Being a Marriage and Family Therapist and being married can be a double-edged sword. You have access to cutting edge tools and techniques, so you are expected to always use them faithfully. Well, things don't always run as smoothly as they should, especially in situations like the one that happened last night...
My husband and I were having a "discussion" about a heated issue, and I felt myself becoming really angry with him. Did I immediately use one of the techniques I teach in my workshop? Uhh, no. All I could think of were the many reasons why I had the right to be angry. I felt totally justified. To top it off, when we were "discussing" the situation, I heard myself uttering those dreaded words "always" and "never." That fight or flight response was in full gear. I was stuck in my immediate reaction and struck by the realization that, in that very moment, I was doing none of the things I teach my clients to do—things I know really work.
This was a very humbling experience, of course, and it was yet another reminder of how very challenging it can be to have a great marriage. I suddenly felt an even more profound admiration and respect for my clients as they diligently work to make their marriages thrive.
My "Aha!" moment came when I realized that I have a choice. I don't have to stumble down that rocky road of anger and unhappiness, AND I have a reservoir of the tools I teach my clients that I can use right here and right now. "The point of power is always in the present moment."—that's what I teach in my workshop. I know that the tools I give my clients to use really work. The challenging part is putting them to work when it matters the most, like when your emotions are running high and it's hard to think clearly. I stepped back from the situation because I realized that what I was doing wasn't getting me what I wanted. Then I gave myself that all-important time out. This respite gave me the opportunity to settle my mind and think more clearly about the situation, thus creating that crucial pause between the situation and my reaction to it. This is the fertile ground from which choice emerges.
As my mind started to settle I began thinking about these tools and how they could help me in this situation. The first thing that came to mind was, "Take responsibility for your steps in the dance," one of my many mantras. I began to examine the destructive behavior patterns that I might be bringing into the situation.
It was quite sobering to recognize my role in this pattern, yet also immensely empowering to realize that this pattern was precisely what I have the power to change. My choices can change the whole direction in this interaction. When we get stuck in our fight or flight mode, we see only those two choices. As I reflected on this during my quiet time, I realized that there were so many other choices available to me—opportunities to be the loving spouse that I know I can be. This put me in the driver's seat, actively participating in changing the direction of this encounter. After 27 years of marriage the road can get bumpy at times, but it continues to be an exciting and healing journey.
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