Why the little things can drive you crazy!
Well, we’ve made it through week two of what feels like a month of this NYC lockdown/social distancing/quarantine ‘situation.’
If you haven’t been keeping up with MYND MVMT’s daily expert offerings, you should reconsider. There’s been daily roundtable discussions with expert professionals on various topics including Managing Stress, How to Deal with Sugar Cravings, and Boosting Your Immune System. On Tuesday, however, CEO Samantha Beningo, a career mental health professional and yoga instructor, and I discussed the topic of How to Keep Your Relationship Strong During This COVID-19 Quarantine”, a unique situation for any of us. As the conversation went on, so many thoughts went through my head and I thought I would share about them here.
First, let me just stress what a unique time it is for our relationships! This is a situation truly like no other, one in which we are being forced together while all our healthy “coping” mechanisms have been taken away. For me, it’s not having my sweat sessions at the gym, my yoga studio to go to, my time out with my friends, or being able to move freely around the city, even if it’s just heading off to work. I know, too, that my partner is missing watching sports, after work get togethers with the guys, tennis, and his gym workouts. We are all quite literally ‘stuck’ inside, staring at the reality that we may never have experienced this much “togetherness” before.
On top of being stuck inside, without our well establish ‘coping tools’, emotions are running particularly high! There is an unusual amount of uncertainty in the air. Whether it’s our health, the economy, or the state of our career-future on the other side of all of this, it’s clear no one knows what is coming next. Not to mention news updates pouring in every hour with all sorts of scary information, predictions and forecasts. The big question – When will this be over? – is on all of our minds. Yup, understandably emotions are running high, and that too can impact the quality of our relationships.
Here is the bottom line: we can’t make this terribly unfortunate turn of events go away, or do much to expedite its departure other than stay inside and stay away from others as much as possible. But maybe we can make the best of it, learning how to truly love, honor, and appreciate one another in a way like never before.
That said, there is one important detail that may need to be addressed in order for us to effectively do this. That is to find a way to tolerate the invariably“very annoying” behaviors of our partners. Let me shed some light on why, inevitably, we all get annoyed at our partners from time to time and provide some ways to help you become more understanding and tolerant of them.
The science of men’s and women’s brains
We used to be able to walk out the door to work, hit a yoga class, or vent over coffee or drinks about our partners. Obviously, that’s a bit harder these days. That said, you may be feeling “hit in the face” with all those little annoying things your partner says and does. Whether it’s their socks on the floor, letting the trash pile up, leaving the dishes in the sink, or leaving the toilet seat up or the lights on in every room, all of us have that thing we can’t stand about some aspect of our partner’s behavior. A lot of my work is helping both women and men to understand their partners better. To get inside each other’s worlds. How the male mind and body operates, how the female mind and body operates. Note that as I refer to the gender’s below, it’s really about ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ qualities. As a generalization, it’s true that men tend to be more ‘masculine’ and women tend to be more ‘feminine’ thanks to testosterone and estrogen levels primarily. That said, some women can certainly be more masculine, and some men, more feminine. For example Hillary Clinton has a more “masculine” flare, often appearing in pantsuits with a stern and serious way about her; while Mick Jagger, with his swagger and sex appeal, could be construed as having more femininity than most men. Alison Armstrong, author of the “Queens Code” explains the masculine qualities are very task-oriented, focused, and direct, while the feminine qualities are more dynamic and prone to multi-tasking, collaboration, and expression. The masculine person is more single minded in focus, able to tune everything out to focus on the exact thing they are working on, or has been asked to do. It’s why firemen can run into burning buildings and forget about their wives and children, or why there is the old cliche about a man’s ability to tune out his nagging wife to watch the game.
Women on the other hand, notice everything. The feminine brain is ruled by “diffuse awareness”, the opposite of single minded focus. Feminine consciousness is spread out in every direction. Women are more likely to be led by their intuition, creativity, feelings, and emotions. They will notice socks on the floor while making a to-do list, thinking about their work project, and wondering how a friend or employee is doing – making mental notes to check in with them. To put it simply, women can’t ignore the socks on the floor! Men, however, can step right over them in pursuit of whatever it is they’re doing or have been asked to do in the moment. If you feel yourself asking, “Why doesn’t he notice I need help! Or, “Why can’t he just do things without me telling him!”, you should know there is a very good reason. If he doesn’t know it’s important to you or that it needs to be done, he doesn’t see it at that moment. With this new understanding in mind, ask yourself if you can try to bring more compassion and awareness into your relationship? Instead of blaming and feeling frustrated, can you be curious, asking, What if there’s a good reason behind this behavior? What if I haven’t communicated what it is I need or want and, as a result, he doesn’t know? We’re so quick to make our partner’s behavior about us. They don’t respect our space, our time, our needs. They don’t care about me! More often than not, those voices in our heads could not be further from the truth. Remember our partners are acting and behaving from their perspective and without clear, direct communication, misunderstandings and conflicts are sure to ensue!
