You can’t always choose how life is going to go, but if you pay attention you can choose your role.
Katherine got into the car, and immediately felt Steve’s lousy mood suck all the air out of it.
“Oh no,” she thought.
She knew Steve wasn’t thrilled about going to visit her brother’s family. It was a chilly winter Sunday. He wanted to lounge about, watch the games, and stay put. But she expressed it was important to her and he had agreed to go.
Does he always have to punish me with his mood? she wondered, agitatedly.
She was about to get snarky in reaction to his silent hostility, but then she remembered a question she’d adopted in the training we were doing: Do we dance the same dance, or can I try a new step?
After all, this was their dance: Steve gets in a mood, Katherine reacts and they go spiraling down into a dark place that somehow lands them in a fight about what happened three Christmases ago.
By asking the question internally, Katherine was bringing a form of leadership to her relationship. Katherine wanted to have a decent day with Steve and her family. How was Katherine going to change the steps?
She contemplated what role she wanted to play. Usually, she felt victimized by Steve’s moods, and this would cause her to slip into "The B*tch."
Who do I want to be instead? she mused. The answer: I want to be powerful, content woman, in this relationship and with my family today.
In that moment, Katherine thought about powerful, seemingly content women she knew. The first woman that came up, which surprised her, was Oprah. She went with it. And she realized, Oprah would not spend any time in the car with a sulking man if she didn’t have to. And she certainly wouldn't babysit him.
This thought — given the fact that Oprah seemed in many ways the opposite of who she felt to be — kind of tickled her. It leavened her mood, and put a twinkle in her eye. By trying on this new role, she felt emboldened to take action.
"Pull over," she to Steve, in a calm, authoritative voice.
"Why?" he balked.
"Pull over.” She said again, remaining calm, the corners of her mouth slightly edging their way towards her cheekbones.
Steve pulls over, reluctantly. And then he turns to look at Katherine with a "What the f*ck?" expression.
"There's no air in this car Steve. I can't breathe. I don't feel like suffocating all the way to my brothers. What do you think we should do?"
Steve squirms, but doesn’t say anything.
"I don’t know!"
Katherine wants to react explosively; but remembers Oprah. She can't find a thing to say. More silence.
"I'm sorry," Steve said, like he wasn't at all.
"Oh that's convincing. Listen, I can drive myself to my brother's, you know. But there is no way I’m going to sit in the car for the next hour in this tension. It's your call."
There is a long pause. Steve weighs the options. The couch is calling him . . . but then. . . it would be cold without her around. There might be a price to pay, he would be going against his word . . . he steadies himself, looks her in the eye.
"No. I want to go with you. I'm totally being an asshole. It's been such a stressful week. I'm sorry, babe." This time, like he meant it.
“Anything I can do?” she asks, gently.
“No . . . Yes! You can find that app with our all our favorite podcasts and pick something to listen to on the ride."
"Okay." Katherine smiles to herself, retrieves her phone from her bag and breathes a sigh of relief. Crisis averted. What a shift. She had taken a risk and come out strong in her leadership. She liked her new "Oprah" side.
You can't always choose how life is going to go, but if you pay attention to the roles that simply take over and lead you nowhere, you can begin, as Katherine modeled, to select what roles you want to play. And that enables you to steer the relationship to safety in rough waters. (It can also help you steer in non-tense moments, but that's another post).
Do you want to learn about the roles you play and how to negotiate them within yourself and within your relationships? There are a few spots left for the Lovers and Leaders Course for singles and couples, starting Sept. 16, that will show you how to lead yourself into love in your relationships. Don’t miss out!