of opinion on how to spend money.
- One of you wants to have an affair.
- Whoever usually fills up the car with gas, left it almost empty.
Once our triggers are identified, they can then be prioritized into one of the three states of matter. Whatever falls into the category of DOES MATTER needs to be looked at seriously in a timely fashion. Both spouses should listen to what the other has to say without stubbornly defending their own point of view. Both partners need to resolve the issues in a way that leaves them satisfied with the process, if not entirely happy with the shared decision. Sometimes we need to take a brief time-out for our emotions to calm so we can examine the situation more rationally.
Items that fall under the umbrella of DOESN'T MATTER should be let go and cast off like the ungainly weights they are. Prioritize the health and happiness of your relationship and forego the trivial and inconsequential. You really don't have control over everything. And you never will. One of the goals of a marriage is to learn to be OK with that. Go with the flow even if you might prefer to be flowing in a different direction. Again, I am emphasizing that this FLOW approach applies only to unimportant matters.
So what about the monkey wrench in the middle, the SOMEWHAT MATTERS? Many triggers of conflict actually do matter to some extent. Certainly, they bother you. Burping at the table is an example, for many. A husband may not like it when his wife doesn't even cover her mouth or whatever it is we are supposed to do to mask a burp. But is this a foundational issue like loyalty? No, even though bad habits can slowly eat away at our feelings of respect, desire and love for each other.
Therefore, DOES MATTER issues absolutely need to be solved ASAP. SOMEWHAT MATTERS issues also need to be solved. DOES NOT matter issues need a different approach entirely: we should go with the flow and let them go.
Here’s an actionable list of 4 steps to get you on the right track:
- Take the items from the above list and ask yourself if on your deathbed, you’ll still be thinking about that light you didn't make or little Tim’s spill. If not, then instead of feeling like your life has taken another blow, refocus the energy of your anger and frustration and choose to do something positive. For example, if you’re driving and you enjoy music, audio books or podcasts, play something in the car. You can then decide to take advantage of being stuck in traffic so you get to finish your playlist. Traffic won’t be moving any more slowly because of your enjoyment and you’ll have something pleasant later to share with your partner.
- If you’re not able to create a positive resolution to an issue, minimize the negative of the situation and work toward reducing the odds of similar experiences recurring. For instance, are you are upset about missing the light because you’ll be late to work? There are a number of potentially workable solutions. Get on the road earlier. Find an alternate route. Negotiate flex time at the office.
- Constructively dealing with the physical consequences of stress also has it benefits. Exercise and meditation go a long way toward dampening the response to perceived threats, allowing us to maintain an even mood, think clearly and tackle issues more objectively.
- Best of all, there’s a wonderful habit to continue developing to feel better regardless of these random annoyances: foster and nurture a considerate and satisfying relationship with your spouse. Hone your communication skills with the non-negotiable laws of communicating in marriage and strengthen your conflict resolution strategies. Continue to talk and resolve anything outstanding.
When we work to create and actively implement a healthy approach to solving issues, our feelings of loving and being loved grow and blossom. In light of this solid and reliable bond, little annoyances won’t matter. Notable issues will not seem so significant. And if they do arise, the greater challenges can be handled with strength and grace. Together.
Are little things blown out of proportion in your marriage, masquerading as big issues? Have the above steps helped? What works for you? What needs improvement?