Learn to listen
Have you ever noticed how much presence and attention is really required to fully listen to your partner? I’d be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes catch myself drifting off, checking out a bit, or resisting the urge to interrupt them to correct or reframe my question (typically so he could get to the point faster or give me the answer I wanted). The truth is, we have very different needs when it comes to being listened to. The feminine, as I mentioned before, is very dynamic and changes direction quickly. We may get one idea and then follow another thought and end up in a totally different place in a conversation from where we started. We are pulled by what feels best in our body. We are sensation based, and our ways of being are often very mysterious and confusing for the masculine. We collaborate and interject in dialogue with our women friends. We welcome it and have a lot of playful interaction. Men, however, couldn’t be more different. They thrive best in fixed, direct, grounded, decision, and solution-oriented environments. When we ask a question or need help with a problem, a man is going to be solely focused on “providing” that answer or solution. When we interject, reframe our question, or interrupt with our own interpretation or a new idea, we knock him off track. He gets disoriented, feels like he’s messing up because he’s now lost his train of thought and may become defensive, irritated, or even angry. This is an easy, sure fire way to cause conflict and hurt feelings. During this time when emotions are already especially high, do your best to listen to your partner all the way through without interrupting. Resist the urge to add in your own two cents. Let them express themselves completely and thoroughly, allowing them to feel heard, seen, or accomplished by providing their perceived solution to the problem.
This simple hack should guarantee a lot more connection and understanding. The feminine, on the other hand, just wants a safe place for all her energy and emotions to land. Unless you hear her ask specifically for a solution to a problem, women are often not even looking for a ‘solution’ when communicating with their partners. They are just looking to share their thoughts and emotions. To feel like she is being heard or understood, listened to. For the feminine, we want to know that all the things we have balled up inside of us will be well received and that we won’t be considered crazy or too much. We want someone’s presence and exquisite attention. To know you’re listening and you care. Provide her with your undivided attention, remember things she says and bring them up later. Thats a sure fire way to always win!
Treat your relationship as its own practice
The truth is your partner will always be your best mirror. They will most often be a reflection of how you are feeling inside. A teacher of mine used to say, “How you do one thing is how you do everything.” When I find myself irritated and annoyed by my partner, it’s usually a sign that I’m having some sort of internal irritation with myself. I do my best to pause at that moment and check in. What might I be needing? Is there somewhere I can soften a bit? Is there something that needs my attention? Much like yoga, when I’m messing up a pose or can’t quite get the form right, I know to breathe, pause, focus on the here and now, slow down. I re-adjust myself, take a break completely, or try not to judge myself for not being “perfect.” Try this with your relationship. Every time your partner does something that irks you or makes you want to pull your hair out, check in with what is going on with you. In fact, if you can, take one minute to jot down or articulate in words exactly what is bothering you most about the situation. When you are asked to put it into words, it may surprise you what comes out. Irritation over socks may wind up being, “He/she never listens to me”, when I have to articulate it clearly. In almost every case, if I read the words back to myself and ask, Does this statement reflect something I feel guilty, sad, angry, or ashamed about? What you may discover is that, in the end, it’s not about them and their socks at all. It’s about something you may have said, or done, or not said and not done, that deep down is bothering you. The remarkable thing about it is usually just by stopping to acknowledge how you’re really feeling, it can often times lift the frustrations all together. It turns out when I am upset with my partner, 9 times out of 10, I am upset with me. Can you approach the situation with compassion and curiosity? It has helped me to see that problems aren’t, often, as big as they seem. It’s helped me to take more responsibility and communicate my needs more effectively. It’s helped me to honor my feelings. It’s helped me to see that my partner is actually quite interesting, his own person, having his own experiences. It’s helped me love and appreciate our connection more. When I can learn to treat my own feelings and needs with attention and care, I’m able to show up more fully for our relationship too and honor him with respect and understanding. How you do one thing is how you do everything…